Equipe Flamme Rouge  

Fabio Casartelli Sportive

casartelliOne of our objectives, has been to compete in as many "riders sportives" as we could.  If you look down the list on the right, 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.

It's Not a Race
The Fabio Casartelli Medio Fondo is held on the anniversary weekend of his death, and his parents are always there to see everyone safely off, at the event start line. 

casartelli

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 as 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 in an event to honour a great rider and their lost son.

So there are 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 unbelievable raffle prizes at the end!

casartelli

From the off, myself and Dianne tagged on to the back end of one of the local teams 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, if not talent 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, and Fabio's life-long sponsor.

They looked important and very Italian.  There team included an abundance of shapes, sizes and abilities, so it seemed we'd be okay until we got to the first climb.

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 two of Jersey's 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.

All For One...
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 myself.

casartelli

The Hill from Hell...
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! Luckily, 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...

sormano

The bits you're interested in are, starting height 827 metres, finishing height 1107 metres, length 1700 metres; with a maximum 25%, and an average gradient of a leg bending 17% ~ Seventeen PERCENT!

sormanoIt used to be included in the Giro in the late fifties and early sixties and the fastest times are written on the road to goad you.

You can see from this photo that Baldini climbed it in 1962 in 9 minutes 24 seconds.  How heavy was his bike I wonder?

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 to oblivion.

It was the strangest biking sight I'd ever seen.

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.  It's a double edged sword; you know how close you are to the top, but you also know how slowly you're getting there.

sormano

The photo above was taken on the only flat bit (still 5%) but you can see in the far right of the photo how close the "one metre climbed markers" are to each other coming out of the corner.

Just after this photo was taken, on the next 20% bend, I cracked and stopped, through sheer lack of push against gravity and lactate 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 stalled, 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.  It wasn't pretty.

sormano

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.

sormano space

Heavenly Bodies
And when you get to the top, it's so high they've built a space observatory in the feed station!  Looked nice, and deserve a look 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 of us 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.

Cycling's Sacred Temple
ghisallo
This 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 of the climb.

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 Italian overshoes.) Some riders had stopped to visit the Chapel, where inside burns the eternal flame for fallen cyclists.

Amongst the hundreds of other artifacts  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.

Home 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 grupetto 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.

flamme rouge

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.

Final Thoughts
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 jersey before I was comfortable.

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 right. Until next time...

Event Stats...      
Overall Distance   Time Taken  
Height Climbed Overall Position
Distance Climbed   Category Position
Date   Country  
Entrants   Region  
       
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