The Gran Fondo Felice Gimondi
is effectively a stage of the Tour of Lombardy. Taking place in and around Bergamo
it climbs the classic hills found in the race of the falling leaves. With
seven mountainous climbs in it's 166 kilometres it really is an early
season test of stamina with the last, particularly vicious climb, really
stinging the legs.
Signing on the day before the
race, was an event in itself. Parking up alongside all the cicloamatori
vehicles in the Stadio Comunale car park the skies were very black. Then,
the loudest thunderclap I've ever heard in my life went off at exactly the
same time as the skies lit up like a paparazzi Christmas do. Every single
car alarm in the city went off and we decided to "stay in the car for a
bit". Anyway, once you’ve signed on in the Lazaretto, you get the best
goody-bag ever and your all important, race and bike number.
Sunday sees cool but calm
weather and 4,200 hopefuls lining up for the first mass-start of the
year. It was a little bit crowded at the start but everyone seemed
in good spirits (see below). Then we’re off. Out around the Stadium, through the outskirts of
the city and on to the ring road, where the police have stopped all the
traffic while we ride across the motorway. Once you get over the shock of
the amount of cars that are stopped you realise that the occupants are
actually sitting on the bonnets and roofs of their vehicles
enthusiastically cheering you on! What a start to the day.
First up is the Colle dei
Pasta. 4% and 4k long, the lines thin out a little and I begin to think
I'm going too hard as I make good progress and no-one passes me. Which
for me on a hill is a first! Great descent a bit steeper than the climb,
chance to make up more places; happy days.
Groups start to form and the
speed picks up as the race to the next mountain begins in earnest. I
can't understand why they climb so slow then scream along the flat bits.
Must be an Italian thing; but when in Bergamo... Then a touch of wheels
and about ten go down in front and to the left of me. I decide not to
brake, not to look and wait for a gap to appear which it does. Didn't
look nice but nothing I can do so I carry on, see I lied I did look.
After 25k the Colle Gallo
appears and hits your legs hard. Trying to remember the route card is
pointless but you don't remember it saying it was this steep. The first
kilometre has bits around 10% but it feels steeper. You remember the
climb being 7 kilometres long so try to settle into a rhythm that will see
you to the top. Then it flattens (becomes less steep) and stays at a
steady 6% until the 763 metre summit. As always I ignore the first feed
station and plough on to get a decent shot at the descent.
There is no flat bit. The
instant you finish descending the Colle Gallo you're ascending the 11
kilometres of the Selvino. Eleven kilometres, 19 bends and 653 metres of
climbing. It's not Alpe D'Huez, but the scenery is great and there's my
first feed station at the top. So I press on, but not too hard as I've
already driven the next mountain and know what to expect; self
preservation and for once common sense prevails.
After the Selvino a 10
kilometre false flat takes you in to mineral water country and through the
San Pelligrino bottling plant to the foot of the Forcella di Bura. Twenty
kilometres of up; or to us 20 St Aubin's hills joined together. After 50
minutes of exhaustive climbing you get to the top and start the descent.
Elation takes over as you realise that's the "biggie" out of the way.
Then despondency kicks in, you've just remembered this is the little dip
and there's another seven kilometres to the top, but there's a feed
station so spirits rise again!
Knowing there are two climbs
left I fill my bottles and pockets accordingly. Always carry more food
than you need and never leave a feed empty handed. It's free and you will
need it one day. I have a fantastic descent in to Brembilla, there are
loads of twists and turns but loads of clues as to how tight the bends
are. Still though my computer fails to read 50 mph. 49.8 is the best I
A big group forms on the run in
to Brembilla, a very big group. Due to my cracking descent I find myself
at the front. I'm in the first six of around 200 riders as we approach
the signs for the town. There are loads of Police, marshals and
spectators in the town. There are bands playing and a carnival
atmosphere. I notice the signs that split the race in to two. The blue
165k route turns right and the red 130k route goes left. I turn right in
to a hairpin bend that takes me straight into the Forcella di Berbenno.
The road goes from flat to up
quicker than you can say it. My legs fill with acid and I decide to ride
at my rhythm and tag on to wheels as they go past. I've been climbing for
about 30 seconds and no one has come past, I glance around wondering how
to pace myself for when a rider passes me. Nothing, no one, clear
tarmac! There are six riders between me and the base of the climb.
Everyone else has taken the 130k route. I brace myself for a lonely climb
and concentrate on getting to the next corner, then the next and the
next. This is going to take a while.
I carry on over the summit and
miss out the feed as I know there's one at the base of the final climb. I
never spend more than a minute at any feed station as I don't want to lose
time or get cold. This is my first timed event and I want to make the
gold standard; so crack on it is to St Omobono.
I take fig cake and drink at
the feed and ride a kilometre to the base of the climb and yet another
mineral water, spa complex. The first couple of kilometres are quite
steady but then we hit a couple of kilometres at 9%. From there on to the
1024 metre summit its a steady 7-8%. The objective now is to survive and
grind it out to the top. From which it's 30k to the finish and it's all
Once more I end up descending
on my own but I keep catching glimpses of two riders higher up the slopes
who appear to be going as fast as I am. I take more chances than I maybe
should, as I want to get to the bottom of the 15k descent, eat then
prepare myself for the run in. If these two are as good on the flats as
they appear to be on the descents I'll need to be ready.
As I reach the bottom I sit up
take a swig of drink, gulp a gel and take another swig of what is now just
water. As I put my bottle back in it's cage they sweep past. Two very
fast and very slim Italians on team bikes with team kit and what look like
team issue legs. I jump on and start clicking up the gears.
When I settle down and manage
to look up from the hub of the wheel in front of me I notice the locks of
hair cascading from under the helmet. This is a very fast lady and she's
beginning to make my legs sting. Although I feel on the limit I reckon
that I can control the pace more by doing a bit of through and off with my
new found friends. He talks to her and gives her a gel and I make a few
gestures which everyone seems to understand. We'll be gentlemen and the
lady can sit in.
Quickly we start to close on
larger groups ahead of us. Soon we are a group of about 30 with four of
us working. We approach a motorway, which we have to go underneath, then
climb the slip road to the old road that runs alongside it. The girl
starts to go backwards in a big way, her team mate waits for her.
Everyone else passes and leaves her for dead. At the top of the rise is
the 10k to go sign. I sit up, take a drink and wait for her to get back
on. The universal language of the casual nod takes place and the three of
us start to chase from 50 metres behind.
It takes about two kilometres
to catch them and when we do we go straight to the head of affairs.
Something is said in Italian; I didn't hear a "grazie" at any point, and
the Italian-Jersey train steams to the front. We build up the pace with
the odd rider or two helping. Then the help disappears. The group is now
dwindling and as we reach the last kilometre there are only about eight of
As we pass under the kite I go
to the front and put in a massive turn, expecting to ride until I blow.
My two new friends are line astern and the gap to the others opens up.
Slim Jim comes around me and our lady friend tucks on my wheel. We turn
off the main road in to the finishing straight and we enter the last
slightly downhill corner at over 30 mph. I go to the front and start the
sprint for the line but my legs are empty. They both scream past and I
keep with them as we pass under the banner. We look behind ~ no one.
A good job well done. Reserves
of energy that come from nowhere have got us to the finish in spectacular
fashion. Having been dead on my feet a half hour before I'm now
celebrating our “win”. Nods and "grazies" all round and another medal
each, and a red rose for the ladies. Check the time, a gold standard
ride! Despite my epic finish, I'm not required at the dope control so
it's off to the pasta party and the post-event celebrations with the
feeling of a job well done.
And don't believe what they say
about Italians and organisation. This was a fantastically organised
event, with the best food, marshalling and arrangements I've seen. You've
seen nothing till you've watched 5,000 portions of bread, pasta and wine
served to hungry, exhausted cyclists and their supporters.