Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

Tag: challenge

Se piove l’é maiala

Rain, cold, a bad accident, and the absence of many friends: the Gran Fondo Gallo Nero wasn’t great.

The weekend was saved by Giallu, Zio Stefano, and my parents who decided to drive down to Tuscany for a couple of days. Some things I will remember: the short stay at Bencistà; the ride from Florence to Greve on Saturday (photos below); the lonely house carved inside a castle near Cavriglia; il sabato del villaggio a Greve; l’Osteria Monte Murlo; the fog; Giallu staring out of the window on Sunday morning, pyjamas and mug: ‘It rains again. Well, I guess we can drive back home now. I know a good trattoria in Panzano‘.

And the race? The route was shortened down from 135 km to 85 due to the rain. Besides, it was suspended for about half an hour because of a bad crash. I rode at an average of 28 km/h and finished 334th out of 689 participants in 2:59:15 (3:23:31 counting the half an hour stop in the middle of the road). The organisation was pretty dreadful and I probably won’t sign up again.

 

Gran Fondo Gallo Nero

I have decided to sign up for the 135km Gran Fondo Gallo Nero, which takes place on September 22 in the Chianti.

This will be my fourth Gran Fondo after Strade Bianche, Fiesole, and San Gottardo – provided I eventually manage to participate and complete it. It will also be my third competition of 2019, after the Diagonela and Marcialonga.

I am planning to go with Alvise, Piero, Giallu, and perhaps a few other friends.

Eià

My Swiss train from Zurich is late, my dad’s German car from Trento is on time. We meet in Zuoz on Friday evening: fourteen hours away from La Diagonela. We check into our stylish B&B in Zernez, we take a lavish dinner, and we wax our skis. ‘It is going to be an easy race, cold, long, but easy‘ my father tells me ‘An excellent training for next week’s Marcialonga: a couple of climbs in the first half, but then it goes down nice and steady‘.

The next morning we meet two other guests from our B&B for breakfast. They are young guys hailing from Basel, probably my age, athletic bodies, cool fellas. One of them has already completed many races before. He says this is the hardest one he has ever done, by far. ‘I have done even the Vasaloppet in Sweden (note: so has my father and so will Niels, later this year). That one is longer but it is easier because it is flat. This one is a killer. It goes up and down, up and down, it is never over. I cannot believe this is your first one. Good luck!’.

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We leave the B&B at 8:15. It is a sunny day in Lower Engadine, with the temperature down at about minus 20°. We arrive in Zuoz at 8:45. My dad greets some other die-harders. Carlo from Tirano looks a bit like Maurizio Corona and wishes me luck. ‘In the end what matters is to get to the finish line but it won’t be easy: you are young and do not have much experience!‘. We stretch before the start. ‘OK, game plan‘ my dad goes ‘We start slow, you do not worry. We will catch up over time. It is a long race‘.

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Five-hundred people have signed up for the event. Based on my estimations, some three-hundred are professional athletes and one-hundred-and-fifty are pensioners who go skiing on a daily basis. The remaining fifty are reckless individuals who have no idea what they are getting into.

Start!

Meanwhile, at the very bottom of the group, I look confused: what the hell am I doing here?

9:30, km 0, boom, start. We are at the very bottom of the group. My dad asks ‘Are we the last of the bunch?‘. I turn. Behind us only two figures: an old man who seems to be limping on the skis and a dwarf. (An actual dwarf, a strong man who is giving it all, but still: he is about one meter high). ‘Not yet, keep going‘. The old man catches up with us and moves on. Then the dwarf catches up too and keeps our pace. Together, we are last.

Three km down and I look exhausted already

Three km down and I look exhausted already. Far on the back you can see the dwarf chasing us.

9:50, km 3, twenty minutes into the race. I hear a noise behind us. It is the sag wagon: the support motor vehicle following long races to pick up athletes who are unable to complete the event. The guy on the wagon, which is actually a sled but let us call it wagon for the sake of the story, stays right behind us for five minutes; then he gets on my side and tells me we are too slow, ‘You have to retire, I am sorry!‘. I translate for my father and ask him what our next move can be. ‘Tell him to go fuck himself‘. I translate diplomatically: we go on with the sag wagon behind us. The dwarf retires.

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10:00, km 4, half an hour into the race. The sag wagon passes us and then stops, as to halt our journey. The driver gets down: I stop to parlay with him while my father carries on. The organisers want us to get out, we are already five minutes overtime. I give him my electronic chip and tell him that we if we continue being too slow we will retire at the first feeding point situated at km 7. He lets me continue.

10:10, km 5, forty minutes into the race. We reach the first feeding point. The driver of the sag wagon and some other staffers want us to stop: we are seven minutes overtime. My father explodes ‘I had a stroke one year ago, if I have another one now vi denuncio!‘, he  slashes through and makes his on way. He reminds me of Bernard Hinault, 1984. We carry on.

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10:30, km 9, one hour into the race, our first overtaking. It is Beaud: you can see her in the picture of the start. She did not look very good then and looks even worse now. I imagine she is about to spend one long day in hell. We then take a second and a third participant. Farewell to the last positions. The bystanders cheer for us: Eià, eià! We are now getting into a good pace.

10:45, km 11, one hour and fifteen-minutes into the race. We reach the second feeding station and, surprise surprise, we are now back in the official time of the race.

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11:30, km 18, two hours into the race, first climb. We are riding with a couple from Sweden and with Franco from Bologna. ‘Dai che glie la facciamo vedere a questi svizzeri‘.

12:30, km 25, three hours into the race. We reach St. Moritz ten minutes ahead of the sag wagon. The driver catches up with us and hands me my electronic chip back. ‘Well done guys‘. We keep passing participants who are slowly but surely going adrift. I pity them.

St. Moritz

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14:30, km 42, five hours into the race. We are in Samedan: it is the beginning of a long, lonely flat. It feels like we are crossing the desert. I pity ourselves.

16:00, km 54, six hours and a half into the race. We are back in Zuoz with some 10 km to go. Last feeding point. The sun is about to set. ‘Are you the last?‘ one bystander asks me. I would think so: the sag wagon is behind us again. All those whom we have overtaken in the last few hours have been excluded from the race. Here we go again: fighting against overtime. We catch up two skiers who are very happy to see us. I assume that is because they are happy not to be the last (‘Ah, ma guarda, c’erano ancora altri due stronzi dietro…‘). It is only the next day my father tells me they were the cool fellas from breakfast.

Right before sunset. We are heading towards the end. Behind us, our friends from breakfast, also the last two men standing in the race.

16:30, km 59, seven hours into the race. We have passed S-chanf and we are finally heading back to Zuoz. The two skiers are 50 meters behind and we have caught up another guy. We are giving our best to get to the finish line before they close it down. Sunset.

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17:20, km 65, seven hours and fifty minutes into the race. The final climb in Zuoz is done. We reach the finish line 432nd and 433rd. The sag wagon stops and the guy jumps down to congratulate us. I meet Carlo from Tirano. ‘I cannot believe you were slower than I was! You are young, you should have been faster!

The next day we bid farewell to our hosts, who have treated us handsomely, and we stop in Zuoz in a big shop. We are having a look around when the owner comes to us and congratulates for the race. ‘Good job, I did not think you were going to be able to finish on time! Well, I hope you are not going to call a lawyer now‘. He is the driver of the sag wagon. We take a picture with him, our mental coach, and we head to Samedan. Grisons are a magical place. If we survive another week, next Sunday we will be at the starting line of the Marcialonga.

Pistole scariche

Remember the 100-kilometre bike night that Giallu, Nicco and I did in 2015?
In June this year we did it again.

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Yet – this time was different. First, there was no preliminary 48-hour hike on the Dolomites; and, second, the altitude difference was now -10m as opposed to +1.200 in 2015. Our bike night of 2017 ran from Ferrara (here) to the mouth of the river Po: easy. Or was it?

 

Things to remember. The fun and excitement of our first 10k. The sleepiness that followed.  The pursuit of the big group at km 47 in the darkness, after all our three lights had run out of battery. My flat tire and the 15 minute-delay. The mad race we did afterwards and the early arrival to the beach – too early perhaps? The cold. My parents arriving at 9 in the morning to rescue us. San Luca outside Bologna, another sunset.

This was a peculiar ride for Nicco, who moved to London shortly thereafter; and for me, since June was probably the toughest month of my adult life. Perhaps the one of us who enjoyed this race the most was Giallu, who took care of the organisation and all.

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Notes for the future: get some sleep before the race; remember to charge the batteries of the light; find Trattoria del Gallo in the town called Osteria del Gallo and ask for the desserts.

 

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.

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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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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!