The Italian Job (3)

by Uli | July 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 GFNY Italia camp and three-day stage race. Side trip taken to Milan, to visit Cicli DeRosa.

Sincerest gratitude to Lidia and Uli Fluhme, Maciej Narzewski, Nicolangiolo Zoppo, and Mirko DP (Mr. Wolf), for a second to none camp experience.

Mr. Wolf getting ready to meet the Gavia warriors.

GFNY Italia — Camp Day 1 — Case and Coffee

Alrighty then. Exactly one Gran Fondo New York Championship later — we are ready to pick up where we left off. With a lovely introductory dinner done and dusted, there was a lot of anticipation about what the camp would be like. Everyone was ready to discover what Lidia and Uli had described (accurately as we found), “authentic Italy”.

As I awoke Sunday morning, Tom was up first and coffee was somehow in progress. There was a knock on my bedroom door — “it looks like the Alitalia guy is here with your case”. I ran downstairs, and sure enough — there he was, there it was. I tipped the gent ten Euro for his troubles and his trouble finding the place — it was no mean feat I can tell you. We opened it up and found at least a half-dozen TSA inspection slips. The new conspiracy theories abounded. Either it went to every airport in the U.S.A with the name Rome, or my personal favorite — they opened it up at JFK and said “oh shit, did we lose the bike already?” (I am still going with this one). To this day, I think the team feel that I am giving the TSA way too much credit for noticing there was no bike in the case.

So — back to the plan, the plan was to meet at the hotel just down the road Villa Lina, where Ken, Montoni, and our Italian guide/coach Mirko were all staying.

But first — coffee. So as we had struggled to scale the espresso pot to serve six people, some new technology was introduced. During the next two days, Tom and I would work tirelessly to perfect what later became known as the “Niccum 9000”. A pour over coffee device that would allow us to filter through a funnel and paper towels into a larger coffee pot. With a fully loaded kettle and a funnel full of grounds, we were able to successfully figure out some coffee at scale. Michael was doing a yeoman’s work getting to the cafe every morning, but we needed something that could precede the wait for his return. It took two days to perfect — but it became a Gavia House institution.

The Niccum 900 — coffee at scale for a large group of jet-lagged cyclists

Meet Mr. Wolf — Mirko DP

We had heard some from Vito about Mirko being at the camp. We didn’t know much about him, other than he was from Rome and that he would be helping to lead the rides, and serve as a coach and guide, along with Lidia and Uli. We rallied and rode down to the hotel, about 1.5 kilometers down the beach road for a 9:45 AM arrival. Our rallying time was 10AM near the edge of the hotel parking lot, so we entered the hotel and were able to meet Ken, Montoni, and Mirko for coffee.

With introductions out of the way, and a round of espresso in the bag, Mirko treated us to another cup, and soon after Lidia and Uli arrived. We were apparently in the wrong place — but — no biggie. We were soon on the bikes and off on our first camp ride.

We rolled out of Terracina and out onto the roads surrounding the town very quickly. I had realized as we were getting ready in the morning, that I had not brought a mount for my Garmin. So today, my Garmin would ride in the pocket of my vest, and I would go without data during the ride. In retrospect this was more of a bonus, as I had no fear around the climbs that we did (on the course or otherwise).

As we rolled along toward the Appenine Road, I was still getting used to my Campagnolo gruppo. A Shimano guy for most of my cycling years, I was using my first ever chain catcher, and also on my first ever race crank. No more compacts, the 53/39 was an adjustment I was finding a way to get used to on the small undulations that we met outside the town. While rolling with Tom and Mirko, Mirko evaluated the bikes he was seeing from the Gavia group and we getting to know us. During this time, I very unceremoniously shifted from my 39 back up to my 53 and dropped my chain. This — was a new one on me. My entire chain dropping career had been in the other direction. I pulled over and Mirko, Tom, and I wrestled my chain past the new chain catcher, trying our best to not scratch my brand new frame.

The team as we made our way out of Terracina toward our first official climb of the camp.


We had finally remounted the chain, and several theories were advanced on how and why this happened. Pedaling too high an RPM, maybe pedaling backwards, maybe just new crank jitters. Maybe just new country jitters. Jitters or no jitters, we were now separated from the group, and made the only turn that made sense to us, sharp right, and straight up a hill.

“Tom”, Mirko said, “ you are riding the same bike as Mr. Froome I see.” As we advanced up what seemed like a small undulation, I started to feel a little sassy, and stood up to see if I could climb a little faster. “You are in good form, Tom on your Chris Froome bike — but we had better watch out — as it seems Damien Cunego up there, on DeRosa — is escaping”.

Tom deadpanned back to Mirko. “Not to worry, he’ll be back”. Tom knew me only too well. He could also see the grade ahead of me, as the segment known as La Fioraa_Hard kicked up to between 14% and 17% for a very short bit. I was caught, and dropped, almost simultaneously. As we all continued up the climb together, Mirko started to tell us more about things to do in the area.

The La Fiora_HARD segment — a little off course

“There is a bike shop, in a not too far away town. We could head up there, and meet the mechanics. Many famous pros, such as Nibali have spent time up there. The mechanics are ex-pros, and then amazing food near by, have you ever had cinghiale?”

Cinghiale — I had experienced this magic pork varietal in Florence about 8 years ago. I never forgot it. I perked up at the sound of the word. “YES — cinghiale — the wild boar — where can we have it?” As the discussion continued, we realized our navigation error. It was easy to figure out. It looked like there were gents at the top of the climb with their lupare that were ready to go out and hunt the cinghiale themselves. We were essentially in someone’s driveway. We turned and descended quickly.

Meanwhile on the Appenine road, Lidia was telling the rest of the group, who assumed we made that right turn “if they did that, they will end up in some farmer’s driveway” — truth!

Mirko with his familiar Sony camera

We made our way down the hill and onto the Appenine road where we found Uli. Uli had suffered a puncture and lost the rest of the group. He called Lidia, and we all reconnected a few kilometers away. We hammered away on the flats for a bit on the way to our first big climb of the camp.

Via Cascano — The First Official Camp Climb

The Via Cascano was a really enjoyable climb. Just over 5KM and just over 300 meters in elevation, it was an uncanny manifestation of what I expected from the Italian country side. Small roads, olive groves, and bright sun. Relieved to not have my Garmin in front of me, I just concentrated on turning the cranks over and breathing. I maintained a steady pace and kept close behind the faster climbers in the group. About halfway up, Uli appeared from behind the olive trees with his phone out taking photos. Like Merlin in the John Boorman film, Excalibur, he appeared out of nowhere and struck a commanding presence on the climb. The group was strewn throughout the climb but all were making it up in good time. Uli shouted some encouragement, and took a few photos of everyone as they went by. Shortly after seeing Uli, I got the “Benito” — a hand gesture from an Italian driver descending the hill, indicating I was in his way, and that I should go do a certain thing to myself, and that I should do it today. As I got to the top, I was relieved to find that the group were not waiting very long, and that I was holding my own. I was also relieved for the shade.

Me and the DeRosa SK Pininfarina on our first official climb.
Chris And Tom, Montoni in the background at the top of Via Cascano

As we gathered at the top, Lidia informed us that the road we would now descend was one of the worst roads “of all time”. My invitation to come ride on Staten Island, is still open, Lidia. We were relieved to see that they had done some repairs since they had ridden it last, and it was an all out blitz to the bottom. En route, I discovered just what gravity could do to a loose finger bandage as it flew off, and there was no way to save it. Hmm — at a certain point, those stitches would need to come out.

We were now back on the way to Terracina, and on the way to the Temple of Jupiter, or Tempio di Giove, a segment that I had done on my TDF trainer at home. This would be my first time on a climb like this using the 53/39. I was very much in my own head about the damn race crank, as you will see in the next few camp days. People who know me, know how much I talk. I probably talk to myself twice as much.

On to the Temple

As we slalomed through Terracina and made our way, we found out that the uphill time trial coming this Friday as part of the race would not be here, but out in San Felice. So this would be our only shot at it. As we started to climb, I shifted to the lower crank, and recognized the roadway from the display on my TDF trainer. My lower crank was doing some clicking, and I heard Chris T yelling “trim — trim”. He rode close to me and said, “on the left, hit the trim on the inside with your thumb”. I did so, and suddenly, my gears were running smoothly and quietly, and we were climbing. It’s easy to psyche yourself out, but it gets more difficult when you are suddenly half way up the climb and because you know the sights, you know you are over the hard part. Time to grind it out.

I wasn’t quick but I was steady.

At the top, we decided to open a bike shop. Or so we should have. It was at this point that we had realized that Jenny had a puncture, Aleksandra’s handle bars were floating down, and Uli was asking questions about who did what to whom on the bike assembly line. As we got it all straightened out, first ride, save the descent was in the bag. Nerves shaken out, cobwebs, chains, punctures making us all a little less nervous. Time for some victorious photos of a stunning place before descending to a memorable lunch in the center of town.

Here we were in an amazing place, high atop Terracina, and overlooking the Mediterranean. I have tried to master Lidia’s pose in other photos, but to no avail.

As we started the descent — Mirko had some tips. Time to get in the drops, let the bike be guided by you — and Chris — “don’t use your brakes — we don’t want them to scratch your rims”. The descent was short, but steep and took in some small city roads, so some care was in order. We got to the bottom and Lidia and Uli needed to get to work. GFNY never sleeps it seems — so much to do. We, on the other hand, had lunch in one of Terracina’s unbelieable cafes.

Left to right: Montoni, MIrko, Jenny, Aleksandra, Lidia, myself, Chris T, Tom, and Ken. Photo credit — Uli.
Terracina lunch, chain grease on the fingernails, and no bandage on the stitched finger.

On Sunday night we invited one of our other new GFNY friends Maciej in for a home cooked dinner. We had done some shopping at the Conad for basics, and the house Nona’s had left us some groceries. We were able to cobble together some pasta, bread, and a red sauce that was respectable, and feed the whole team. Maciej would be out with us in the morning with the team car (more on why that was huge later), and Michael would be taking parts of the route in the car while getting out on the bike in all the right places.

A note about the temple — It is the primary landmark of Terracina. It is highly visible from the town square, lit up at night, and one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen both up close, and from a distance. It was wayfinding point for us throughout the trip.

GFNY Italia — Camp Day 2— San Felice and The Miracle of Frosinone

I got up early on Monday. I did some research and found that there was a bikes shop nearby in Terracina where I could likely get a mount for my Garmin. I calculated the distance to Cicli Tornesi, and let the gang know that if I wasn’t back in time to go to the hotel with them, I would just meet them there. I arrived at Cicli Tornesi, and found I had just enough Italian skills left in the bank to ask the owner for the Garmin mount. He happily obliged and installed it on the handlebars for me, checking with me throughout the install that I liked the position and the angle. This was a great looking bike shop. The mechanics area was white tiled, with a bike wash in the back. It was on a busy street and had an espresso vending machine in the front parking lot. My kind of place.

With my mount installed, I was able to make it back in time to travel to the hotel with the gang, and begin to establish the pattern that would become a point of contention for the next few days. Having coffee at the hotel and forcing Uli to look for us. This game of cat and mouse entailed a 9:50 esrpesso with Mirko at the hotel, while Maciej was parked out toward the beach with the team car. At precisely 9:54 every morning, Uli would wonder where we were and make his way to the hotel cafe to remind us where the meeting place really was. By 10:02 each morning, we were on our way.

Today’s mission — a recon of the road race course, and the uphill time trial. We were headed out via the main seaside highway to the town of San Felice to a beautiful beach road. We went about 10KM up this road, and made a u-turn to then head further along the coast toward San Felice. On the road prior to the beach road, Michael jumped in the car with Maciej to travel to the beach road where he could take advantage of the more open terrain. The rest of the group kept a nice pace and as we started to turn in toward the beach, the unthinkable happened. I suffered a puncture in my front tire. You know. The tubular. Maciej was right there behind us with the foot pump, and Lidia circled back to help. I pulled the can of fill/seal from my back pocket, and as I started to mount it on the valve, Lidia asked what I was doing. “Well it’s a tubular, so I have to seal it”.

Lidia was in disbelief. “A tubular? Why in the world would you put a tubular on here? Who told you you needed tubulars?”.

I completely related to the question and said “It’s what they put on at DeRosa”

She was indignant. “I don’t believe it. Cristiano would never do that? Would he?”

I continued trying to fill the tire. Then we tried the foot pump. No dice. Another wheel was pulled from the car by Maciej and we were on our way. I hammered to catch the group, and when we finally did (they stopped), I kept going. I finally realized that they hadn’t moved yet, and so I slowed down to wait. We were now on the beach road that would make up a huge part of the road race on Saturday. Flat and windy. My kind of place. We pressed on to a coffee shop at the end of the road and decided to make a stop. The time trial climb was coming up.

The day two coffee stop — Michael feeling his best, and the boys bellying up for a cup. Note the swapped out front wheel on the SK. Thanks Mirko — and yes — I know it was tubeless.

We pressed on after coffee, and I managed to drop my dang chain again — same trick, little to big. Maciej helped me get it back on, and Chris T, Uli, and I pulled back to the group, so that we could rejoin on the way to the uphill TT climb. We were now on the exact end of the road race route, as we would climb up into the town to where the TT start line was. Before we started to climb, I was down in my lower chain. Chris T drifted back to me, and said “don’t psyche yourself out before we even get on the climb, you can do this”. I was grateful for the encouragement, but I knew this could be a steep climb in places.

The Uphill TT

The Accropoli Test Up and Down ranged from 4% — 17% in places. Where the TT started was about 12% and so mentally, having looked at the segment the night before, I had my hands full. Tom looked over as the ground tilted up. He said these magic words, for the first time, that he would say many times over the next few days:

“Measure it out. Steady is smooth, and smooth is fast!” It was the best thing I could hear. Just crank and don’t panic. Breathe. Vito had worked with me on this all summer long. Breathing on a climb to not blow up. Don’t watch the data, just breathe. Just climb.

We turned up through town, and kept climbing. Less than 3KM to the top, but it twisted, turned, and kicked, it was tough, but short. Suddenly, and again as if he was Merlin, Uli appeared from nowhere saying “great job, now push, push”. A tiny little kicker, and we were on a platform overlooking the Mediterranean. It was amazing. We were at the top.

The top of the uphill TT climb. Myself and Chris T!
Gavia on Top! Jenny, Aleksandra, Tom, myself, and Chris T. Uli’s DeRosa protos on the right.

OK, so now the descent, and I am confusing the physics of carbon brake pads on aluminum rims, and proceeding very carefully. At the bottom, and back on the beach road, it was time for lunch. This was a fun lunch in a beach town, that made me feel like it was the middle of summer. The amazing food and camaraderie of a job well done, and no longer being afraid of the uphill TT climb. It was now just another climb that I have already done.

Lunch in San Felice — this is some album cover quality shit kids! Uli, Tom, and Chris getting very Annie Liebowitz on me.
A fantastic team lunch!

The Miracle of Frosinone

As mentioned from Day 1 — Mirko was very excited to take us to the bike shop. He could see that I was uncomfortable about the fact that I now had these tires that I didn’t know how to manage. Taking the Gavia van, Tom, Chris, and I followed Mirko, Ken, Montoni, and his wife to a town called Frosninone. We brought Jenny’s bike, the Bianchi she calls Celeste (she needed a re-indexing), and my front wheel with us. Mirko had said there would be a special surprise.

We weaved on and off the highways, getting amazing views of a beautiful sunset over the Appenine Mountains. We finally arrived at the shop LineaOro and were off to browsing for a few minutes. Mirko then rounded us all up, and brought us to a back room. I wish we had taken photos but the team at LineaOro were ready to greet us with mini-pizzas and prosecco. Mirko introduced us as the members of the GFNY Italia team from the U.S.A.

The bike shop team were very welcoming, and we couldn’t believe the reception. What a fantastic surprise! After our greeting, Chris T. and I started shopping for a set of backup wheels. “You could get a set of Fulcrum’s as knock around wheels”. I was seriously contemplating a wheel purchase right then and there. I was resigning myself to just using my tubulars for time trials and calling it done.

Mirko came and found us. “Chris — let me see your wheel, let’s get this handled.” As he found me, Tom had gotten Jenny’s bike to the mechanic who began to put it on the stand. Chris T continued to shop — finding a set of Bianchi trimmed tires to add to Jenny’s bike. Perfect.

As Mirko began to take the tire off my wheel, he said to me, “tubulars — you are sure they are tubulars?”.

“Yes — that’s what they told me.”

“But you didn’t look?”


He pinched the tire and moved it up. “Can I ask you how it is you fit this clincher tube under your tubular? Did it your tubular have a clincher baby?”

I couldn’t believe it. A wave of relief washed over me. Clinchers. I actually know WTF to do with clinchers if they have a problem. Clinchers! It’s a miracle! THE MIRACLE OF FROSINONE!

San Mirko of Frosinone as we behold the Miracle of Frosinone in progress.
Celeste on the rack, Chris T finding a ballistic missile air pump.

The irony of the miracle came in the form of us not being able to find the damage to the tube that went flat that afternoon. Well — it would seem that the sealant did it’s job and sealed the damn tube. But while we were pumping it, it also blocked the stem from inputting any air. But that was now officially behind us. I was riding Bora Ultra carbon clinchers, and I was loving it!

It was getting late, but the shop mechanic’s sister owned a restaurant in nearby Patrica. We wanted to experience the local food and culture. We were here for authentic Italy, and tonight was an amazing opportunity.

Dinner in Patrica — An Amazing Experience

We drove for some time outside the town, and made our way up some gravel roads to a remote location — La Fraschetta Patricana. We were lucky to have this opportunity, to get to know Mirko, to connect after the ride, to get to know Ken and Montoni more.

Mirko worked with the waiter to help us order anti-pasta, and we worked through the pasta dishes. We even ordered salads for after, but needed to cancel as we were all too full. The anti-pasta was incredible. Such an incredible assortment of things. Then pasta with a cinghiale ragu. Mirko was spot on. We were so glad we were here.

The anti-pasta that we kept picking at. We just kept eating.

With full bellies it was time to make our way back to Terracina. Michael, Jenny, and Aleksandra had a quiet dinner at the Villa Lina without us. We missed them but were coming home with new tires on Jenny’s bike, a clincher that we thought was a tubular, and a day ahead that would include some amazing climbing. Tom and Chris T had done their very best to keep me from psyching myself out about the next days climbs. It was a fantastic night of authentic Italy, from bike shops to cinghiale.

Next up: Monte Romano, Sperlonga- the Panoramica, and a final trip to San Felice before race day.


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