Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Category: lorenzo

All my aces are on the floor

I have always liked to have people around, but the circumstances of life are such that I find myself more lonely than I used to be. Fai di necessità virtù, they say. I still dislike loneliness; but there is one specific instance when I can appreciate living on my own (Dee do de de dee do de de I don’t have no time for no monkey business) and that is when I am on a bike.

So here we go again. At the crossroads of Valais and Ticino, the Granfondo San Gottardo is one of the hardest cycling sportive events of the year. For me, this race had a special gist for three additional reasons: (i) it takes place in Switzerland, where I have been living for a few months this year; (ii) it is harder than the other races I have done before, with 110 km and three mountain passes to climb for a total of more than 3000 m of elevation; (iii) Nicco and Giallu had decided to come with me, so we could be together just like last year in Trentino. To this, it must be added that I am in the middle of a tumultuous process of moving out from my home: I was relieved to have such distraction.

Onto our road trip with Nicco and Giallu then! We drove from Florence to Ambrì and we planted our tent in the airport. After a very wet and sleepless night we got up at 6AM, had a heavy breakfast and started our race at 8AM. Up to San Gottardo, Furka, and Novena. This is how my race went on Strava; and this is how it went in pictures.

 

 

It went pretty much as we expected. San Gottardo is smooth and pleasant; Furka is long and steady; Novena is consuming and never-ending. But we finished! Even Nicco, who got a flat tyre on the descent from Furka and spent about 45 minutes looking for a pump. I rode my bike for 4 hours and 42 minutes, with two long breaks at the feeding points, crossing the finish line at 2:40PM.

In the evening we drove to Neuchatel and the next day we visited Montreux and cruised through the San Bernardo pass, Aosta and Genova. We arrived in Florence in the middle of the night and I have been packing up my belongings ever since.

 

Racing a Gran Fondo was one of my resolutions for 2016; I have now raced three. This is it: all my aces are on the floor. In the coming months I won’t have time to train properly and I won’t have the determination to do all the sacrifices that the preparation for a Gran Fondo requires. So farewell to my bike and all of that: what a ride it was.

Value art more than success

Lucerne/Olten, June 26

This morning I hopped on a train. I had decided to spend the entire day roaming randomly from one town to the other, familiarizing to a very Swiss habit: living on a railway. I though of this as the proper opportunity to wish farewell to those things and people that have become part of my life in the last three months, since the moment I first moved here. So I am going to do it now: this is what comes to my mind when I think back of my time here.

Trains, indeed. Switzerland is a country of commuters. Trains here are a bit like the tube: people use them every day, because they are so comfortable, frequent, and fast. And, of course, Swiss cities are on average pretty small, so it’s easy to walk everywhere once you are in the train station. So trains, that’s one thing I will miss. I, myself, traveled to la-Chaux-de-Fonds, Lausanne, Zurich, Bern, Geneve, Lucerne, Interlaken, and a lot of small towns. These were silent, peaceful, and scenic rides. I hope more of them will come in the future.

 

I will remember the army kids in the train stations. They are so many. I guess that is because each male citizen below 35 has the duty to serve for something like three weeks each year. This must be reason why youngsters in their uniforms are a common view in this country. They keep their hands in the pockets and smoke, talk, drink. It is a funny contrast, because their youth and small rebellious acts defy the nature of the uniform they wear.

I will enormously miss the Black Office and regret I did not spend more time there. It is here that I learnt the basics of how to fix a bike and it is also here that I was able to exercise my proto-French without much fear. I have great respect for the idea of helping people to fix their bikes and the sense of community based on good-will I found there.

And then there are all the other small things that are so stereotypical and true: the cows I met during my long rides across Romandie; the watch-makers in La-Locle; the weird blend of languages, which I find somehow exciting; the general sense of hospitality; the rare days of sun on the lake; the local beers, like BFM; the green fields and the mountains, which unfortunately I have not explored; the bizarre monuments in the cities; the Portuguese immigrant community of Neuchatel, providing each morning pastel de nata and coffee; and the counter-cultures, like the anarchism of the Black Office, the bike messengers, the rural communities of Jura, and the urban movements of Zurich.

I will remember fondly the office and the environment that welcomed me there. I got a lot of work done and I like to say that it is because there is not much social distraction in Neuchatel. But this was also because the nccr has provided me with so many resources – it was a genuine pleasure to dig deep into them. Apart from work, many colleagues also proved to be kind friends. Running the risk of not making justice to all, I will remember Marco, Stefanie, Flo, Eva, Valentin, Robin, David, Rorick, and Alice. And, of course, Jean-Thomas, who has done much to integrate me, both professionally and socially. I already knew his attitude; but it is only after these three months together that I have come to know his values and personality. It has been an education.

 

In the end, my most vivid images are those created during my long rides in the countryside of Romandie. Neuchatel was much more alive seen through the lenses of two slim wheels. Perhaps I, myself, am a bit like a bike: balance only comes when I am in motion. So there I go again, off to new uncertain beginnings. Because without them the heights would not feel so great, would they?

Dutching

Fiesole race report

Last Sunday i rode my second gran fondo from Fiesole to Fiesole, 105K. It was supposed to be something like this.

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It turned out to be more like this.

Giro d'Italia 7a

And think that the day before the race I arrived in Florence and it was about 35°, a temperature substantially higher than what I had in Switzerland. On Sunday morning at the start of the race it is still sunny, but all the riders of the pack have checked the weather forecast and know it is going to rain. Except me.

I start the race on the back of the peloton and since there are more than 500 participants in the first few km I get stuck in the traffic. Things look good when I start the first climb from Le Cure to Fiesole, rolling up with my pace and passing many riders.

On the long descent to Vicchio I manage to stay with a relatively large bunch and then on the second ascent of the day, the steep climb to Cima San Cresci, I leave the bunch behind together with a friendly chap who has pretty much the same pace as I do. We even find some time to joke on the way up. When we arrive on top of the climb I stop to wait while he drinks and eats at in the feeding zone: this way we can go down together on what is supposed to be a very technical descent. I have always considered myself a pretty bad rider when it comes to going down, but this time I surprise myself. Me and the friendly chap go down like rockets and by the time we finish the descent we have a large group of riders in sight, only a few hundred meters ahead. We give it all in, strong and hard, and we manage to catch up. It turns out to be a really massive group of about 50 riders, with 40 km of flat terrain ahead before the next ascent. It all looks good, then and there: when you are going on a flat terrain, staying in a group means you save 90% of your energy. That moment I remember thinking ‘conditions are ideal, this couldn’t get any better‘. In fact it can’t; but it can get worse: it starts raining, and it is not rain really, it is a proper storm. A few minutes after we pass from this road, a tree collapses. The picture below was taken by a local newspaper.

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What comes next is probably the most stressful hour of my 2016 thus far. With the roads inundated, riders start falling on the ground. The water does not only come on me from above: it also squashes in my face and in my eyes because the contact with the wheels of the riders ahead. I see extremely little and am I riding on a very slippery road surrounded by other cyclists at something like 45km/hour. In those long minutes I think of all the things that can go wrong: I might crash, I might slip, I might be taken down by another rider, I might loose my contact lenses, I might also ruin my mobile phone that is drowning in a pocket full of water. This is probably the most stressful thought of all. It is not the idea of loosing the phone that bugs me much, it’s more the GPS in it and the record of all the fast km that I have done until there. Anyways. I do not want to stop, and I continue.

So does the rain too. The storm stays with us until the end. But when we arrive to Sieci we know the most stressful part is over, because we have to climb up again. On a ascent the water is less annoying for a rider, because you go slower so there is less of a squash in your face and in your eyes. The ascent from Sieci to Olmo is long and steep and my large group explodes. Some riders loose pace, some others go up faster than I do. I stay pretty much in the middle; and then on the descent from Olmo to Firenze I gain terrain, coming down very fast again. This time it is mainly the fact that I know the roads extremely well and I am taking some risks, in spite of the wet surface. In the last ascent to Fiesole I feel I am completely wrecked because of the water coming into my bones. I arrive on top with a time of 3 hours and 12 minutes with an average speed of 29KM/hour and something like 150th.

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Three days later I still haven’t fully recovered from the fatigue.

 

Ecco come si sviluppa una dipendenza

Premessa: quella per le biciclette non è una dipendenza del tutto nuova. Già da bambino c’erano periodi in cui andavo in bici ogni giorno e passavo lunghe giornate di sole incollato davanti alla televisione a guardare Giro d’Italia e al Tour de France. La colpa è principalmente di mio padre, che a sua volta ha sofferto di questa patologia per lunghi tratti della sua vita e come lui pure diversi zii. Come altre dipendenze è dunque una questione ereditaria. In questo caso poi si è trattato di una ricaduta, perché tra il 2009 e il 2015 non sono quasi mai andato in bici e non ho perso tempo guardando le corse professionistiche in televisione.

Settembre 2015: ho portato una delle miei due bici da corsa Bianchi a Firenze in treno. Quest’anno avrò fatto sì e no tre uscite, inclusa quella follia di mezza estate con Giallu e Niccolò. Spero di poter pedalare un po’ con loro questo autunno.

Ottobre 2015: non ricordavo che fosse così divertente andare in bici. Ho fatto le prime uscite con Giallu, tra Fiesole e Pontassieve. Pedalare in Toscana è diverso dal Trentino, come immaginavo. Le salite sono più brevi e ombrose, le strade strette, le campagne bellissime.

Dicembre 2015: fa freddo, ma continuo a pedalare. I paesaggi sono splendidi, soprattutto al tramonto. Sto scoprendo una geografia toscana che non conoscevo. Mi sento arricchito, in un certo senso. Ho smesso di bere alcool e di uscire la sera.

Gennaio 2016: ho deciso di iscrivermi a una Gran Fondo. E’ nel retro dei miei pensieri da diversi anni. Penso sia giunto il momento di mettermi in gioco.

Febbraio 2016: ho pedalato 1000km in un mese, quasi sempre da solo, all’alba, al freddo, e sotto la pioggia. Non è stato poi così orribile come sembrerebbe. Mi piace studiare le mappe, prepare un percorso, scoprire nuove vallate, rivedere gli stessi luoghi in momenti diversi della giornata, in condizioni completamente mutate. Apprezzo di più il caffè caldo, le docce, le lenzuola profumate. Sto più attento alla qualità del cibo che mangio. Continuo a non bere alcol.

Marzo 2016: ho finito la Gran Fondo in brillantezza. I miei amici pensano sia la fine di questa mia ossessione. Illusi. Questo è solo l’inizio.

Aprile 2016: sono stato tre settimane in Spagna e ora mi sono trasferito a Neuchatel. Sono fuori allenamento e senza bici. Maledizione. Però appena arrivato qui ho scoperto il Black Office. Questo posto è meraviglioso. Ho come la sensazione che ci passerò molto tempo.

Maggio 2016: ho comprato una bici da corsa usata alla Bourse du Velo di Neuchatel e poi, non pago, ho portato dall’Italia una delle due bici Bianchi – grazie al mio impagabile babbo e a zio Paolo. In un mese ho pedalato per 600km, esplorando in lungo e in largo il cantone di Neuchatel. Ho anche passato diverse serate facendo il volontario al Black Office e inizio finalmente a capire come si ripara una bici. Continuo a non bere e a non uscire la sera. Inoltre, vado al lavoro alle 8 di mattina in modo da poter smettere tra le 16.00 e le 18.00 per guardare la tappa del Giro d’Italia – ho fatto un abbonamento speciale su Eurosport a questo proposito. Oggi ho partecipato alla Critical Mass qui a Neuchatel: eravamo venti-venticinque e a un certo punto mi sono ritrovato a pedalare in una rotonda accanto a una madre con il bambino che urlavano ‘Woooohh! Le velo c’est cool!‘ scampanellando come i pazzi. Ecco: lì ho capito che questo mio rapporto con le biciclette mi sta portando un po’ oltre. Intanto però ho deciso di partecipare alla Gran Fondo di Fiesole, che sarà domenica 29 maggio, dopodomani. Domattina alle sei prendo il treno e torno a Firenze. Ci vediamo lì?

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Yellow and blue

Alright – one more post about bikes because this year cycling is the thing that keeps me going – quite literally. So upon my arrival to Neuchâtel I bought a second-hand race bike from the 1990s, a Scott that I could not use right away: it had some mechanical issues and had to be fixed. Last Sunday I brought here my old Bianchi that I had used until 2013. At the same time I also fixed the Scott, thus passing from having zero road bikes available to having two. And I went nuts, biking every single day and riding up to over 100k.

On Thursday afternoon* I decided to take a tour of the entire lake of Neuchâtel, which is – surprise, surprise – the biggest lake of Switzerland. I took a few pictures on the way; unfortunately I could not, however, take photos of the kids waiving on the street and of the cat that had a funny look after I got lost right in front of him – or her?

Today I decided I would go up on the mountains, so I climbed the Chasserat, which at 1.600 m stands as the highest peak of the area. It felt like travelling back in time, when I had an old bike and I used to ride alone in the mountains, surrounded by snow, pine trees, and bees. It was a pretty emotional ride.

With these two improvised rides I sailed through the cantons of Neuchâtel, Vaud, Fribourg, Jura, and if I were brave enough to ride 30K more I could have crossed the border with France. So many invisible frontiers all together.

* it was a bank holiday, here. This is something which keeps happening to me:in the last few years I managed to be in the UK for the UK Early May bank holiday, in the Netherlands for Queen’s Day, in Spain for the Semana Santa, and now here for whatever it was vacation of May. Too many undeserved days off.

Pédaler avec charme

I have received a few messages from readers complaining for the abrupt interruption of publications on this blog. To be honest, it is mainly relatives worried about my health – a reasonable concern in light of recent events and previously expounded theories. Unlike my blog and Aston Villa, I am still doing fine. In the last few weeks I have been traveling. Let me sum up so I myself can keep track.

First off to Spain. It is a shame I do not have a good camera, because there are so many vivid imagies I should have captured. Instead I only took a picture of a book which I found in a museum of photography. I thought it was funny that it appeared randomly open on a picture of South Tyrollean valleys. Anyways. I was in Madrid for work and I stayed in a room in Lavapies, arguably one of the city’s most vibrant, alternative, and popular neighbourhoods. My stay was courtesy of Pedro, whom I hope to meet soon. Then down to Sevilla, also for work: I could barely appreciate La Giralda, el Alcazar, la Torre del Oro, el Guadalquivir, which I had already seen in 2009 in a torrid day at around 45° when I was living in Granada with Anna. This time my mind was closed, much more closed than it used to be, so I only had a remote glimpse of the exotism, the monuments, the women, the fiestas. As a sentence written in a lost book, todos hellos parecian confabulates para arrastrar a los centavos mas alla de lo que los limited que podian proportioner una domesticate imagination.

Then back to Florence. Unfortunately I had to cancel my participation to the Florence Gran Fondo which took place today (sic), because I am away. However, I still managed to go on a couple of long rides with Giallu and Bjorn. It is probably safe to assume that I have ridden more kilometres in 2016 than in the previous three years combined. And it has become somehow addictive.

Cycling is really becoming a thing for me. I am spending too much money buying fancy outfits, too much time watching highlights of professional races, too much energy studying stories of old champions.

The video above is about the story of a Swiss rider, Hugo Koblet. And it is probably fitting, since I just moved to Neuchâtel to work on my PhD dissertation – hint: that’s why I had to miss today’s Gran Fondo in Florence. Here, again, I have to thank Jean-Thomas, who made my stay possible and provided such gorgeous looks on the lake.

 

Eroico?

Decision taken: if the organizers will accept my application I will compete in the 2016 Strade Bianche Gran Fondo, also known as the Heroic race of the gravel roads which starts and finishes in Siena and is a hell of an event. This is what I am talking about.


So the pro race will be held on March 5th and the Gran Fondo where I will compete will be held on March 6th. This leaves me a good month and a half to train. This is far less than it would normally be necessary, but time is a tyrant. Anyways: since I brought my road bike to Florence I kept track of my -slow- progress on a paper. Very old school indeed.

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This isn’t much. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. I downloaded Strava and will start using it to monitor my progress from now on. As Marco told me in Montreal, half of the joy of participating to such an event comes from your capacity to keep up with the training schedule you set for yourself. And never before had it been more important to link again this memorable video to keep me going during these freezing days of Winter. Ideally, I should aim of doing 1.500K before March 5. Time will tell whether I am heroic enough.

Traditions matter

The most gracious book I read recently is a fictional diary: at the end of each year the writer makes a list of friends – new, old, and lost ones. I have started thinking in those terms. Last year I kept my closest friends here; also made some new acquaintances from whom I can probably learn a great deal should I manage to keep up with them (P. B.; L. B.; F. M.); I tightened my bonds with four friends who have an enormous importance for me (T. L. A.; N.d R.; N. S.; M. L.); and I weakened my bonds with a few other friends with whom I should have been more present (M. M.; M. V.; J. H.).

More specifically on this last point, last year for the first time I have not spent the end of December with my Canadien‘s crew after a streak of four memorable reunions – 2011 Utrecht2012 Innsbruck2013 Florence2014 the Hague, 2015 Berlin. This is no good.

For next year I must continue to make new acquaintances, but I also want to restore ties with some old friends. Oh fate, let it start from the Canadien family, because this is one of the most important things I have been part of since I have become a person of alleged maturity.

2016: resolutions

Take up cooking again. Talk to strangers, make new friends. Keep reading books; and maybe read some poems too. Distill and trade. Spend time with Camilla and Isabella. Volunteer, much. Start and finish a Gran Fondo. Teach one more university seminar. Write three chapters for my Ph.D. dissertation. Become part of something – NGOs? cycling clubs? freemasonry? Hike with Manuel, Mindo, and Giallu. Learn something new – something practical, possibly. Try to read and practice the spiritual exercises of Ignatius. Drink whiskey with Martin and Niels. Travel outside Europe. Meet the Canadians: Iris, Joe, Jasper. Write Thomas. Avoid weddings – except Nele’s. Be present. Make a plan for life. Visit Aosta.