Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

Category: sport

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.

Fernweh

Neuchâtel, 26 giugno

Giallu, Nicco, Ivan, Alvise.
Quest’anno ho imparato che per prepararmi a una gara è necessario leggere e studiare il mondo della bicicletta. Non si tratta solo di curiosità: lo si fa per motivarsi e vivere con entusiasmo queste scorribande. I giorni scorsi mi è stata regalata una bellissima rivista di ciclismo, dalla quale vi inoltro la seguente citazione estrapolata da un racconto il cui protagonista si cimenta in un fine-settimana ciclistico in Scozia: I was in the middle of a year devoted to exactly this sort of trip – micro-adventures, I call them – and it was proving to be much more rewarding than I had anticipated. Since I began taking on these provocatively mundane expeditions, I had discovered that coming up with an interesting plan (and committing to making it happen) virtually always guarantees a challenging and rewarding experience. All you need is something difficult, somewhere new and a bit of imagination. For someone cursed with eternal ‘fernweh’, a beautiful German word meaning a craving for distant places, the year of micro-adventures was an excellent, regular tonic.

Eccomi dunque con un programma interessante per una micro-avventura. Il 23 luglio partiamo in macchina alla volta di Airolo. La sera dormiamo lì – in casa? in tenda? Il 24 luglio gareggiamo nella Gran Fondo del San Gottardo (daje!). Speriamo di arrivare in fondo davanti alla macchina-scopa. Poi guidiamo fino a Neuchatel: lì dovrei riuscire a garantire un alloggio gratuito per tutti e forse anche una cena da amici, etc. Notte di riposo e rientro in Italia il 25 luglio. Diamoci come obiettivo quello di fare, anche per conto nostro, almeno 350km nelle settimane tra il 2 e il 23 luglio.

Update, 2 luglio: nemmeno il tempo di rientrare in Italia che siamo già in sella. Alle 6:30 siamo partiti da Firenze, alle 8:00 arriviamo all’Impruneta, alle 9:00 a Panzano, e alle 12:00 siamo sparaparanzati a mangiare schiacciate farcite in questa famosa pizzicheria di Chiesanuova. Vamos.

 

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.

Everything started with an orgy

Just like many of you, I have devoted a fair amount of time watching Leicester City’s matches in the last few months. I enjoyed every bit of it, and particularly Ranieri’s epic press conferences, but I want to make clear I am not trying to pretend I am a fan. I adored them, make sure, but deep down my heart remains with the miserable Villans whom, these days, have nothing left to celebrate but corner kicks. Alas, I find it somehow pathetic to bandwagon now.

To be completely frank, I still do not even know where Leicester is. This in spite of the fact that I have read many articles and I wanted to list the best of them on my blog. This article, for instance, shows that Leicester’s rise is especially remarkable in the modern Premier League era. A deluge of money into the league has led to increasing inequality and stratification among teams. In fact, fewer and fewer teams outside of a “Big Four” — Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United in its current iteration — have any real hope of a league title.

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This Guardian article reminds us of how noble of a person is Claudio Ranieri, a man of principles with a relaxed management style. “What Ranieri did that was special was to give a sense of empathy to his team. If you, as a person, can create an empathetic situation inside the changing room, then in the difficult moments your players will always give you a little something more.” Probably a good lesson for C.E.O.s around the world, as this other Economist’s articles suggests.

It is on a brilliant Italian magazine that I found the highlights of each single match played by Leicester in this the season. And on the same magazine I also read a simple summary of Leicester’s path to the title.

The most entertaining article to date, however, has been published on Il Foglio, mocking those Italian media that have described Leicester City, a society owned by one of the richest tycoons of the world, as the symbol of “the industrial cities of the East Midlands, one of the most multi-ethnic, taking us for a moment back to the early nineteenth century, when it was a stronghold of the Chartists: revolutionary advocates of a pre-Marxian socialism. Because that of Leicester is not a fable, but a social project that demonstrates how another football in the heart of the neoliberal society is possible“. The author reminds us that after all Ranieri is the coach of Leicester because of an orgy organized a year ago in Thailand and cleverly filmed by three former players of Foxes, including the son of former manager Nigel Pearson, who was fired for this reason just after.

Chianti classic

A painful beauty

OK – I finished my previous post, which is completely unrelated to this, with a reference to the importance of asking the right questions. Now, in the last three days many people asked me whether the race I attended on Sunday was fun and whether I won. “No” I said “It was not fun, and I did not win“. But I was somehow struggling to find a better answer to that. It is true: I did not have fun. Yet, I was incredibly glad I attended the race. Only now I realize they were asking me the wrong questions. And today I found the words I was looking for in a reportage of the New York Times on the race that is the twin sister of the one I attended on Sunday. “For cyclists in Tuscany, winning isn’t the point”, is the title, and “Cycling was never fun,” the article makes clear “because it is literally painfully beautiful” or, as an even better Italian translation goes, “Il ciclismo non è mai stato divertimento, ma una bellezza ricca di sofferenza”.

Let me tell you how I got to this article. I first stumbled upon an essay in Italian on “the most southern classic of the north of Europe”, or “la classica del nord più a sud d’Europa” – for those who are not cycling fans: these are the classics of the north, or the monument races of Europe. This is how the article describes the race – my translation, sic: “Several kilometers in dirt and rough roads, reminiscent of the famous cobblestones of the French classic, and terrible uphills – with peaks up to 20% – which remind Belgians walls. A tough race, not comparable to the most demanding classics such as the Milan-Sanremo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but still able to make a selection, putting a strain on the strength of the riders, trying them also from a psychological point of view. In this sense, it should not be underestimated the punctures-factor in a race that is run on dirt roads for over 50 km“. It is a good article.

OK – starting from here the article takes us to the twin race, l’Eroica, which is organized in October on the same roads but a completely different concept. It is a non-competitive race, in which the only requirements are a vintage bike, vintage clothing and, it would appear, a healthy appetite. Because there are no time trials, stopping for a sandwich and a glass of Chianti is perfectly acceptable.


L’Eroica did not start off merely to pay homage to the glorious past, but also as a way to promote and protect the Tuscan heritage of white gravel roads, where riding is breathtakingly beautiful. I keep trying to explain my friends why cycling has such a strong appeal on me since I was a child. No, it’s not about the fun: it is about fatigue, nostalgia, and beauty. A painful beauty, indeed.

Kill the pressure it’s raining on

I resolved, I trained, I raced: and what a race it was. For the records, it took me less than 4 hours and 50 minutes riding at a 26.4 k/h average speed. I got lucky: no flat tyre, good preparation, horrible weather with occasional glimpses of sun. Truth is, I only marginally care about the timing. I once watched a two-minute video of this race–  which I would have posted on the blog if it wasn’t for the outrageously bad soundtrack – and I liked the gist of it: as soon as you cross the finishing line you feel like you have won a battle with yourself. And God knows how much that’s true: five hours alone on the bike with the constant fear of breaking down a tyre while you are sprinting under cantankerous weather conditions, different terrains, and those changing noises, from that initial bzzzzzz of thousands of bikes flying by together, the crrrrrrrrrr of the first gravel section, the aaaanfaaaanffaaanf of the ascent, the ciockciockciockciock of the hailstorm, the dai!dai!daicazzo! of the entrance in Siena and the finish line. Daje!

Il tuo numero di pettorale è 1558

I always do sports in January and February. Something involving skies, mostly: alpine skiing, ski touring, even – occasionally! -cross country skiing. This winter, instead, no skies: I have ridden my bike. For over 1200km. In the rain, cold, fog; and sometimes in the sun too. I have always been alone, except for three or four occasions when I rode with Giallu, Daniel, Jonas, Bjorn, Benedikt. There were several moments of hanger and and borderline burn-out; and some, rare, moments of enlightenment in Chianti, Mugello, or Val di Pesa. I saw all the kind of animals, waterfalls, trees, elderly, and children. I  never fell, but I was hit by an ambulance. So I guess it is fair to say that I did not get bored. But these moments – each single one of them – were mine and unfortunately mine will remain, because I am not able to communicate them with words.

In the end, only the cold numbers remain. I spent over 50 hours training on my bike (all the stats from January 20 are here). I also invested more or less 10 hours of my time to get the medical certificate and all the vaccinations I needed; a few more hours to get the bike set, change the gears and the tyres, book the hotel in Siena, and make sure I got my spot in the race. And this is the reason why I have done it all. But the thought of the race itself would not have been enough. When I prepare for a competition like this I need some kind of extra motivation to keep myself going. So this month I bought cycling magazines, I read cycling books, I watched cycling videos. (Not that I did not do that before… just a little less than now). Yes, yes, yes: I became some sort of bicycle maniac. Anyways: the one below is probably the best video up to date on the Strade Bianche. It is the 2013 edition highlights.

Rarely have I been as monodimensional as I have over these last two months. Now I am headed to Siena and on Sunday I will take part to the Strade Bianche. It is a moment I have been waiting for quite some time. Please, please, please, let me get what I want.