Ride bikes. Have fun. Feel good.

Gran Fondo Michele Bartoli

Paul Blackmore writes…

125kms, 8 categorised climbs, 1,800m of climbing

Hello again everyone,
Scuttled over to Italy at the end of June for another one of those Gran Fondo’s or a racing version of your British ‘cyclosportive’. Didn’t arrive until Saturday afternoon but the weather had cooled a bit in Pisa and what with the warm temperatures in the UK there wasn’t much acclimatisation needed.

Managed to get an hour ride in before dusk and a visit to our sponsors at the bike shop for supplies before heading for an early night. My brother ‘Jim’ just slipped in during conversation the fact the course had changed from last year and was a bit longer. Upped to 125ks with 1,800m of climbing did worry me a bit, given that I’ve now been converted into a short course triathlete with a diet of flat 20k bike rides, generally after getting wet.

Sunday morning we were up at 6am and headed towards Montecarlo, our start town north of Lucca. One of those typical Tuscan towns on top of a hill, very picturesque. We met up with a couple of teammates, Roberto and Gabrielle, and got to the start line half hour before kick off. The starting order is strictly controlled by number order, with Gabrielle 1050 and Roberto 500 something, we joking they were starting somewhere half way down the hill. We were laughing because I was number 22 and Jim 23. Jim had managed to get us VIP status because the race is run by the same people as the team time trial we did in March, and he knows Michele Bartoli’s grandmother, or he’s cleaned her swimming pool or something.

So we stroll into the start gate 10 minutes before kick off pushing our way past Bartoli’s mates Ivan Basso and Alessandro Petacchi. We take a few pictures of them as the official photographer and TV camera also get their shots. Then we’re off. The short descent is ‘neutralised’, we do a short flat bit then its back up the hill and past the start again. Me and Jim are dropped!

There’s a general regrouping at the front about 10ks later as we have a long stretch to the first hill proper. Probably 500 riders and we are in to top 200, but puffing a bit. The first climb is after 20kms and around 5km but not steep. I’m feeling the lack of climbing legs, last year I’d have been OK but not this year. I’m slipping back but still part of the elastic. Jim isn’t though. He’s falling back as well but then gets held up as a racecar knocks a guy off while arguing with another rider, and blocks the road.
My time in the lead group is short lived as the road goes down then immediately up a steep 2km climb. Finally succumbing to gravity, age, lack of fitness, excuses etc I pass over the top and settle into a group more suited to my… age, lack of fitness, excuses.

I’m in a group of around 50 but riders keep joining from behind. Not Jim though. The next short climb passes without incident and then it’s to the longest climb over Fiano, around 8kms going up to 550m above sea level, having done around 60kms. I’m a bit worried about this one as I’m feeling a bit puffed although I know the climb well and it’s not difficult. I’m getting hot and running out of water. Soon get dropped and have to ride at my own pace. Which is slow. Been up in training on the 39×16 but now I’m in the 21.

Finally at the top grab some water, only one, wanted two. Long descent and there’s only about 10 of us. But start doing a bit of work and we catch a few more ahead. Feeling a bit better. We’re now heading for another nasty little climb, called Matraia, very similar to Fiano. Only good news about this is that there’s only 30kms remaining after the top. I’m near the front of the group as we start but struggle again to keep the pace of the leaders. Run out of water again. Getting hot again.

The problem with Matraia is that there’s this big false flat at the top and its undulating, big ring, small ring, big ring. But finally I’m with 4 other guys over the top and grab two bottles. Managed to hang on during the descent and we see a big group ahead. I’m feeling strong on the flat and do a couple of big pulls. We catch a group of 20 or more just before we turn off to do a 3k dirt track climb. I have a worrying moment as I get really bad cramp in the left thigh but luckily it passes just before the start of the hard bit.

I gradually make my way to the front of the group as we climb the track and I’m in a good position for the steep bit. As the 2km section comes to an end there’s a sting as you get onto tarmac the road goes up to 20%. Grab more water over the top and I’m with only a couple of guys again on the descent, with 10kms to the finish. In the end there’s eight of us who chase down a similar group just before the start of the last 2km climb back to the finish at MonteCarlo. Cramp strikes again as we start in the right leg and I can’t keep pace with the leading 2 or 3 guys. Luckily it goes after some stretching and I follow a guy all the way to the finish. Well knackered!

Gobble some juice at the finish but can’t face food. Find some shade and wait for Jim. Five minutes later he comes in, stuffed and thirsty. We take a seat and see Ivan Basso arrive. Jim tells me he climbed Fiano with Basso and Bartoli, and then Bartoli towed them on the descent into Lucca at 48kph. I remember being at the front on that stretch into the headwind barely able to do 40.

Roberto is next to appear having done well as the course doesn’t exactly suit his build. We drop off to sleep still waiting for Gabrielle but eventually decide to head back to the car. He turns up shortly after us and we all exchange stories of cramp attacks, suffering and thirst. But our reward after we’ve changed is to refuel at the pasta party. Bit of a queue in the sun but we’re soon downing pasta al’zucchini, pomodori and vino. I fall asleep on the way home having really enjoyed the race this year, and happy to have got so many ks in the legs. Ideal preparation for my 25 mile time trial on the A3 the next day!


Position                 Team                        Time
1    Maurizio Bachini    Ciclo Team San Ginese       03:31:49
2    Giacomo Sansoni     Asd Sansoni Team            03:32:09
3    Gianluca Ferri      Zerosei Cycling Team        03:33:40
83   Paul Blackmore      Gs Bike Village Ciucci Olmo 03:58:20
122  Steven Blackmore    Gs Bike Village Ciucci Olmo 04:03:49
254  Roberto Micheli     Gs Bike Village Ciucci Olmo 04:24:20
410  Gabriele Ceccatelli Gs Bike Village Ciucci Olmo 05:03:25

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