Sunday, March 3, 2013

Finally, the gran fondo - Great, but tiring.

Yesterday was the gran fondo.  I signed up for it as a group tour, but over the last few months it became obvious to me that the team was taking it more seriously, as a race.  I rode somewhere in the middle, but realistically, I would have had a hard time doing the long course any faster than I did.  I could have omitted my one stop for a caffe machiato, but I don't even know if that would have made me any faster.  The whole team met at the shop, where they had some crostata for us.  It was a fun scene, with everyone ready for the day.  The day started a little chilly, and it was relatively cold standing in the starting area for 45 minutes.  The starting area was probably around 1/3 of a mile long, and filled with riders.  We were in group A, the first group of 1000 or so, and it was packed.  Looking around, there were many teams from different parts of Italy, and most everyone appeared to be taking this relatively seriously.

We finally got started almost exactly on time, and I had enough warning to remove the light rain / wind shell I had on to stay warmer.  The weather was better than forecast, and it was mostly clear and clearing.  The forecast wind was certainly evident though.  We started with a very fast run through the center of town - everything blocked off, spectators two to three deep and cheering.  Yes, it can be your tour fantasy.  After around 10 minutes, we were out of town and on our way up to pass Piazzale Michaelangelo.  The riders were spread out a little more by now, which was good.  There continued to be a fairly large group all together all the way to the San Casciano climb.  Everyone I was around (the team split up quickly, as different people had different speeds they were comfortable with) was pretty experienced and it felt fine to be in such a large group.  We were really going quite fast, around 55 k on the slight uphill from Tavernuzze to the San Casciano climb.

At San Casciano, I would guess around 3/4 of the people turned off to do the short course, and I kept straight to do the great descent down that hill.  From the base of the descent you have around 5 to 10 k of gradual climbing in a valley.  There were a number of groups, and if I could push to stay with the right one, we rolled pretty fast, and it helped with the wind which really started blowing at this point.  You then climb up to San Donato, which is mostly in the trees, so the wind was not much of a factor.  By now, I was recognizing the people I was more of less riding with.  I tend to climb and descend faster than most of this group, but they are definitely stronger at pushing it on the relative flats.  The climbing gets a little steeper after San Donato, and it is a pretty good haul up to Casellina in Chianti.  A good descent from Casellina, then mostly up to Radda in Chianti.  With very good signage and a group, there was no possibility of missing the turn this time.

I descended quickly to the valley that goes to Lucarelli.  As we hit the slightly descending valley, I let the group go, as I did not want to blow it out too much.  Here, Leif, a friend and member of the team caught me.  I had been expecting this for a while, as he is definitely stronger than I, but was in the second group at the start.  We rode together all they way back to Firenze, which was really a help.  He pulled more than I, but I did most of my share.  We also accumulated a group after Panzano of around 8 that mostly took turns at the front.  We did stop in Panzano for a caffe machiato, which was full of good energy.  After Greve, you continue descending then turn off for another climb to Strada, then kind of ride a ridge / climb / descend to a real descent into Grassina.  In Grassina, we met another team mate who had blown out too much energy on the way to Casellina, and was struggling a little.  We three then rode together until the climb to Fiesole.  Leif stayed with Dominick, but I was tired and needed to stay with my own pace and dropped them on the climb.  

I do this climb all the time, but rarely when I am that tired.  It was fine, then I descended to Pian de Mugnone, where we hit Via Faentina until the short but steep Via Salviati stretch.  I was back with a couple of the guys we had ridden from Panzano with, and one knew that a steep piece was coming up, but did not know where.  I did my best to communicate it in my fractured Italian, but when we hit it, his eyes lit up and he exclaimed something in Italian I did not understand.  It is only around 1/4 mile, but there is a piece that climbs 3 to 400 vertical at 20%.  After this, it was mostly a cruise to the finish.  At the finish, my legs immediately cramped as I got off the bike, but I was able to stretch them out, and had no problems afterward.  I drank and ate lots, then met with other team mates and we enjoyed the "pasta party".  

Overall, quite a fun but challenging day.  I love being here and riding in the ciclisti cultura.  The summary is:  79.4 miles in 4:48 rolling time for an average speed of 16.5 mph with 5875 vertical climbed at a great average temperature (which includes the effect of the sun) of 58.  The garmin link is below.  A prossimo!

The team meeting at the shop before riding to the start area.

A few shots of the start area - members of the team, and
one of the mass in front of us, and we were in group A.

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