Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

Tag: strade bianche

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.

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.