As you'll know by now, this
is the year of competing in rider's sportives. If you look down
the 2008 list on the left, you'll see some of the greatest names in the
history of our sport. Fabio Casartelli was destined to be a great
name; sadly he didn't live long enough to realize his full potential.
He died, at the age of 24,
from facial injuries when he, along with several others, crashed
descending the Portet D'Aspet on Stage 15 of the 1995 Tour de France.
He fell as the reigning Olympic Champion.
Not a Race
2008 saw the tenth running of the Fabio Casartelli Medio
Fondo. It's held on the anniversary weekend of his death, and his
parents are there to see everyone safely off, at the event start line.
This is a peculiar event but
you can really see the reasons why. It's not a mass start event;
everyone turns up in team formation and gets their photo taken on the
start line with Mr & Mrs Casartelli. When it gets to 30 or so
riders your flagged away.
The descents in this part of
Italy are as spectacular and treacherous as they come. You only
have to read my Giro Lombardia
account, or watch the pro race to see how "challenging" they can be.
So, to prevent people racing,
there is no acknowledgement at all of event overall performance.
The last thing the Casartelli's want is for anyone to be hurt, or worse,
trying to race a descent. So there's no prizes for downhill speed;
which rules me out straight away.
But you want to see what you get for winning the climbs and the
prizes at the end!
Having Said That
Myself and Dianne tagged on to the back end of the local team
that raced in black and red. Seemed appropriate as we all arrived
at the line at the same time and we fitted in with them, colour wise.
They had a team car, Gregario's bringing water bottles and taking gilets
back and forth, car to bike radio's, spare wheels and bikes on the roof, the full works. And they were
all riding Kuotoa's, which was one of the event's sponsors. So they looked
important and very Italian.
There was an abundance of
shapes, sizes and abilities so it seemed we'd be okay until we got to
the first hill. We left town at a sedate 30 kph, it's 8:30 am and
it's 20 degrees. We're heading for a ride around Lake Como and
life doesn't get any better.
The speed began to pick up so
I made sure Dianne was okay, how could she not be, and let her tail off
the back with a few of the "gentlemen racers". I drove to the
front and began to chain
gang with my new Italian mates. It's a rolling 39k to the first climb, the 5
kilometre long Fontanella, and we cracked along to it's base at an
average speed of 35 kph.
It would have been 30 kph but
around 20 kilometres in we spotted another group up the road.
Ironically they seemed to be in blue and yellow (for our foreign readers
red & black and blue & yellow are the colours of Jersey's two main local
clubs). The chase was well and truly on and we hit a sustained 40-45
kph to the bottom of the climb.
At Pare, we entered a very,
very long tunnel, still chasing our quarry. Half way
through our ear drums began to bleed as we heard two motorbikes enter
the pipe a long, long way behind us.
A minute or so later two
Superbikes, a Ducati and Kawasaki, screamed past us doing at least a 100
mph (there was plenty of room absolutely no one was in danger) in a
mechanical cacophony that had to be heard to be believed. The
noise from the cheering riders almost drowned out that of the bikes.
It was a very "Italian" moment.
We exited the tunnel as one large group consisting mainly of Team Kuota,
the now identified, CS Bruzzano, and me. We hit the base of the
Fontanella and started heading skywards for five, twisty, turny, hot,
steep, sweaty, kilometres...
Nineteen minutes later,
averaging 244 watts and 192 bpm, we're at the summit. The views on
the way up were, as ever, glorious in the extreme. Though the
serenity was tempered by the duel going on around me. The two
teams were splintered all over the hill in a riot of colour, size and
heavy breathing. It wasn't pretty, but then it never is when
ego's start writing cheques that ability can't cash.
Still, I enjoyed
Looking at the map above, we started at Albese which is in
the very bottom left hand corner. We headed east, then south for a
bit, then north, along the beautiful Lake Como, to the point where our
rides turned inland to climb the Fontanella. (The blue 114k ride
and the red 58k ride.)
At the summit it was flat
for a bit where the two teams called a truce and re-grouped. Me?
I cracked on. After a short sharp descent, the long ride was to
turn right and start climbing again. Dianne, turned left and
continued the descent to head back to Albese. This is the point in
the centre of the map where all the lines meet.
We're now on the 11 kilometre
Muro di Sormano. I'd never heard of it until today, and I was a
little confused by the route descriptions because my Italian wasn't good
enough to decipher that there was an issue! Ignorance is bliss.
Now I've ridden the Muur of
Geradsbergen. It's steep but easily doable, and I don't mean this
in a derogatory way, but Dianne's gallantly scaled it's heights.
However, the Muro di Sormano, is without doubt, a wall without equal!
The main climb of Sormano is
steep, and you climb for nine kilometres before you reach the marshals
and a fork in the road. One option is left, the other right.
I wasn't sure what was going on but most people were going right.
I'm always one for the "road less travelled", so I took the left.
Straight away we went down a steep drop. How good is this?
Then it went up, and I
started to read the writing on the road. I returned the next day
to get a photo. It say's it all on the road here...
The bits you're interested in
are, starting height 827 metres, finishing height 1107 metres. length
1700 metres; maximum 25%, with the average gradient a leg bending 17%.
was used in the Giro in the late fifties and early sixties and the
fastest times are written on the road. You can see from this photo
that Baldini climbed it in 1962 in 9 minutes 24 seconds.
You can also see that the
road is too narrow to zig-zag. The only way is up, and straight up
at that. I rode up the whole way only because the people that were
walking were sliding down the hill on their cleats and I didn't want to
ruin my shoes. Some people who'd dismounted had their bike brakes full on to stop
them sliding backwards. It was the strangest biking sight I'd ever
Turn the Screw Why don't You?
To make matters worse and to increase your suffering, every single metre
of height climbed is marked on the side of the road, so you can see how
slowly you're going.
The photo above was taken on
the only flat bit (5% remember) but you can see in the far right of the
photo how close the "one metre climbed markers" are to each other.
Just after this photo was
taken, on the next 20% bend, I cracked and stopped, through sheer lack of push against gravity
and lactic build up. I literally couldn't push the pedals over for
one more rev.
The front wheel came off the
ground as I pushed against the pedals and pulled up on the bars.
The bike stopped dead, wouldn't move forward and I just
managed to put a hand out and grab the fence, alongside the massive
drop, to steady the bike and hold myself upright.
I stopped, took some very
deep breaths, (for a minute and a half my SRM figures later told me (I
thought it was about 10 seconds)) then pushed myself
off and honked the bike in to some sort of, very slow, forward motion.
I rounded the corner and
there, 20 metres away, was the timing mat and the finish! I was
furious with myself like you wouldn't believe. I shan't repeat the profanities, for fear of shaming myself even
further. Slacker that I am, I took 19 minutes to clear the timing mats and was 151st
fastest (least slowest) of the day. I'm still not sure whether to
be happy or mad.
And when you get to the top,
it's so high they've built a space observatory! Looked nice, and
deserve a stop but I
wanted to make up for the shame of stopping and took a flyer down the
other side of the mountain. Which was by far one of the most
challenging descents I'd ever tackled.
It was super technical, super
fast and super hairy. It almost made me want to climb it all
again, just so I could have another crack at the descent. But I
couldn't as it was time to press on. The Ghisallo awaits.
We dropped like a stone
(that's the royal we, I was on my own after the first two corners), to
Nesso and in to a massive headwind as I traversed the lakeside road.
If you've never been in this
part of the world, it's beauty is hard to describe. Having said
that, the roads are a nightmare. The highway is just a ribbon of
pot holed spaghetti that hugs the contours of the lake. I wouldn't
want to commute it every day in my Fiat Punto that's for sure.
A reasonably compatible group
of ten formed on the outskirts of the village, Despite mother
nature's hand in our face, we screamed through and off for the 10
kilometres to Bellagio, where we'd eaten the night before, and turned
inland and south to find the Ghisallo.
was my second time up this momentous and mythical climb so I was a
little more prepared for the severity of the early slopes.
I held my nerve as six of our
group rode away from me. I decided I would hold an average of 220
watts for the first ten minutes. I kept everyone in sight and as
we entered the "less steep" sections where it drops from 10% to 8 and 9%,
I began to claw them back one by one.
Half way up the climb drops
to 2 and 3% just as you enter the village and the legendary Chapel.
The bells were ringing as I passed and the market was open, which made
life interesting as I made my "attack" on the dip just past the Chapel.
I'd now caught them all. (Here I am eying up my final victim in my natty
Some riders had stopped to
visit the Chapel, where inside burns the eternal flame for fallen
cyclists. Amongst the hundreds of other artefacts from champions
throughout the ages, lies Casartelli's crumpled frame. A poignant
reminder of why we are here and the dangers we all face.
It's another 2k to the top
and I clear the summit in 48:33 at an average 213 watts and 186 bpm
heart rate. Cadence was a dire 66 rpm but after the Surmano, I was
lucky they were turning at all.
The higher you go the more
serene the view becomes, with the Lake below you and the Alps in the
distance it's truly magical. Sometimes I wish I could just pull
over and sit for a while to take in all these fantastic places I visit
and "be in the moment" as our American friends say. But not me,
when I've got my race face on it's racing to the exclusion of everything
else. There's another descent to tackle.
I'll come back in the car tomorrow.
Gianni ~ Route 1
The road off the Ghisallo is as good as they come. But
the closer you get to the bottom the more traffic you encounter.
Which again, especially Italian traffic, faces you with a challenge you
either love or dread. I've always found it's best to embrace these
things. It makes life more interesting.
Four of us formed a groupetto
and rode as fast as we could without dropping the others. Then
with 5k to go we hit a super long false flat and I just went backwards.
Tanks empty. I said my Arrividerci's and sauntered home keeping
them in sight but unable to jump back on.
No one else caught me and I
was happy to finish in 5:26 at an average speed of 25.5 kph but with a
maximum of 78 kph coming off the Ghisallo.
Waiting at the finish, as
always, was Dianne who'd survived another encounter with her legion of
ever-present Italian Lothario's. The finish line
photographer took our photo below (me looking a little mincey with a
Herman Munster forehead line from my race casquette) and we
headed for the fantastic meal, raffle and prize giving ceremony.
Seeing as we didn't feature
in the climbing prizes, carbon frames, wheels and groupsets for the
first, second and third in each category, on each climb, we applauded
the winners then decided to leave for the comfort of our hotel, a
kilometre down the road.
It was a low 30 degrees and we needed to
cool down. So it was back to our renovated castle and air-conned room.
This is such a fantastically well organised event with a real family
atmosphere. Everyone in the village joins in and everyone is a
cyclist or a cyclist's parent or an ex-cyclist.
The signing on was an event
in itself. I could write a whole article on the laugh we had just
getting our numbers and goodies. But you'd never believe it.
To give you a flavour, I had five "big" (To quote Benny Hill in the
Italian Job) Latin-blooded women all fussing over me because Dianne said
I was a "big boy". Before you make your own
stories, it was to do with the fact that they couldn't
get a jersey to fit me!
I'm 70 kilo's, hardly big,
but these Italian racers are something else. Some of them weigh
less than their bikes. I ended up with an XXL.
Please, try this event; or if
not this one the Fondo Lombardia.
It's not too long; the
hotel accommodation was something else; the scenery is picture
postcard; and no one does their racing like the Italians. Just
take some very low gears and watch out for the hill you've never heard
of. And when you get to the fork in the road? Take the
Until next time...