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 2006 season and
the final scalp in my collection of cycling's great monuments;
Remo, the Tour of Flanders,
Paris Roubaix and
finally the Giro Lombardia. I've now ridden them all and can die a
happy man. Although I'm not planning any time soon.
2006 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 wont know what I mean.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 years list of
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,
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 form 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 and once more sent up the road. 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 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 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
output, 9% at VO2max and 13% at my anaerobic capacity, this was one
seriously hard ride. 40% of the ride was at or above my threshold.
That's why it took nearly four leisurely hours to ride 66 leisurely miles!
Over and Out
Dianne rode the first twenty five (up hill) miles of the route then
continued around Lake Como checking out the scenery and celebs.
After a brisk 40 miles 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
See you for more of the same in 2007.