Paul Blackmore writes…
Back in December Steve Blackmore mentioned a once in a lifetime opportunity, to ride an 8-up time trial. Only problem was it is at the end of February, in Italy. I was tasked with drumming up some support for the Italian contingent. Luckily messers Dennis and Seltzer were good to go so come January 1 we were out training focused on the Sunday 24th February and 37.5 kilometres.
With all the hard work done (?) Andy and I touched down in Pisa the day before the race, greeted by warm sunny climes and my brother to take us to base camp – Casa Blackmore in Vecchiano. Mr Dennis had arrived some days before with family to get acclimatized and relax. Steve did this by getting some reaction to something, which stopped him swallowing for a day then losing his passport. With an appointment booked in Florence at the British Embassy for Friday at 9.30 the passport miraculously reappeared in his wallet, although allegedly he didn’t put it there for safekeeping. Good job the kids were there to blame.
Saturday PM was packed with activities. First task was to eat some energy providing pasta, then unpack the bikes, then out for a ride. Now despite Jim’s best efforts, which involved trimming Michele Bartoli’s grandmother’s front lawn to get the team entered after the closing date, we were lacking in one department, Italian riders. Members of Bike Village Ciucci, Steven’s team in Italy, were strangely reluctant to get a pasting from Mr Dennis so early in the season, so he had to accept riders from outside the team. He did a deal with Grandma and so we had one guy coming down from up North and another from nearby Lucca. He knew the guy from Lucca, Angelino, was pretty good (a couple of years ago) but the guy from up North was an unknown quantity. All we knew was that he’d just got a brand new TT bike for the event. We wondered if he was either so strong that he had the confidence to ride with five unknown guys or just plain stupid.
So about 3.30pm four of us set out and soon picked up Angelino to do some formation training. Angelino was taller than Steve D and obviously a bit wider, looked a bit of a powerhouse. Mr Dennis was clearly weary of Angelino, and the mind games started. Once the tempo was upped, we were all riding in the big ring except Steve who clearly didn’t want to lay his cards on the table just yet. Back at base we then got cold waiting for Club president Massimo to collect our licences. He had kindly volunteered to sign us on and collect goody bags to make our lives easier on race day. Later that evening we all ate more energy giving pasta, and turned in at 10pm to rest up. Andy and I were residing at Steven’s half finish house a couple of kilometres down the road but the temporary bedding arrangements were excellent and comfortable. The fireworks at midnight were a highlight of the night.
Race day dawned and we were back at Vecchiano for breakfast at 8am. Bikes had already gone by separate courier, so we loaded up our kit, met Mr Dennis up the road and drove up to Forti di Marmi for the start. After lots of faffing around we finally get round to warming up and meet our 6th member – Silvio – from up North and fancy bike. My brother had made me team captain, reasoning that he would get dropped and I would be the only one who spoke English and a bit of Italian. Amusingly, Angelino did the whole warm up on the little ring clearly seeking to psychic Steve. There was quite a bit of discussion around formation but I decided Steven and Andy would lead us off, followed by Silvio and me, with the two strongest, Steve and Angelino, bringing up the rear. Steve was under strict instructions to keep the pace steady for the first 2k.
The start area is a mass of people, officials and riders. We were team 69 out of 89 starters, which was about 700 riders. We first made our way through the bright yellow warm up marquee installed with turbo trainers, then along to the red covered start house. It was real Giro d’Italia stuff as there was a proper ramp. The electronic chips started recording once we crossed the red carpet at the bottom of the ramp. Teams were off every one and half minutes and our turn came round pretty quick. After having our picture taken we got the count down and we were off.
Now my version of events may be different to the others but this is how I saw our effort. Our start was good, exactly how I wanted, steady, keeping in the right order and even when Steve got to the front there was no noticeable difference in speed. We were heading north into a slight headwind but it was sunny and shorts were no problem. I mistakenly followed Steve’s example and went without arm warmers. After about 2 kms there was the briefest of rises over a bridge. Unfortunately this did it for Silvio. As I returned to the back after a brief stint at the front I looked round and Silvio had completely disappeared. I guess he was behind the following team car and out of sight, but it was a bit of a shock to lose one guy so soon. Down to five with 35 kms to go, four must finish.
One kilometre later we got to the top turn, over the red carpet we’d all been told to across to make sure we didn’t get dis-queued, and looking forward to the 20 kms with a tailwind. I’d not been feeling great but was beginning to settle and started to feel quite good. Angelino was doing good turns, Steve was starting to do slightly longer turns now and Andy was having no problem going through. Then as I drifted back my brother shouted for me to go in, he was beginning to struggle with the pace. We rattled past the start/finish area still packed with people and headed south towards Viareggio.
The roads were completely closed, all the junctions marshalled plus we had a motorbike out rider clearing our path. Our guy on the motorbike clearly felt sorry for us as we only had five riders now and kept slowing down, a great incentive to chase down the motorbike. About half way we started to catch our first team. This strung the team out, as Steve got a little excited. It seemed an age as we passed the team of eight – felt like eighteen. This seemed like a good time to try to up the tempo, we were fast heading for the turn, but as Steve slipped to the 14 sprocket I suddenly got shouts from behind as we’d dropped the other three, with my brother desperately trying to drag the others back up. So we continued in the 15, doing a steady 46-47 kph. We even managed to catch two more teams before the turn.
The turn was a bit scrappy from Team Bike Village, a few gaps opening up and into the head wind again for the last 10ks we struggled to get going again. Angelino sort of died a bit, Andy was also starting to feel the pace after some good turns with the wind, and my brother was hanging in there, we weren’t going to drop him. The team we’d caught just before the turn then passed us. This caused a bit of confusion, I thought they were a team starting behind us and had caught us for one and half minutes, but Angelino decided we should re-pass them. As we headed over to the other side of the road, our motorbike rider got a little concerned, horns blasting, Steve decided he’d had enough and hit the gas and we got passed them for a second time.
We managed to keep the 15 turning with Steve doing much of the work. But as the finish neared we all had a go and crossed the line with five in a time of 49.15 at 45.69 kmph. The post match interviews and finger pointing mostly consisted of why Steve hadn’t done longer turns and more work. The team officials were well pleased with our efforts and there were plenty of slaps on the back and Italian hugs. While Steve went to the beach in search of Carla and the girls the rest of us headed back to HQ for tea and rest. After getting changed we headed for what we really came for: the Pasta Party. We queued for 30 minutes but once in we all enjoyed err….pasta. But also cheese, ham and cake. Then into another hall for the prize presentation. We were well pleased as we finished 17th overall, which meant a prize. Mr Michele Bartoli, looking seriously anorexic, gave out the prizes and we got a handshake and photos, careful not too breathe too deeply in case he feel over. We also got a cup – quite small – and a box of goodies. I ended up with two bottles of wine, Steve with a couple of race tyres and Andy with the hard stuff – Vin Santo.
The winners did 46:30, although there was a team of professionals and ex-pros including Bartoli that did a 45 but they didn’t count – drugs thing! Given that we started with only six, one of the few teams not to have a full complement of eight, and lost one almost straight away, we were all really pleased with our effort. And its only February! I don’t think I’ve ever ridden a bike so fast in February.