Chewing tape and a body scrape
Continuing on from the Pantani Play ground blog
My last day in the gorgeous Emilia Romagna region was for the extremely popular Granfondo Squali. A 3000 plus mass-start amateur cycling event. The long course was 135km with 2180m of climbing. It included the Monte Altavelio-Osteriaccia, a 6.3km climb with gradients reaching up around 14-16% and averaging 7%. The weather looked as if it was going to turn very nasty with a lot of rain forecast but that wasn’t going to stop me and the group of Journalists I was with from enjoy every bit of it.
An early start and a ride to the start of Granfondo Squali. We had our long levered Belgie mate who was wanting to rip it up and go for a top 100 finish. I was genuinely keen on driving it for him in the first 10-20kms before disappearing out the arse and grovelling the rest of the way home. ‘There is 2100m of climbing you dickhead’ I reminded myself but the climbing didn’t really start until after the 20km mark. We were escorted from our hotel to the start by Andrea Manusia, our host and he lined us up on the very front row. Behind us over 3000 hungry, mostly European, amateur cyclists were chaffing at the bit to get the ride underway. We were interviewed on the start-line by local TV and I got to tell the thousands of competitors and spectators about my Tasmanian home and invited them all for a visit. The formalities out of the way we were ready for the count down to get this show on the road. We followed a pair of Porsche lead cars out of town and the masses from behind started to monster the rear fenders of the branded up sports cars. There was more hustle and bustle in the first few kms than you experience in most final laps of your local crit (criterium race) and we hadn’t even hit the freeway where the lead cars were going to accelerate away.
I followed Robin to the right hand side of the road as I spotted the rest of our group going left. We surfed the back of about 10-15 riders who were not giving up the back of the car for love nor money. Robin surged and went up to the very front elbows and hips bustling his way to the front=, his XC MTB skills on show. I was honestly already close to my limit as we turned onto the freeway … and thats when the real pandemonium ensued. Riders from behind came storming up toward the front, teams of amateurs, team time-trial style, tried and some reached the front, 10 abreast across 4 lanes of highway. I was chewing bar tape within 2km sitting on around 57kph, surging, in and out of the seat. I spotted my Belgie mate and thought ‘I need to do at least one turn for him’. I sprinted in 53/12 but only managed to get to with in about 5 riders from where he was, right on the front. I looked down at my bars and thought ‘FUCK I’m Ruined!’
A few hundred meters later and I was going backwards, swarms of riders passing me. I was 10.3km into the Fondo and felt like I’d just completed 10 back to back 1000m pursuits. I sat up and regained some composure and spat out some bar-tape, chewy shit and doesn’t taste good at all… never has, but I am sure I will be chewing it again sometime soon.
After a few deep breaths I was back in a fast moving bunch at a more sustainable pace and even stopped a few times to get some happy snaps. We crested one of the early climbs and I made my way down the descent. It was fast and there were a lot of riders on the road. I started coming up on a group of slower riders, checked my right shoulder and edged across to the middle to take them on the outside of a right hand bend (full road closure meant we had full use of the road). Suddenly there was screaming coming from behind me. An Italian guy was coming up behind me so I looked over and pointed ahead of me at the slowing bunch and then waved my hand to tell him I was coming across. Our speed was not too dissimilar however he didn’t want a bar of that shit and put in a few hard pedals to move right along side me and lean on me as we entered the corner. I had no choice but to change tact and I swooped for the inside of the group ahead, I got under them and I was onto the gravel and then I was on the grass and down a bank and landed on a stump on my left quad and knee. I gingerly dragged myself back up to the road to see the carnage. The group I passed had also moved right as they went round the corner completely shutting the door and blocking the road on the outside, my angry Italian mate had no where to go and had come down and had skin off everywhere. I looked at him leaning against a tree and gave the customary shrug before jumping back on my bike and riding off.
I was in pain but felt like I could still make it round the 100 odd kilometers I had to go. At the point where we had the choice of doing the 85km route or the 135km I took the long option, determined to get through it. The next climb however proved to be pivotal, as soon as I got out of the seat to climb pain shot through my left knee. I sat back down and ground out the climb but I knew my day was done. I pulled to the side of the road looked at the map and plotted a course back to the hotel. I really enjoyed a lite roll back to Catollica, the landscape mesmerising and mostly a slow decline all the way to the water’s edge. I found the German, Patrick, sipping a coffee with his big infectious grin. We laughed about the crazy start and found ourselves a place for lunch and waited for the team to return.
The Belgie turned up, mission accomplished finishing inside the top 100, with no help from any of us I might add. ‘I accelerated with the cars and didn’t see any of you guys ever again’ he said with a big grin on his face. He followed that with “That was the deepest I have gone in a long time, the start was like a world-cup XC race”. I felt a small sigh of relief escape my mouth as the realisation that the start was as epic as I had thought and it wasn’t just the fact that I was a fat, unfit bastard. We made jokes about how if we were to ride it again we would have wind-trainers set up at the start so we were completely warmed up for the first 10-15km. The rest of the crew rolled in and everyone had, had a great day and all but missed all the rain. Despite my crash and the weather turning a bit nasty we all agreed that its a Fondo we definitely want to come back for. Put it in your diary – Gran Fondo Squali in May!
A lesson learnt
You need to either start at the back and cruise or be ready to fight the onslaught at the front. Its not like the fondo’s back home where the starts fast but manageable and its nothing like a normal race environment either. Back in the day, when I pulled a number on, (i.e. less fat and more fit) I was an ‘OK’ crit rider. I would’ve classed myself as being very good in the final laps of the race. I was able to fight for position and manoeuvre myself around the bunch to get myself in the right spot to launch my sprint, I was confident and won I have won a few bike races. The start of this fondo was more hectic than nearly any finale I have been in. If you times the number of riders going for a sprint by say 50 and then varied the bike experience from all pros/elite – to a miss-matched mashup of Pro/elite to D grade enthusiast then you should get an idea of Sketchy town! Sketchy town also had micro suburbs like ‘formerpro still super fit-land’ and ‘I have something to prove so I’m on the juice-ville’, its an experience I won’t forget and can’t wait to try again.
The final dinner we were taken to yet another bike hotel on the Adriatic coast. I was pretty tired but again the hospitality was amazing and the company spurred on the night candle.
Where are you going to go for your next holiday? Even if you have been to Italy already, if you haven’t visited the Emilia Romania region then put this at the very top of your list. I have ridden throughout Europe, in Asia and all over Australia and as far as riding bikes, eating and drinking with amazing scenery and fabulous service then this is a must visit.