The Italian Job (2)
by Uli | June 24, 2017 | Uncategorized
by Chris Geiser
One cyclists story of the adventure of a lifetime in Italy. Traveling with Vito Valentini, Michael Lyach, Tom Niccum, Chris Torella, Aleksandra Sydelko, and Jenny Zarzuela to Terracina, Italy to attend the Gran Fondo New York, Italia camp and three-day stage race. Side trip taken to Milan, to visit Cicli DeRosa.
Sincerest gratitude to the grace, and class, of our hosts in Terracina, Francesco, Valeria, Carla, and family. Our accommodations at Villa Lina were second to none!
The Road to Terracina
When we last left our intrepid travelers, my phone battery was dead, and we were on the road to Terracina from Rome, without GPS. Interestingly enough, in the United States, this would likely present a huge issue. In Italy, just keep following the signs and eventually you get there. Navigating in the dark and keeping my eyes peeled for the signs that said “Latina, and Terracina” was just enough to take us through Aprilia, and all the way in to Terracina itself.
During the drive, we passed Cinecittà — one of the biggest movie studios in the world. A legendary place for someone like me who had once worked in the film industry. It reminded me of the hundreds of conversations I had had with colleagues over the years about these amazing places, and there I was. I didn’t have the chance to soak it in as much as I would have liked, but I fortunately got that chance the next day.
As we passed through Aprilia, Michael regaled me with the history of Aprilia in professional cycling, via both bicycles and motorcycles. Michael’s knowledge of cycling at the ground level, is so amazing, that it allowed me to release some of the stress of finding our way, and to imagine what it was like to be with him as he cajoled his Eastern European coaching counterparts to join with him in a bid to fight off the stacked teams in Continental races. The detail in his storytelling, so compelling, you could see it, playing like a hologram over the wayfinding that said “| Terracina ->”.
I am remiss that I don’t have any photos of this segment of the trip. As mentioned in installment 1, we were late, and without a phone — or so I thought — and so getting to Terracina as quickly as possible was paramount. Francesco, our host, was out of town, and so his mother, the lovely Carli, was waiting for us since late afternoon. She was also waiting on my bike box — but more on that later. As we finally arrived in Terracina, we saw way finding for the street we were looking for. This is where the way finding fell down. We drove in circles until we met a very nice Italian couple out for an evening walk. The gentleman had a bicycle — “Let’s ask them”!
The conversation meandered for a while, as they didn’t exactly know the street. They drew us a map, but we must have been holding it upside down. We went in the exact wrong direction. Finally, I realized — “Michael — can I see your phone?”
“Si, si, here it is”. He unlocked his phone and I turned on data roaming. “I will pay you back, Maestro!” I went straight to Google Maps, and Fifi helped us go the two blocks to the house we had been circling for the last 20 minutes.
We finally met Carli, and her friend Giuditta (I may not have that name right — but she was very cool, they both were) . We got the full tour of the house, a complete run-down of Terracina, and I thought maybe by the end that Carli may have been the Mayor. They were lovely. Left us dessert, and pasta, and beverages, and then gave us directions to the supermarket. Conad. Remember that name — we go there a lot.
Our 9:30 PM trip to the supermarket (immediately following our 9:28 trip to the cabineto after the ladies left). We repeated the “drive around till you find it drill” in the dark for a while, until we finally found it at 9:50. Ten minutes before close.
Here’s the difference between the Italian supermarket, and the U.S. supermarket. At 9:57 in the U.S. — take your purchases to the counter. At 9:57 in Italy — “you have to go!” WHOOPS! I only had 30 seconds to choose any one of the 56 types of Arianciata they had! AHHHHH! We grabbed some fresh tortellini, some bread, and we checked out.
As we reached the parking lot, I put my hand on Michael’s shoulder, and said, “Michael, we are here! Can you believe it?!” It was as if in that single minute, all the stress of the past two days had been lifted.
As you will learn later anyway, we found out the next day that the market that took us 20 minutes to find was a 1 block walk from the house. DOH!
Michael and I retired to our rooms, his on the first floor, mine up on the second. We had done some initial planning on how the bedrooms would play out, talking more than planning actually. With a 5:30 AM wakeup, we would be on our way back to Rome in the Pugeot to meet the Gavia team. They were on the identical flight we had been on, on Wednesday. We made some espresso in the espresso pot, which would later be replaced by the Niccum 9000. A similar concept, but a much more scalable design for serving six cyclists with jet-lag and caffeine requirements.
Off to Rome!
Last trip to back to Rome until we would leave. It was exciting to know that we would be away from big cities, and in a place where celebrating cycling, and unwinding could be the key focus.
This would be a relatively simple affair. Please allow me to describe as if it’s the carefully laid out plan of a bank robbery. <Insert Guy Ritchie music and filtered photos here.>
Driving into the airport, Michael and I would park the Peugeot in the regular customer garage. We would then proceed methodically to the baggage claim exit, where, as if on cue, the team would be exiting with their luggage and bikes in tow. Assisting however we could, we would stand by, as Tom purchased a data card from the TIM window, and Michael got espressos for everyone at the snack bar across the way. The snack bar was called “Bagel Bite” or something like that. UGH! Et tu Roma?! Et tu?
With luggage carts loaded, a careful procession through the garage elevator maze, and moving walk way caverns, would spit us out at the rental counter, where Tom had reserve a large van. Heading back to the van, the bikes would be carefully loaded, while Torella and I would load other bags into the Pugeot. Michael would provide navigation for Tom, Chris would listen to my incessant yammering about how great the last three days were, and we were back on the road to Terracina.
Or so I thought. A lapse in concenctration, and a dose of “I sooo got this” overconfidence led us on a wild hare hunt through the city of Latina, before Fifi finally righted us and sent us back on the correct roads. As we arrived, Tom was naturally perplexed about the Tickle Me Elmo GPS unit I was following.
But that was no longer important. Calling on all of my skills with a large vehicle from my truck driving days, I carefully negotiated the van into the gated fortress that was Villa Lina, and we all began unpacking. You may be thinking to yourself — did you ever get your bike box?
I am so glad you asked — NO — I didn’t but I got several confusing phone calls from Alitalia (their new tag line “if you don’t like the service…TOO BAD”) ringing in my ears, telling me that I could expect my box sometime before the 18th. Sounds like we will need to buy a foot pump. We would grab one when I took Michael to pick up his rental bike at Cicli Conte in the city of Fondi, about 20 minutes away. They reopened at 3, so we had some time to kill, and assemble our bikes.
The bike assembly process seemed to go relatively quickly. It was a beautiful day, we got some lunch food, and everyone was happy to be there. We all helped to fill in the gaps and help each other out. By three-ish, it was time to head to Cicli Conte. Vito had made a special arrangement to try and get Michael a 32 on the back so that he wouldn’t have any trouble getting up some of the climbs. Jenny, Aleksandra, Michael, and I got into the Pugeot and headed to Fondi. The drive was picturesque and only took about 25 minutes. When we got to the bike shop, they didn’t have much in the way of road bikes. Between Michael and Jenny we were able to figure out we were in the wrong shop location. We walked about a block and were at the main shop. Everyone was in the back room, watching Tirreno Adriatico while they worked. We were able to meet with Paolo Conte, and he brought out a Canondale for Michael to inspect. We could not get over how many Canondales and Specialized there were. I felt for a second like someone dropped a New Jersey bike shop into the middle of Italy.
Michael took a look at the gruppo. “Molto piccolo”! I looked at Paolo, and stupidly, in English, I said “too small”. Paolo nodded and smiled and probably thought, “Grazie Michele, for bringing the village idiot with you, he translates Italian into english for Italians”. Well, actually, I think Paolo turned out to be too nice a guy to think that, but, it’s certainly what I was thinking.
It was a 25. I was picking up the conversation with my limited powers, and Michael turned to me and said “you understand?”.
“Yes,” I said, “he would have to change the entire gruppo to put a 32 on.”
“Si, si, we go with a 28!”
During that time, and leaving Jenny, Aleksandra and myself to our own devices, the browsing got kicked up a notch. There was shoe shopping (bike shoes), helmet browsing, jacket trying, pump purchasing, and finally the purchase of the sealant. That’s right. The sealant for the tubulars. Just put it in your jersey pocket and it will seal and fill the tire. You will be right there with me when I tell you that this seems to be exactly the level of fantastic magic trick it is made out to be.
We loaded the bike and the other purchases in to the car and off we went. (I went for the cheapest pump — now officially the best pump I have ever owned. Sue me!)
We were back on our way to Terracina!
Meet the Fluhme’s!
We all knew Uli and Lidia Fluhme from our various Gran Fondo New York experiences, and because our coach, Vito Valentini is a member of Gruppo Sportivo, the GFNY ambassador team. But this was, I think, the first time any of us would be spending a significant amount of time with them.
They had invited the entire camp, all of us from Gavia, plus our new friends Ken Levins, (also from the NY/NJ area), and Ramon Antonio Berrios (we called him Montoni — that is the phonetic of his nickname), and his lovely wife. We had a really nice dinner.
The conversations at dinner covered bike racing, Europe, what it’s like to run dozens of top-notch cycling events all over the globe, and constantly be on the go, and finally, what the camp would be like. Tomorrow was the day. The first day of the camp, where we would begin our journey to no longer fear 10+% grades, learn how to hammer on a flat like your life depended on it, and how to navigate a series of Italian auto tunnels cut into the sides of mountains.
I don’t know that I can promise a quicker turnaround. But, I can promise more photos, more cycling, more adventure, and as Uli and Lidia so appropriately phrased it “authentic Italy”.
Clip in — the theme of the next installment — SPETTACOLO!