Ride bikes. Have fun. Feel good.

Gran Fondo – Folgare

Paul Blackmore writes…

After dispatching the wife for a 2 day stint at work with an overnight B&B at my parents, I was off to Tesco for supplies then straight to the airport for another weekend in Italy, for my second Gran Fondo of the season. Joined by the usual suspects, brother Jim and pasta expert Alan, Sundays ride was a 106 km trundle around my home province of Pisa. A bit longer than last time, but not so much climbing, I was hopeful of doing a bit better, having doubled my training Ks for the year to 2000 in the intervening month. Jim & Al were no doubt looking to give me a bit of a kicking this time, Jim putting in some serious solo Ks over some of the roads of this race.

The profile of this event on paper suited me quite well. Shortly after the start is a short climb, then around 20ks of rolling roads before the big 590m ascent of Volterra, like last time but from the harder side. That’s half way, then a series of hills, all around 1-2km long with some steep bits before a flat run in to the finish.

Saturday afternoon I was picked up by Alan and we went to sign on and collect our goodies. Goodies this time included wine, olive oil and energy drink. I had a bit of a chuckle to see our numbers, 1168-1170. So, at the back again! As Alan’s face turned pale, Jim went to ‘have a word’ with the organisation, returning with a small sticker for each of us. Luckily this guy remembered Jim & Alan from last year and as we were VIP’s ie not Italian, we were permitted to start in the front grid.

So Sunday morning I was up early and slightly shocked to see quite thick mist outside. At 7.30 we arrived at the start at Perignano, a short hop from Ponassco, a short hop from Pontederra, OK a short hop from Pisa – you heard of that! Still misty and COLD. I hadn’t come all this way for cold. We made our way to the start grid, I was shivering as was without arm warmers, Jim having promised the sun would soon burn off the cold. We had around 40 minutes of shivering before the off but amused ourselves by taking phone pictures, trying to stop people climbing over the barriers and squeezing through the fence to have a pee. Then we were off. The sun was out.

Jim & Al lost me straight away, then I lost another 100 places as we did a circuit of the town. Never liked Crits. Once on the open road and the road started upwards I gradually made my way forward again. I was progressing well until we all came to a sudden holt as that tricky manoeuvre of going from big to little ring had caused a pile up. I caught a glimpse of Jim bunny hopping onto the grass just ahead. A little way further up and I was with Jim & Alan again, but not for long as I continued my charge up the field.

Over the top and a brief chase and I was tucked into a big group of 100+ riders, but I could see the front! That was a first. My legs were feeling bad now and we still had 80ks to go. I was starting to think I had over done it too early. Also the fact that loads of riders kept joining from behind got me thinking I’d wasted energy. I downed some magic juice, a Gel and started on my energy bar . Then a tap on the back and Jim had come up. A few moments later Alan was also back. The team was back together. At this stage we should have been working our way forward before the big climb. We said a few words but that was all the energy we had.

The start of the Volterra climb is quite gentle & the gradient only gradually increases. The three of us had a quick chat & a bit of a joke, Jim took my picture, Alan said his good byes and slipped out the back. Jim stayed with me for a bit but then also dropped behind. Jim’s probably the fittest & strongest of the three of us but at the moment can’t handle the long climbs, particularly when they come at the beginning of the race. I suffered a bit keeping up with a couple of guys who were making progress up the climb, jumping from one splinting group to the next. After around 8kms we surfaced over the top and began the long descent. At the bottom I found myself in a group of about 30, but stayed near the front, then 10 minutes later a bigger group joined us from behind. The sun was out, it’s warm and were cruising at 45kmph.

The next two climbs I didn’t know but had the energy to keep near the front for both. Although we glimpsed a big group ahead in the distance no one wanted to make the effort to chase them. Maybe they thought like me, with 40ks still to go this was about survival, being content in the group. Looking back, if I’d managed to start the Volterra climb higher up in the bunch, it could have got me in the next group up the road. It wasn’t to be and our little family stuck together up and down the hills with no one stirring the pot.

Before we reached Peccioli we did the climb of Montelopio, really picturesque through trees, narrowing to a single lane on smooth unpotholed road. More than could be said of the rolling hills before. I guess there’s never been a decent road race down these roads as they hadn’t been resurfaced in years. You know in Italy roads only get resurfaced if the Giro is due through the following year, or the National Champs. True. The legs were still good as we approached Peccioli, which I’d been to before. Peccioli is near La Sterza which is near….OK forget it, nice tuscan town on a hill – you’re seen the pictures. But my bottle was getting low so I grabbed a handout and stuffed in my pocket. Downed the last Gel and prepared of the next climb which I knew, by getting near the front.

This climb is one of those straight up jobs, not steep just intimidating. On approach we saw again the group in front – 2 or 3 minutes up the road. Jim told me after that he and big Al had joined up on the descent of Volterra and were the next big group behind mine. Half way up the climb sitting comfortably in the saddle cramp struck in a big way in the left leg. No warning. Luckily I managed to make it to the top of the climb stretching the leg out of the saddle still near the front. Over the top and we were a group of 30 or so. Lightening struck twice as Al got cramp as well, but in both legs and had to stop. Jim, going like a train now we’d passed the 80km mark, didn’t see Al stop and on the descent waited thinking Al was in a small group chasing. He wasn’t so then towed the rest back up to his original group. Unfortunately the hot weather had taken its toll on Al’s cramped up legs and for him it was just a matter to finish.

With one climb to go before a 5km descent to the finish I got prepared to make an effort off the front. Funny how your mind plays tricks on you. I could feel cramp chasing me down, just around the corner. Downed more water and stayed put. The front of the group stayed together over up the short up steep hill, didn’t see what was going on behind. Despite the gentle descent I managed to over cook it on one bend, hit the gravel and prepared for flight. Luckily the wheels engaged the grass and the bike slowed enough for me to avoid the ditch and Armco barrier. Skidding to a stop, legs tensing up and getting a healthy shot of cramp in both legs I whacked my foot back in the pedal and got going. My antics had naturally caused a few behind to follow a similar path to mine but I didn’t look round to see what particular Italian gesture they gave me.

Slapping the chain in the biggest gear I was quickly back on my little group, but the legs on the verge of seizing up at any moment. We sped down to the finish and fanned all across the road. In the old days I would have been up for the sprint, but this time I just pedalled a little faster and finished mid pack. I was fairly content with that.

After returning my electronic chip I waited for Jim & Al. Jim turned up 3 minutes later in the next big group, stronger than when he started. Big Al came in looking a bit stuffed. After the post race chat we made our way to the refreshment tent to stock up. AL had a long drive to Sasso, which is near Siena – now you’ve heard of that – about 2 hours away, so decided to stay for the free pasta & wine. I felt a bit guilty, as Jim had to take me to the airport, my flight in 2 hours time. So we made do with fruit and biscuits and said our good byes.

Jim dropped me off at Pisa airport, his thoughts turning to the GF Versiglia, which unfortunately I can’t do. I must admit I ‘m beginning to enjoy these GF’s. I wanted to do a bit better than last time to at least prove I was getting fitter, which I think I did. However, whether I’m ready for a real race, the race of truth yet, that I’m not sure. There’s no wheel sucking in a time trial.

Final stats:

Paul Blackmore 2:56:08 @148th and 34th in category – 15 minutes down on the winner!
Steve Blackmore 2:59:42 @210th and 50th in category
Alan Williams 3:05:29 @295th and 7th in category

790 completed the Medio Fondo. 1400 in total.

Until the next one…………..can’t wait…….PB