To almost paraphrase a great Roman; I came I saw, I was nearly conquered.
The race of the falling leaves was to be the end of our season and
the final scalp
in my collection of cycling's great, historic, legendary, monuments.
What started at in March with Milan San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, went on to take in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Paris Roubaix and finally the Giro Lombardia. I've now ridden them all and can die a happy man. Although I'm not planning to, any time soon.
Our season finished as we started, with a classic ride in Italy. After watching an emotional Bettini cross the line on Saturday it's now our turn to ride the very same roads on Sunday.
Like Bettini I had a few exciting corners on the descents, however on the ascents I was more like Wegmann. If you never saw the pictures you won't know what I mean. If you did, the images will never leave you. Read on and get your name down for next year.
If you have to ask...
Someone asked, "Why drive 1700 miles to ride an event of just 70?" Well, if I have to explain you probably wouldn't understand the answer!
When you ride an "event" in Italy the word "just" doesn't come in to it. And 70 miles in Italy isn't the same as 70 miles back home. You have to ride it to experience the atmosphere, the passion and the whole fantasticality of it all. These are not events, they are full on races and part of the fabric of Italian culture. I was so happy just to be a part of it.
Having spent a year in Ibis' and Campanille's we always treat ourselves to a four star hotel at the end of the year. The Palace Hotel sits right on the edge of Lake Como. All booked, it was then just a case of finding out where the race was and where the sportive accreditation took place.
How lucky are we? Signing on was in the hotel foyer, the pro race finished at the hotel entrance, and the sportive start was at the hotel car park! Happy days, all for £85 a night with breakfast!
Oh, Good One!
Italian organisation can best be described as enthusiastic. With 1800 riders all placed in number order pens before the start I sauntered about happy in the thought of having a 400-number I'd be near the front for the off. Knowing I'd be near the front, why rush?
Then with fifteen minutes to go, they joined all the pens together! Only in Italy. Que sera sera.
Somehow I work myself to the middle of the pack ready for the 9:00 am start. After the gun, and the first riders started moving, it took me four minutes to get to the start mat. I'm not that sad to measure it, you just get the info in your results sheet.
So there we are, I've just crossed the line and already I'm a kilometre behind the leaders. Still no time to fret as the pace is absolutely manic.
It's already a balmy 15 degrees and getting hotter, so there are just shorts and short sleeve jerseys required. Who can believe it's the middle of October? We leave town up the finish straight of the pro tour event then head on a 22k continual rising slope to Solzago at 517 metres. It wasn't until we hit the descent, 40 minutes later, that my heart rate dropped below 200 bpm.
The Italian's ability to cause chaos never ceases to amaze me. As we were all climbing steadily the group remained large and I was fairly comfortable in the big ring. We then hit a small, steeper slope that was 50 metres at the most and easily do-able in the big ring. One went for the small ring, unshipped it, went down and two of his mates landed on top of him. It was the col d'Izoard all over again.
Once over the peak it was a mad dash back down into Como, past the back door of the hotel, to head out alongside the lake for Nesso.
Here we go again...
What is it with me and motorbikes? After being enthusiastically whistled at in the Picarde for overtaking a marshals motorbike, I was about to have second helpings in a more official capacity.
Having just sold my beloved Hayabusa I was feeling a little down. So to cheer myself up I was going to go all out on the descent. What I didn't factor in was the presence of a bike cop who seemed to want to race me to the lake. In my mind, there was only going to be one winner and it wasn't going to be him.
We must have overtaken at least a 100 riders descending out of Albese to Como. At one point he tried to dive under me as we entered a corner doing at least 40 mph.
I don't think he realised how late I would brake as we then had a situation with him on the inside (with a big drop to his left) me resting a shoulder on his side panier with my handlebar on his right leg, and a big wall to the outside.
Neither of us panicked and we both held our line. As we began to pick the bikes up he eased out of it and gave me a little more space to get round. Grazie.
Two kilometres later, on a straight flat section, he came past at God knows what speed. So he did win. However, when we got to Como a blue bike was stopped at a junction and a cop waved, I can only think it was him! Top man. We'll call it a draw!
Well the run back out of Como to Nesso was fast and furious. I managed to jump across a few groups by hanging on to the faster, "lista rossa," riders who started behind me and were now coming to the fore. The scenery, the atmosphere and the roads are unbelievable. Two in a good way the third in a not-so-good way.
For every spectacular view there are two pot-holes, grids or tram lines. Your attention is always on the road. Always.
We screamed through the feed, and hundreds of spectators, at Nesso and once more I'd made sure I was on the front. Descending to Lezzeno was another joy on wide, sweeping, washboard-stylee, closed roads.
Approaching the foot of the climb we all slowed to eat. Another rider came alongside and asked if I'd ridden the Ghisallo before. When I said no he gave that "thought not" look where it was obvious he new something but didn't want to spook me.
You must go slow at the bottom, he said, you'll need energy for the top. Oh, don't worry I said, I'll be going slow. Me too, he said. Especially with our gears. See, he did it! Now I'm spooked.
Power Over Vanity
I wanted to get power readings for the race so was using my SRM cranks with a 52x39 and a "race" block. Everyone else around us had compacts. Alrighty, keep calm, grab a wheel and don't panic.
I'd decided I'd climb the 8 (or 10 depending how it's measured) kilometre Ghisallo at 220 watts no matter what gear I was in.
At the 14% mark, which happens early on, this called for a bit of out the seat activity. I found I was climbing really well but was beginning to get a slight headache. This significant tell tale sign came too late. I'd made an amateurish mistake. I now knew why my heart rate was so high and refusing to come down.
I climbed well and survived the first four kilometres, which average 9.2%, relatively easily.
As we topped the first part of the climb, at Guello, I was on the front of a large group. Pics to prove it too!
I took a desperately required drink and a gel as we cruised the dip and headed for part two of the climb.
The last kilometre is at 9.5% with a vicious 12% in the middle. I know it's less than the 14% at the bottom but now the legs are more tired. Those with compacts are easing past me but I know I'll catch them on the way down. I think. The picture above was taken as I attacked my group over the summit to find a clear road on the way down.
What a mistakah to makah
In the best `Allo `Allo fashion, I was providing the potential for a comic farce. Two days driving, with aircon and a night in a hotel, also with aircon, and a day in the sun watching the pros had left me heavily dehydrated and thirsty. Here's some stats to muse over.
You can see from this heart rate chart that I spent 40% of the ride at 190-200bpm, 22% at 200-210 bpm and 6% at 210 and above.
That's 72%, of the three hours, forty-six minutes ride, above 190 bpm! No wonder I had a headache! Still, shows I'm alive.
I knew I'd prepared well (can we still use that phrase!?) as my test results before I left proved I was ready.
However a basic school boy error had the potential to be my undoing. I had, shall we say, an intense second part of the climb and had no time (or capacity) to admire the new museum as I crossed and attacked over the summit. I had to try to regroup and make up time on the way to Erba.
I hope St Ghisallo, the patron saint of cyclists, would be watching over me on the descents.
The descent was once more unbelievable and in a good way. The roads had been closed over the Ghisallo and there were cars from the top of the climb all the way down to the foot of it. I noticed 5 kilometres of parked cars, which made my descending a little more exciting as I now only had one lane to play with when coming past people. I ate a full energy bar on the way down and drank a full bottle. I needed to recover, and quickly, for the climb to Civiglio.
Are you watching Steve?
I always remember David Duffield on Eurosport going berserk a few years back when someone wrote in and said cycle racing was getting boring. As ever Duffers was getting carried away with another gripping race when he shouted out a tirade of these immortal words. "Are you watching this Steve, are you watching? This is cycling, this is what it's all about Steve." Well today was one of those days.
The Civiglio climb is not just steep, it's steeped in legend. It's been ridden a 100 times before by some of our sport's greatest riders, as yesterday was the centenary running of the Lombardia. That's why it's a monument and that's why it's on this year's list of rides.
My bottles are now empty and I'm suffering. I focus on the road ahead and keep banging out a rhythm getting out of the saddle at the ridiculously tight and steep hairpins. The more it hurts the more I think of Wegman and the more I realise I should just get on with it.
So I do and manage to stay in touch with "my" group until the summit. Where there's a feed and a 20k to go banner.
I grab a bottle of water from the helper and hold it in my mouth. I then start the descent and remove the top from my bidon. In between the corners I managed to take a drink, fill my bidon, take a gel, put the top back on, and close a gap to around ten riders in front of me by hitting 52.4 mph on the seriously steep and twisty descent. You can see from this 2 mile snap-shot it was all accelerate, brake, accelerate.
The red line is my heart rate, blue is speed and yellow is power. The stats on the right are for the snapshot above.
But the stats and the graphs don't tell the full story.
I've been lying all this time
The continual 10%, four kilometre, descent of the Civiglio redefines the word technical. Everywhere else on this website where I've described a descent as technical can now be reclassified as tricky.
If you ever get to ride one descent in your life make sure this is near the top of your list. It has everything, speed, danger, villages, views (I think) and excitement.
This was an out and out, edge of the seat, blink and you're off, rollercoaster of a descent. For the first time in years I had my full attention, fully grabbed and the "limited" skills I have fully utilised.
I had the absolute time of my life and got those butterflies in my stomach I haven't had since I spun my single-seater racing car at Silverstone, in the rain, in front of a Ferrari Le Mans car. Something you only do the once!
It was so bad (good?) that I ripped apart a whole, brand new, Corsa CX rear tyre on the way down. It went from brand new to thrupence coin shaped in three miles. The corners were so steep on the inside that you almost went over the bars and struggled to keep the back wheel on the ground and from locking up.
The approaches were as bumpy as any Flandrian cobbled section, only you're doing 45 mph with you're brakes full on, doing a Nicky Hayden and backing the bike in to the corners.
As ever the Colnago E1 cornered as though on rails and never once did I feel out of control or as if it was going to bite back.
Four people almost came croppers in front of me. One took me right to the edge of the road as he came under me with both wheels locked! How he stayed on I don't know? To see Bettini come down the day before was an eye opener. What we didn't see was Wegman catching him. I'd have paid double to see that footage.
I came down the descent grinning like a loon. Caught and dropped quite a few then found myself in no mans land as reality kicked in. It's three miles to the foot of the San Fermo. Do I chase or wait?
I chased for the whole three miles to catch the group of 20 in front, with no help whatsoever. I was really suffering but once again I remembered Wegman. I'll never witness commitment like that again if I live to be a 100. So I stopped whining (and flicking my elbow for someone to come through) and got on with it.
I caught them right at the foot of the climb as we passed under the bridge. Then four riders came past me and went to the front of the group and started towing everyone away from me. Was I not happy. The three kilometre, 7% climb is a bit of a stinger this late in the race but with only 5k from the top to the finish I needed to keep in touch. As we battled the slopes and the crowds I began to tail off as my "on the flat" efforts took it's toll.
I knew I was now in with a chance of catching the group on the descent and putting in a sprint. I caught them and was working my way to the front when we hit the first roundabout.
I was caught out as everyone braked early and I took a sling-shot down the outside to go the wrong way round, to much shouting and whistling from the Polizia. Honest mistake but I gained around ten places.
However the next roundabout blew it completely. As we entered the turn, to double back on ourselves I was clipped on the shoulder by someone not paying attention, and once more sent off track.
This time I had no choice but to take the escape route; the road to Mendrissio and Switzerland! By the time I'd stopped turned around and been whistled at again, the group were twenty seconds up the road and moving fast.
I chased back on once more and caught three riders, dropping two of them before the flamme rouge. As we turned left to enter the Lungo Lario Trento, the 800 metre arrow straight finishing road, I faked a "run-wide" and my remaining Italian friend went to the front.
With nothing to worry about behind, I sat in and soaked up the ambience of the crowd lined road until 100 metres to go. I came off his wheel with a highly surprising 800 watt sprint, probably due more to anger than talent. I was so upset at that last roundabout.
A fantastic end to a fantastic weekend and another brilliant season. 110th vet in the cicloamatori class isn't too bad out of a field of 1800. In these events results are a bonus. Just being here and taking part is what it's all about. There's no use doing these trips if you don't enjoy them. And if you take the pressure of results off yourself, how can you not enjoy them?
It was once pointed out to me, by people who'd never ridden one, that sportives were little more than leisure rides. Well here's my power output summary from this weeks leisure ride.
With 23% of the ride at tempo, 19% at threshold power, 9% at VO2max and 13% at my anaerobic capacity, this was one seriously hard ride.
Forty percent of the ride was at or above my threshold. That's why it took nearly four leisurely hours to ride 66 leisurely miles! Yeh, right!
Over and Out
Dianne rode the first forty kilometres (up hill) miles of the route then continued around Lake Como checking out the scenery and celebs. After a brisk 70k she returned to the start village and checked out the Italian legs. Why do Italian (male) cyclists think it's sexy to roll up the legs of their shorts after a race? They really should be told.
She also had her photo taken by the boys of Pez Cycling. Not sure if they have a mature babes section, but we'll see.
After the race we waited at the finish and watched all the gravel rash victims appear. There were quite a few! We then had a quick bite, a shower, a nice lunch, then a trip round the lake on a boat looking for George Clooney's house. Very "Hello".
A quick power nap, then we watched the funniest film I'd seen for years. An old, black and white, 50's Italian film about a music teacher and his protégé. Couldn't understand a word of it but I haven't laughed out loud at a film so much in ages. It was then a quick promenade around the town and a fantastic evening meal in the town square with the sun going down. A perfect end to a perfect season.
Hope you enjoyed the ramblings and they've at least inspired you to try one next year. Once you do you'll never look back. Promise.
See you for more of the same next seaon.