Monday, March 31, 2014

Granfondo Firenze - finally the big event for me.

What a great ride yesterday.  Although I have participated in a couple of granfondo's and a few other similar events in the past, this is the first time I was looking at it as a "race".  I purchased my own timing chip, as the rent amount equals the cost in three uses, so I am set for a few more this season.  We shall see.  The spring forward time change here was Saturday night, so we were at it quite early.  The long course, which I rode, is difficult, so I got up quite early so I could do my full 1 hour yoga / stretching routine before the race.  It was cool when we met, but it became sunny and quite nice.  The shell I wore before the start was in my pocket the whole ride.  I thought I would need it descending the two big passes, but it really warmed up.  I was also doing my best to go as fast as I could and did not take the time to put the shell away and did not want to take the time to put it on and take it off.

The start was pretty slow, as we all took the World Championship course from the Cascine park to Fiesole.  There were a number of bottlenecks, as we had to alter course due to another event in the Cascine.  It was fun and memorable to ride the course through the old part of the city, past the Duomo before getting out on the Lungarno, then turning toward Campo de Marte.  Somewhere around Campo de Marte, we rode across the official start / timing pad which started the official distance of 140 k with 2800 meters of dislivello (climbing).  I had resolved not to go out too fast, but I simply went with my energy level, which had me riding quite fast with a group kind of close to the lead.  As we got to the steeper part of the climb to Fiesole, things loosened up a bit.  I seem to be a good climber these days, and probably passed around 100 people on the Fiesole climb.

After the little steep climb above Fiesole, I settled in with a fast group for the remainder of the climb to Croce alle Vetta, a nice 10 kilometers at around 2% average grade.  A good piece of the ride to be in a group.  There was an aid station at the Croce, but I did not stop.  I had managed to consume a banana during the ride from Fiesole and stay with the group, so I was set.  I fell in with a fast group of around 8 for the descent to Borgo San Lorenzo.  From Borgo San Lorenzo to the start of the Giogo climb, I hooked up with a group of around 40 that kept a very fast pace all the way past the Autodromo to where a steep climb broke everyone up.  In that group I found Lorenzo, the president of our team, and we rode together until the climb, when I left him.  He was doing the mediofondo anyway, and they turned off around 200 kilometers after I dropped him.

At the turn to Passo Giogo, the game was on.  This is a climb of around 12 kilometers with an average grade of 6.5% with the steepest parts around 14%.  They had signs at the start of the significant climbs which gave the riders all that information.  I felt surprising good up Giogo, but did not push the gearing and went to the easier / easiest gears when needed.  I stopped at the top and grabbed 3 slices of cake, refilled the water, and was off on the descent.  It is a super beautiful descent to the very pretty little town of Firenzuola.  The people living the the little towns on the way down and in Firenzuola were really nice and many were out lining the course and cheering you on as you passed.  You could almost fantasize you were a pro.  Almost.  After Firenzuola, the course went a different route than either of the routes I had taken on my preview rides.

It went up almost directly from Firenzuola, and the first 3 kilometers or so I would guess averaged around 12%, which is pretty tough at this point in the race.  The official sign had the climb to Passo Futa at 680 meters of climbing at an average grade of 6% with the steepest at 13%.  Yikes!  The good part is that there is a significant downhill in the middle of the climb, and after the long, steep part, it is pretty mellow up to the pass itself.  Another stop for water and a couple of bananas just before the top at the aid station, then another very fast descent to Santa Lucia, where you turn off to continue the descent a little before a climb past Panna of around 150 vertical meters (ouch) before you continue the descent to Galliano.  During the descents I felt really great, full of energy, surprising myself, as I was riding fast for me.

Around Galliano, I knew it would help to find a group, so as a few passed, I summoned the energy to hook up with them, and then it was a fast cruise.  Our group of eventually around 10 hooked up with another group around the turn to go around the lago biliancino, where we ended up being a group of around 40.  3 guys led the group all the way to Barberino, then during a short climb, a guy I was riding behind went to the front, and I followed.  I eventually led most the way back on the South shore of the lake, around 8 kilometers.  Having to relieve my middle aged bladder at the top of a little climb, I pulled off and found we still had a group of around 40 - kind of fun.  After getting back on the bike, there is a long, mellow climb through Vaglia before it starts to get steep before Pratolino.

I eventually caught most of the group, and let them help me until the steep part started.  While working to catch the group, I started passing some people doing the medio fondo, and they were going kind of slow and looking like they were tired.  For the first time all day, during the steep climb to Pratolino and above, I saw people in some real distress.  I don't think any real serious difficulties, simply worn out and a number walking with there bikes looking disgusted.  I think with the group doing the long course at the speed I went, there were not many people who were put off by that climb, but we had caught some of the slower riders for the mediofondo, which was a different deal.  This is also the last climb, other than the slightly sick Via Salviati climb before the end.

I passed many people on the way up past Pratolino, then started the descent around Bivigliano.  Sweet descent.  Again, I was feeling great, singing out loud, and just loving the day and being alive.  Che Bello!  Fast all the way to the dreaded Via Salviati, which had grabbed a place of dread in my mind.  I am definitely of the opinion that my mental state has a major place in my energy level and ability to ride at this level.  Via Salviati is not long, only around 200 meters, but there is around 50 meters of climbing at 20%, which hurts.  It was part of the World Championship course, so it was included.  There was a climb in the Terreno / Adriatico I watched that was over 30% for 500 meters, and I watched Contador weave his way up, and used that strategy on the Via Salviati climb which worked quite well.  Finished!

Luca found me after I had my first of three bottles of water, and literally was in tears of joy as he hugged me.  His parents and brother had come up from Puglia to see him race, and they all enjoyed us hugging and feeling good.  We had a couple of pictures taken, then I continued down to enjoy the pasta party back at the start in the Cascine.  Luca had decided with his family there he would simply go home and eat and rest.  His emotion and feelings at the finish will stay with me for a while as they were just simply joyful.  Around 8 people from the team who had done the mediofondo were still there and gave me a great welcome.  I have become something of an anomaly on the team, as I am the only American, quite a bit older than most and the oldest on the team by 7 years, and I am feeling good and strong.  Anyway, they saw me and stood up and shouted my name and all said bravi!  I basically inhaled the two plates of pasta, and soon my effort overtook me.  I said goodbye to all and said I was going home to sleep.  My Italian is pretty limited.

Lorenzo had looked up the times, and I finished in 5:04, 30th in my age group, which was from 56 to 62.  Overall I was 386th of the 674 finishers of the granfondo distance.  So, the timed part of the race was 87 miles in 5:04 time for an average speed of 17.2 mph with 9186 vertical feet of climbing.  Perfect weather, great event, and I feel so happy and thankful that life has brought me to where I am now.  I am enjoying it.

Granfondo Firenze - courso luongo - Mugello by ridingwithcosimo at Garmin Connect - Details

A picture of the team at our meeting point before we rode over
to get a spot on the starting grid.  A great group to be a part of.

Looking in front of us at the starting grid.  At least 1000 riders
are in front of us due to the timing of our registration.

Looking behind us at the starting grid.  What a fun event to
be a part of.  So many serious cyclists.

Returning from a quick break in the woods before the start,
this may give a better idea of the numbers at the start.  I 
think around 3000 cyclists.

Luca and I at the finish.  We had done a fair amount of training 
together and have become good friends.  He had pre-registered,
so was ahead of the group at the start.  Although he only finished 3 
minutes ahead of me, I did not see him all day.  We are both
feeling good at the finish.

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