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Posts Tagged ‘Granfondo’

Friday’s Bell Lap

Friday’s Bell Lap on a Saturday, and a Saturday night no less. Yesterday was Day 1 at the new gig, which left little time to write. Honestly, most of the past couple of weeks has been either getting things in place for the Day 1 or doing things I somehow never got around to doing the past year. All of which has left my training in complete disarray. At least we’re four months away from the start of the season, so with a little focused effort, I should be in enough shape to use the Spring Series to get into shape. Now I just need a little discipline (at the dinner table and in my training.)

In Search Of Base Miles
The one thing I know is that I will somehow, some way have to lay down a good base. It’s by far the most important part of training as it lays the foundation everything that comes. Any doubts that I might have had were laid to rest in Italy. In 2003, I had spent weekends in January, February and March going on long rides (5-6 hours) talking all sorts of terrain (it’s hard not to climb on the roads around Rome) all of which were done at a comfortable pace. Weekdays, I was traveling 4 days a week first to London and then to Spain. In London, I was able to ride as I had brought a bike over with me which I left in the hotel. In Spain, I got some riding in, but I was working long hours. April was a so-so training month and May was a disaster as I didn’t so much as work out in the three weeks leading up to the GF Citta’ di Lucca the first weekend in June. I lined up with no idea of what to expect. It was ballistic from the start until we finally hit the climbs which I managed to hit with the second group on the road. My lack of training leading up to the race reared its ugly head on the third of five climbs, and I started to slip back. Still I managed to finish the 147 kms and the five climbs in 237th out of some 800. I was pleased given how little I was able to train leading up to the race. The only reason I was able to finish at all was because of all those long rides early in the year.

Echelon Gran Fondo Series
Speaking of granfondo, we’re definitely getting closer to them in the States. The Echelon Gran Fondo is the latest attempt to bring the Italian cycling staple to America – actually the latest two attempts. And it’s a step in the right direction, though it’s hard to tell what’s actually in store for anyone who chooses to participate. It would be nice to have some information on what the actual courses will be, as well as what kind of support and prizes are on hand. That said, these two events will be actual races which is what at the heart of the Italian granfondo. I’m not sure what to make of the charity portion of the events, although I’m guessing making donations to charity went a long way towards helping the organizers obtain permits and road closings. It will be interesting to see what’s actually under the hood as more information comes available, but so far so good.

The next couple of weeks will be a transition period as I try to adjust to working again, find time for training and find time to continue to update A View From The Back.  I’ll apologize in advance for what will undoubtedly be a random posting schedule until I settle into a routine. 

That’s today’s view from the back of the airplane (where I’ll be tomorrow for my first business trip with the new company.)

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Il Campione del Mondo
In the spring of 2004, I was in Faenza, Italy for Granfondo Davide Cassani where my team was part of the lista rossa (the folks that get to start at the front).  From the outset the pace was very fast, and we got strung out with groups splitting off all over the place.  Along the way, I caught up to Fabrizio Macchi, one of my teammates.  I pulled Fabrizio along for a good chunk, until we overcame a group and he took over. Then I pulled for him a little more until the first climb where he dropped me like a bad habit.  None of this is very interesting except that Fabrizio has only one leg.  He lost his left leg to cancer.

Two weeks later, I was at the GF della Sardegna in Cala Ginepro, Sardegna, Italy.  Again the pace was insane from the start, and I was intent on doing the long course in preparation for Nove Colli which was to be my final race as a single person.  Once again, Fabrizio and I rode together, only this time we crested the climb together (see the picture as proof).  This was where the long cong course deviated from the short.  The night before Fabrizio had told me I would be much happier doing the short course and that I was crazy having only ridden 100 kms twice that year to try to do the long.  His last words as he took the deviation for the short were “come with me” or “you’re really an idiot”, I am not sure given the severe lack of oxygen getting to my brain rendering my Italian non-existent.

Racing With Fabrizio Macchi

Racing With Fabrizio Macchi

Why all the talk about Fabrizio?  Well, as you might have guessed from the title of this section, at the age of 39, Fabrizio won the Time Trial (LC3 Category) at the Para-Cycling Road World Championships.  It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person or a better athlete.   No self-pity at what could have been, just a simple determination to be the absolute best cyclist he can be.  Down to earth, always willing to talk and a pleasure to ride with.   It kind of puts riding a bike into perspective, at least it does for me.

World Champion Fabrizio Macchi

World Champion Fabrizio Macchi

Tanti auguri Fabrizio!

Last Rant
Speaking of one leg, just a thought, but perhaps it’s not the smartest idea for the CRCA Race Clinic weekly group instructor to have her group doing one-legged hill climbs at 6:30 am in Central Park.  Most of the group is new to racing if not cycling all together, and most have not had enough time in the saddle to build the length strength necessary for one-legged hill climbing.  Yes, I know the point of the exercise is to build leg strength, but when the park is excessively crowded, the last thing anyone needs is a bunch of people weaving all over the road because they’ve never ridden with one-leg before.  The people running the group should know a heck of a lot better.

Note to the NY Velocity guy – it really is exciting the first time you race at an event where they give you a number to put on your bike.  We’ve all been there.  What we haven’t all done, is leave the number on 5 days after the race has ended.  We get it you’re a racer, albeit not a particularly smart one.  Ending your interval where in the darkest section of the park (you know when where the lights go out on the west side around 90th street even though the sun is not up) and then weaving all the way to the left oblivious to oncoming cyclists is dumb.  Luckily, MtJ’s light shone brightly enough on your race number so that we could avoid your mess.

I apologize for the ranting.  I had a stressful two weeks, and yesterday was my first day back on the bike.  I promise no more until the next stupid thing happens.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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With dreary weather hitting New York and no prospects of racing this weekend, I’ve got Italy on the brain for this Friday’s Bell Lap.

LeviBeggar

Help me make sure the only race I have a chance of winning doesn't go away

Sorry Levi, But A Granfondo Is A Race
Tired of having friends pester me with questions about Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge GrandFondo, I finally checked out what all the hubbub is about.  While I supposed it’s a commendable effort (although, I’m not so sure asking cycling fans to help pay for the Tour of California is exactly altruistic.  For that matter, isn’t one of the beautiful things about professional cycling that it’s open to the public free of charge?  You can take your family to see a pro race and it won’t set you back the $500 dollars taking in a Yankees game will.  And don’t start with having the Tour of California is good for the sport.  It might be helping bike manufacturers, but it is not doing anything for local racing in New York or anywhere else outside of California, if it’s doing anything there), there are some rather disappointing elements that go strictly against the very Italian tradition Leipheimer claims inspired his event (can’t call it a race according to Leipheimer.)

By its very nature a grandfondo is a race.  In Italy they make up the vast majority of the amateur calendar.  I mentioned this once before, but for those new to the granfondo, they are mass start bike races that are akin to the New York City Marathon.  There are elite riders competing for the top places and winnings, there are riders competing to win their individual age groups and then there is vast majority of riders who want to test themselves to see if they can finish.  They are generally large affairs (the largest can have up to 9,000 riders.)

But make no mistake these are races.  The winners usually come from one of two categories, former professional racers at the end of the career or guys who missed out on pro contracts as dilettante (essentially U23s) hoping to catch the attention of a pro team.  For example, Simone Biasci, one of Cipollini’s lieutenants at Mercantone Uno and Saeco, ended his career as leader of Team Whistle, a granfondo team in which the majority of riders were paid to race full-time.  In 2005 and 2006, Raimondas Rumsas, 3rd in the 2002 Tour de France, was cleaning up on the Grandfondo circuit for Team Parkpre.  If you want to ride in one, you need a valid license (although many times those rules are over looked for foreigners looking to participate.)

The King Ridge GranFondo will apparently have a timed section, on a climb.  In Italy, these type of Gran Fondo, essentially an individual time trial held on one section of a larger course, are called alla francese.  They’re still races.  In fact, I had one of my best results in the 2005 Giro del Lazio which was alla francese, 6th in my category and 20th overall (I used to be able to climb pretty well) and even won a prosciutto for my efforts.

Point is, these are races not massive bike orgies.  The King Ridge website must have the words “not a race” at least a dozen times.  So in essence, Leipheimer is organizing a big charity ride where the charity is his favorite professional bike race.  A bit dubious, no?

If I had to guess, it is a combination of insurance issues and potential problems with the United States Cycling Federation that are keeping Leipheimer from calling this a race.  That said, it would be nice to see the tradition run to the fullest and for Leipheimer to find a way to create a true Granfondo.  It might even make the astronomical entrance fee ($115 for an individual entrant) worth it.

The granfondo in Italy are generally affordable to drive better participation, typically between $30 and $40, and that includes the pacco gara which is a gift every participant gets (at Andrea Tafi’s GF della Vernaccia the pacco gara included a bottle of Vernaccia wine, a bottle of local olive oil, a box of local pasta, a jar of local honey, some sports nutritional products, a hand towel, a copy of a cycling magazine and a water bottle) as well as the post-race pasta party.  At the King Ridge, there’s no pacco gara and the post-race meal is an extra $8.

Andrea Tafi knows how to run a granfondo

Andrea Tafi knows how to run a granfondo

I recognize there are vast cultural differences between the US and Italy as relates to cycling.  I can’t imagine the hoops Leipheimer had to go through to get the various municipalities to close roads, provide police support and the like.  But then again, he’s doing this to ensure that the only bike race he can win remains on the calendar.  To ask you to pay for it by invoking the great tradition of Italy’s granfondo, well, you can do a whole lot better Levi.

Quintessential Italy
Looking out the window at the rain today, reminded me of the following which has nothing to with cycling other than the fact that I happened to notice it because I was looking out my office window waiting for the afternoon group ride to pass by.

It was 2004, and I was in my office at my then employer’s headquarters in Rome.  Only on rare occasions could I make the local group ride during the week, which went out at 1pm, but I could see them on their way out as my office overlooked the route off in the distance.  My office also overlooked a small piazza which was directly behind my building.

One day, as I’m waiting for the group to roll by, I am looking out of my office window onto the small piazza.  A person is somewhat walking across the street in front of a roundabout in the piazza.  At the same time a bus is going around the roundabout at breakneck speed – the piazza is the last stop before the bus makes its return trip and there were very few passengers that use the stop, so busses usually fly around the roundabout.

I gasp aloud as I watch as I am sure I am seeing a dead man walking.

The bus is flying and the walker, who has the right of way, has no idea the bus is bearing down on him.  At the last minute both bus driver and pedestrian look up and see the disaster that is about to happen.  The pedestrian starts running away from the bus (not out of the way mind you), while the bus driver slams on the brakes.  This is just in the nick of time, luckily for both, and the impact is light enough that the pedestrian does not fall down when the bus hits him.  Wallet, papers and mobile go flying and are strewn about the ground, and the pedestrian is holidng his wrist, but only lightly as if it is not really badly hurt.  Other than the shock of it all no harm done.

This could happen on any street in any city anywhere in the world, especially in New York.  No big deal.  Of course, the ensuing argument with arms flying, fingers pointing, face to face screaming, body bending gesticulation over who was in the wrong (yes the bus driver got out of the bus to argue with the person he had just hit) could only happen in Italy.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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The first weekend in July means two things:  no racing for me as the local calendar is dead given the Fourth of July holiday and another year I’ll miss the Maratona dles Dolomites.  Not racing this weekend is not too big a deal.  I’m tired, need to take a break and a weekend away with the family will be nice (although I’m not too sure how much rest I’ll be getting).  Missing the Maratona though reminds of the splendor I left behind in Italy.

Passo Pordoi

Passo Pordoi

Held in Alta Badia, the Maratona dles Dolomites is one of the largest and most prestigious granfondo in Italy.  This Sunday some 8500 cyclists will take part in the 22nd edition.  As with most gran fondo, the race features three courses: the corto (55km with four climbs), the medio (106km with seven climbs), and the lungo (138km with eight climbs including the Passo Giau which is 10km at an average gradient of 10%.)  It’s a mass start event and you can chose which route your want to do along the way.  Think of the Maratona like the New York City marathon – there are elite riders competing for top placings and winnings, there are riders competing to win their individual age groups and then there is vast majority of riders who want to test themselves to see if they can finish.   It’s also a star-studded event, as in the years I did it (from 2003-2005), the start list included, to name a few, Gianni Motta, Gianni Bugno, Maurizio Fondriest, Igor Astroloa and Simone Biasci.

Gianni Bugno with Stuart

Gianni Bugno with Stuart

I’ve never actually raced the Maratona, but instead have ridden it together with my team at the time.  Or at least we tried to ride it together.  In 2003, we got spread out because not everyone couldn’t keep pace on the climbs.  In 2004, one of my teammates was suffering terribly, so three of us stayed to help him along (My reward was VIP passes to the final stage of the Tour de France – it’s nice when your struggling teammate’s day job happens to be director of Sky Sport Italia.)  And in 2005, I brought 14 people over to Italy to ride with Maurizio Fondriest.

It Is Held Near the 4th of July

It Is Held Near the 4th of July

The night before we decided that we would do the short course as a group, and then after that people could choose to go on or to stop.  The short course includes the Campolongo, Pordoi, Sella and Gardena climbs.  Once we finished, Maurizio told me that he and I would ride the rest of the middle course together.  I knew I was in trouble when we started to climb the Campolongo the second time.  I couldn’t keep his wheel so we agreed to meet at the top.  Only problem, I couldn’t keep his wheel on the descent either – he’s a crazy descender and I’m a timid descender, not a good combo.  We regrouped at the bottom, and that’s when the fun really began.

Former World Champ Maurizio Fondriest

Former World Champ Maurizio Fondriest

There’s a good 10km relatively flat section with a few small rollers between the Campolongo and the start of the Falzarego.  It was here where the bullfighter put the final skewer in me.  I’ve ridden with Maurizio on a fair number of occasions and I know how fit he is.  So I wasn’t totally surprised when he decided to put the hammer down in this section.  What did totally surprise me was that we were going 37-38 mph.  I had to take a pull just to get some rest.  Some guys tried to jump on, but couldn’t, and I just barely managed to make it to the Falzarego.  Only problem is I now had to climb the Falzarego/Valparola combo which is just shy of 16km.  I told Maurizio to go ahead, but he stayed with me and even he was a little tired when we finally rolled passed the finish line.  Many people on the last climb recognized Maurizio immediately.  Most rode over to say a word or two and try to keep with us if only for a short while.  It’s incredible to ride in a country where cycling is a national pastime and the tifosi’s love and knowledge of the sport is unparalleled.  And when you ride with an Italian cycling legend, in Italy, at a big race, the race announcer’s voice and hand gestures tend to get amped up a little as you approach the finish line, so it was nice to hear my name blurted out for all to hear as well, even if it no one had any idea who the heck I was.

The Maratona is a truly great experience.  An extremely well run event in the beautiful setting of Alto Adige/Sudtirol.  There are several tour groups that offer trips centered around the Maratona.  Or you can try your luck at the entry lottery.  In either case, it’s a cycling trip well worth it.

And if you happen to find yourself next to Maurizio Fondriest, get ready to have a great view from the back.

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