Fausto Coppi

Overall Distance 159k Time Taken 6:19
Height Climbed 2800 m Category Position 54th
Date June 2008 Country Italy
Entrants 1500 Region Cuneo

Fausto Coppi ~ Gran FondoWhen I tell you that Fausto Coppi's nick name was Il Campionissimo, it should say it all.  Camp he was not!  He wasn't without controversy either.  Before his untimely and ultimately mysterious death at the age of 40, in an era of hard men, he was one of the hardest and most respected.  Just don't mention the drugs!

The event that bears his name was as equally hard and demanded equal respect.  However, the event I'd prepared for was compromised somewhat by doing two incredibly tough 170k sportives in the two weeks preceding.  Through changing circumstances we'd ended up doing the Belgian, Eddy Merckx and the French, Bernard Hinault on the previous two weekends; and then had to troll down to Italy, after stopping off in Switzerland, for the Coppi. 

So we did a lot of riding, a lot of driving and not a lot of recovering in June.  Still, I wasn't going for a win so it's time to make the most of what's on offer and just ride the bike for sheer pleasure of seeing new roads, new people and new mountains; knew there'd be a catch.

What was on offer was an avalanche two weeks before the event, that closed the roads and mountains of the planned route.  The already hard worked organisers played a blinder and came up with an alternative route.  Unfortunately, they never took the opportunity to make it any easier.

Big & Bigger
So, we signed on for what was now a 250k event, up from the original 220k.  It wasn't all bad though.  We stayed at the Class Hotel in Cuneo which was a kilometre from the start.  On this very same weekend, Cuneo hosted an international ladies tennis tournament.  How lucky was I.  You've never seen a bigger bunch of lithesome, athletic beautiful young ladies in your life. 

Miserable as Sin, the lot of them.  What a waste.  Here they are, professional sports people living their (or their parent's) childhood dream and not a single smile amongst them.  It really was sad to see all these surly, rude (to the hotel waiting staff), egotistical and just plain glum young ladies. 

Me, I was happy as Larry!  Mrs Williams had their coaches to stare at; although I'll save that story for another day.  They all looked like someone out of Miami Vice or the Italian General out of 'Allo 'Allo.  Well, I thought it was funny.  The weekend consisted of lot's of "Whata mistaka to maka!"

At signing on, you get given a jersey, which it's compulsory to wear during the event.  1500 riders all in the same coloured jersey, that should be interesting.  I got the biggest size I could because the last thing I wanted was to have a tight sleeved or collared jersey annoying me during my epic climbing stints!

What was also compulsory is the carrying of one of those aluminium survival blankets that they have at the end of Marathon races.  It was 27 degrees, why would I need one them?  And where am I going to get one now?

Race day dawned and the hotel was split in to two factions at the breakfast room.  Half the room was made of cyclists, all chatter, laughs, and plates piled high, like the last meal of a condemned man. 

Whereas the tennis girls, literally had a crisp bread and a slice of orange with a yogurt.  Eaten in total silence, Staring at the plate with that 1000 yard stare, not even engaging in a conversation with their coach and mentor.  To be honest, it was very, very sad.

Phew! What a Scorcher
We rode to the depart at 6:30 am in 24 degrees of early morning sun for the 7:00 am kick off.  It really was a perfect morning for cycling.  I couldn't get a survival blanket, and even though it was an English summer's day, temperature wise, I still took my gilet.  It would have been stupid not to, having been given a warning. 

There was no "small" event for Dianne to ride.  She can handle up to 110k but it wasn't to be today.  It's 160k or 250k.  And after riding the previous two events she'd rather take a breather and take in the ambiance of the occasion.  So she said she'd go with the Italian old boys on their club run, after the main event had started. 

She'll probably come back covered in bruises again after being "helped" up the hills by the dirty old men.  She loves it!

We're Off
Anyway, back to happy cyclists.  A prayer was said over the tannoy and we were off; like 1500 scalded green cats down the Avenue di Roma.  This'll be the warm up then.

We headed out of town down a long, long false flat, then up a longer, longer false flat to head for the first climb.  It was 20k out of town before we hit the valley floor of San Damiano Macra that crept slowly up for 20k to prepare the legs for the first ascent of the day at Stroppo.

Our first challenge was to be the 18k, 2284 metre Colle di Sampeyre, with an average gradient of 7.6% and some nasty sections of 21%.  The organisers had apologised with an advance press release emailed to all riders about the route changes.  It was now a little harder than before but they wished us good luck and a "funny day".   I think it got lost in the translation because there was nothing funny about the Sampeyre!

The crowds on the climb were enormous and the atmosphere was infectious.  With the motorbike marshals, the cameras and the commisaires cars and mechanical support teams, this was as close to riding like a pro you could ever hope.  I just wished I had better climbing legs, because this wasn't going to be a glory day.  I decided to stick to 240 watts no matter what the gradient and let the altitude take care of itself.

I spent a nervous hour watching riders pass me and pull away.  Then I spent the next forty minutes pulling back places one by one.  I came over the top, in a long line of riders, alone. We all seemed to get a two metre gap between ourselves.  It was one long massive crocodile up the last three kilometres of the climb.  Nowhere, ahead or below me, could I see "groups" of riders.  This one really stretched them out. 

In to the Valley
When we got to the top, it was like being on the roof of the world.  Everywhere around us was below us.  By the way, in the photo below, I'm not bulking up, it's my gilet that's stuffed up the front of my jersey for the descent.

Fausto Coppi ~ Colle di Sampeyre

I filled my empty bottle, took a comfort break, and took what was on offer at the feed to save my bars and gels for the back end; then continued on my way losing just under three minutes.  My SRM records "lost time" but it's okay, I'll make it up on the descent.  And what a descent.  20 kilometres covered in a little over 20 minutes. 

Having underestimated the chill factor I had to grab my gilet from under my jersey and put it on while descending.  Which made life interesting.

You can see on the graphic below, the speed in blue with each braking point indicated by a dip.  The yellow spikes are the power curves that maxed out at 546w accelerating out of the corners.  you don't go full gas out of the corners because it's not very clever burning much needed energy reserves to go down hill! 

I've chopped the first bit off to make it fit the page but you'll notice the flat yellow bit at the start.  For the first two and a half minutes of the descent I didn't even pedal (because I was eating) and reached speeds up to 68.8 kph.  It was a super steep top end, then it became super technical. 

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now
I picked up at least 50 or 60 places on the descent and led off the mountain in to the valley road.  I was 200 metres behind what looked like a very fast group and I knew who was behind me as I'd just overtaken them all.  There were some top looking riders coming up behind me and at this point I was still in it for the long haul.  So it's eat, drink and wait for a group to form.  Which it did in pretty short order.

The roads, up until now, had all been fully closed which just added to the atmosphere.  The road through the valley off the mountain, was slightly downhill following a raging river, but traffic behind us had been held up so we still had free reign to crack on as every junction and roundabout was fully policed.

The chase was extremely fast and I congratulated myself on holding back, as we began to sweep up riders ahead of us.  I contributed on the front but didn't go too much in to the red.

At the 120k mark we started climbing again, which was almost to be my undoing.  The Montemale at 1126 metres was less than half the height of the Sampeyre.  But boy was it steep.  It was an hour of hell and had everyone struggling to find a rhythm.  Once again our group was shattered all over the mountain.

Half way up I began to feel really strong and as the K's counted down for Monetemale I began to pick up speed until I reached the town almost sprinting for the top and the feed.  It had been a very, very hot day and I'd drunk a lot of fluids and was at the point where I was satisfied with my ride so far but couldn't see me hitting 250k with three more climbs and enjoying the experience.

Remember Rule Number 1
It was at this point that I decided to miss the biggie and "just" do the 160k ride.  I called Dianne on the mobile to let her know, took another comfort break (which is really unusual as normally I don't "go" at all during these events) and left the station and ran over the timing mat to prepare for the descent to the finish.

I rounded the corner, down the dip then hit a hairpin that took us upwards.  Big style.  Montemale is the town at 940 metres.  Piatta Montemale is the summit, at 1126 metres.  There was still 3k to the top.  Admittedly not the steepest climb in the world, but on a demoraliser scale of 1 to 10, it was closer to the bigger number than I would of liked.

It was at this point that I realised I hadn't filled my empty bottle at the feed.  I now had only three quarters of a bottle to get me to the finish.  I'd ignored my golden rule of all rules.  Never leave a feed without snatching a bottle of water and filling on the fly, or stopping to fill from the drinks available at the station.  The time lost stopping is nothing compared to the suffering and degradation of speed once dehydration sets in.  It ain't nice.  My demoraliser hit the bell at the top of the pole.

Stretchy Elastic
Still, the technical descent cheered me up.  Even got a super photo of me scraping the handlebars on the ground banked over like Valentino Rossi.  It was around 15k from the base of the very challenging descent to the finish.  I managed to jump across to a very fast group of around twenty riders, half of which looked to be in my age group.  On the run in on the long fast roads I began to yo-yo off the back.  I couldn't allow myself to get dropped and ride in alone after dying a thousand deaths.  So it's grit the teeth time. 

I needed to stay with the group to shelter from the now rising headwind.  Three times I was 20 metres off the back as the elastic snapped,  And three times I managed to get back on by not braking at the ever increasing roundabouts.  It proved we were nearing civilisation. 

At each roundabout I'd leapfrog from the back of the group to the front as they all ponced around, cornering at 10 kph.  When we got to the 5k to go marker it all calmed down.  Ready for the grande finale.

Expect the Unexpected
Everyone seemed to just back off and ride tempo.  The pace was still high and at the top edge of the comfort zone, but well do-able with no attacks to upset the knife-edge balance.  At the 2k marker, we hit a descent that led in to a cobbled climb of around 400 metres. As you can see below, we're six hours and thirteen minutes in to the race.

As usual, I opened a gap on the descent and just nailed it up the climb bouncing from stone to stone, because I didn't want to get caught and dropped by the others.  I cleared the top, looked behind me and saw a 20 metre void between me on the flat and the others still flouncing up the slope.

Okay time to go and see what happens.  I might get lucky and stay away.  Luckily we came to the long drag out of town that we rode up in the morning, only now it was downhill.  I kept on the gas and didn't look behind me once, it was time for total commitment. 

The big spike at 6:16 was a massive roundabout that was the turning off point for the big ride.  If you took the turning, there would be another 100k, and three climbs, to go, or four hours for the likes of me and you!  I "casually" glanced across my shoulder as I went three-quarter's of the way around the roundabout to hit the uphill, cobbled slope of the Avenue di Roma,

There was a big lineout of around 10 riders chasing me about 60 metres away.  I gave one more out the saddle push and peeked under my arm, to not give the game away about my pain and concern.  Not one person turned off, they're all coming after me!  How dramatic.

Fausto Coppi ~ Piazza Galimberti

At the top of the hill I turn on to the Piazza Galimberti (above) all Jens Voight-like.  I complete the ride around two sides of the Piazza and sprint the third to the finish, just as the others enter the square.  Job done, 54th vet, very hot, very tired, very happy.  It's now 30 degrees.  Where's my free ice cream?

Dianne takes my chip hands it in and comes back with my Diploma and ice cream voucher.  All I want is water.  She disappears again and comes back with a litre of water.  It doesn't touch the sides.  I down the whole lot, knowing I shouldn't, almost immediately. 

Five minutes later, having come back to life, I get changed, and we grab a fantastic meal, just as the "big" race winner comes home.  He wasn't very big and he didn't look very tired.  We waited ten minutes for the second placed rider to come home then went back to the hotel for a power nap. It's 32 degrees now and too hot to hang around.

Final Thoughts
Even though everyone was wearing green.  Dianne did a great job of picking me out and snapping the photo above.  She'd been for her ride with the Italian Stallions, had a great morning and bought a new race top from one of the many trade stands in the Piazza.  She's just happy to be in Italy.

This is a real toughie, in a fantastic part of the world and organised by people who have nothing but passion for cycling.  The volunteers, organisers, public support and atmosphere are second to none.  Stick it on your list because you'll not be disappointed.  Just remember your survival blanket.

PS They now do an even bigger one!  300k & 5100 metres of climbing that goes out to the Izoard!  Not sure if I can stay awake long enough to complete it.  But it does sound tempting.

website Fausto Coppi

Class Hotel Cuneo