"OCCHIO!!! CENTRO!" pointing to the median.
"DESTRA!" heads pop up, arms above heads flagging right.
"DAI! BRAVA!!!" spectators scream.
These are common shouts you'll hear at the start of a 2,300-person Gran Fondo race in Italy. (You may recall my post last year about the poignant first Gran Fondo in Lucca or my much nicer, second Gran Fondo Novecolli.)
Well, yesterday, was my first Gran Fondo race of 2010 in Trento. It typically consists of ex-pros, diehard 70 year old groups of men, and a sprinkling of women.
In the beginning, it is complete chaos (as expected from any large group of primarily Italians). My goal is not move up horizontally to the front of the pack or to stick on the guys wheel in front of me... it's to stay vertical and not crash into those squeezing where there was no space to begin with. It's vicious, it's loud, and it's completely natural to be a bit anxious for the start alone.
Back to my goal of staying in one piece... I landed hard on the chain rings of teammate Grillo in a fast, downward slip to the cobblestone just before the race began. Oh well, there's nothing like some blood and bruises to intimidate the rest with my beastly grimace, right?
Our Medio Fondo (109km) consisted of:
- a false flat for ~40km
- a 3 km climb that was stand-up-in-your-saddle-the-entire-way steep
- another false flat with rolling hills for another ~40 km
- then Monte Bondone ~20km climb that finished the race at its top
*Grillo's long 149km Gran Fondo rerouted at about 60 km and did Monte Bondone twice.
I realized a few things yesterday that I'd like to share with all cycling and non-cycling enthusiasts, since I find myself a person constantly battling an appreciation for the sport that is definitely not one like any other I've been good at.
1) I hate the flats.
I feel like you have to be really good at being consistently one speed more than you have to be fast. Trained at a young age in our 'hood to sprint well in capture the flag, I appreciate the art of blowing yourself up, resting, and repeating over and over again until your body fails. I do not like keeping my upper body motionless to where your hands fall asleep and your butt gets sore just to stay at one speed that isn't sprinting and isn't slow.
2) I like to climb... if I know how long it is.
If I'm riding with someone and we turn to go uphill, I want to know immediately how far it is so I can turn myself inside out in a timely fashion. None of this set-one-pace-and-die-a-slow-death thing if it ends up being longer than you anticipated. Seriously. Maybe all mid-distance runners, sprinters, basketball and soccer players struggle with this transition?
3) The coolest thing about being a runner on a bike...
Is that you rarely breathe hard on the climbs. You're so used to a rhythmic, deep breathing that biking up hills feels easy, especially when you stand up in the saddle even if just briefly. Anytime I felt sick of that nasty 20 km climb I stood up, let me abs and hip flexors carry some of the load, and before you know it, you sit back down feeling totally refreshed. This is my theory on it. When I shared this with Phil, he told me it's a proven fact that a cyclist is much less efficient standing. I said I didn't care. I wasn't the girl gulping for air like all of the non-runner cyclists around me!
4) Gauge your success at the point when you see leather.
Once I notice that the skin of the legs in front of me go from toned and tight to toned and loose, I can measure how well I'm doing at the race. If the legs go from toned and loose to not toned and loose, that's when you've really got to amp it up (this happened to me last year). Also, a ponch doesn't matter. A man with a double spare tire can roll past you at any given point and you must totally understand the rule of km under your belt (no pun intended) in order to let this one not affect the ego.
5) All civilian rules go out of the window in a race.
Crowds of us passed by a crash involving 6-8 cyclists, one of which was a 60-70 yr old man with a face full of blood. No one stops, you just gaze and keep going. Later there was a 30-something fashionable guy that I had just passed on a straightaway of the climb. Me and an older dude were plugging away at the stretch, and we heard him scream "ayyyy ayyyy ayyyy ayyyy!!!" I wanted to ask him if he was okay, but clearly he was not as he grabbed his left quad grimacing in pain. It's an odd feeling, but you just have to hope they'll survive til they get swept up by the ambulance if they cannot continue on.
To conclude, I got a kick with about 6km left of the climb, and started buzzing past people left and right. I think it was this nasty tropical flavored gel that shot to the back of my throat at the 13 km mark, but it could have simply been the little crowds of people shouting "Dai! Brava ragazza!" at me - to which i made sure I always responded to with a smile and a "Grazie!" as they clapped even louder.