The Italian Job (5)

by Uli | September 24, 2017 | Uncategorized

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.

Time Trial Tomorrow

Having had a great dinner, met the Brazilians, and done a supply run, (and early Easter card photo), it was bed time. The time trial start times were set for tomorrow afternoon. There are a couple of things that anyone who knows me, knows well. I never wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day (March 17), and I am a complete time trial nut. Spoiler alert on the green thing — The TT was on March 17th, and I would indeed be wearing my GFNY Italia kit — primary color — GREEN!

As for being a TT nut, I emphasize nut over geek or nerd, because I honestly don’t know enough to be a geek or a nerd. I just think that it captures the essence of the sport. A rider alone on their bike with the whir of their gruppo and the road passing underneath. Watching the pros, it seems like a very scripted and effortless ballet, that somehow draws the best of everything out of them. Having done it now, I know that it is an exhausting, draining, and somehow exhilarating quest to do something with your body that your mind keeps advising against.

In my quest to learn how to be a threat in the ITT, I bought myself a used TT bike, entered a few races, and started to study the art and science. I looked for stage races and prior to Italy had only found the Tour of the Catskills as one I was able to enter. I had yet to discover the ITT subculture that exists within cycling. (more on that in another story).

WTF — Why am I telling you this — oh right, so there I was, there I was, there I was IN THE CONGO — sorry — not the Congo — on Facebook where Uli had started to post about the March GFNY Italia stage race. I hit the comments quickly. “Will there be an ITT, Uli?”

A very quick reply: Uphill TT

And another: I am in!

Self I said: “In? WTF? You’re not a climber? What are you thinking? Well, let’s see who else might be interested and maybe we can make a long weekend out of it!”

Aaaand, we’re back in.

So Thursday night, and all have headed off to bed. Start times were after lunch on Friday with a warm up by riding over to San Felice. It would probably be difficult keeping my mental shit together in the morning. What to eat, what to do, how to occupy the time. Knowing how much earlier it was back home, I had texted Vito and asked if I could give him a ring to talk it through.

“How are you feeling?”

I explained that I was feeling pretty good, but a little worried about making the grades on the 39. We talked through the course, the grades, the distance. Vito had a plan. The most important thing was to regulate my heart rate, and keep my breathing straight. “Keep in mind your breathing. Keep your heart rate in the 130’s if you can for the first kilometer.”

“Vito, the first 500 meters is at 12%”

“Oh, then just keep yourself as close to under control as you can.” In other words — don’t panic and blow up!

Time trialing, or uphill time trialing, it has been a constant struggle to stay in check early for me. Once I have the rhythm it becomes progressively easier, so success (in this case meaning not blowing up), means making sure that I don’t hyper-ventilate and drive my heart rate soaring. As Tom had been saying — “measure it out, steady is fast”.

Vito and I spoke for about 20 minutes. He had a sound strategy, and the encouragement I would need to make it happen. “You might surprise yourself with the 39”.

I was feeling a lot better, and like I could finally get myself to sleep. I headed upstairs.

Friday Morning — Pre-Stage 1

The good news on Friday morning was that folks felt like they had stuff to do. Everyone was buzzing around the house, looking for this, tightening that. Staying loose. If they had jitters, they didn’t show it. There was deliberate planning peppered in with laughing at this or that, finding more coffee, and figuring out what to eat.

Chris T was thinking about getting some kinks worked out of his bike. So we took a trip over to Cicli Tornesi, right there in Terracina. We threw Frosty in the van, and drove over to see Frederico to get Frosty on the rack. Frederico was fantastic, and gave us a tour of the service area including the bike-wash. As I had mentioned, clean, beautiful shop. The kind of place that you can’t leave people like Chris T and I alone in for very long, if you expect us to walk out solvent. As Frederico worked on Frosty, we watched the Shimano/Pearl Izumi rep working over one of the owners. He kept pulling different cases out of his car and walking them back in. I watched a few of his very deliberate “walks of gain” while I sipped espresso in the parking lot from the machine located just outside the shop.

Frosty is up on the rack. Time for coffee.

A magic machine outside a bike shop that self-serves espresso for coins, without a line. Hmm, I wonder if the immobiliare across the street has anything interesting to show that would fit me and the family.

Chris T hamming with a Bianchi fixie, Frederico getting Frosty all sorted out. Hmm — is that SRAM? Maybe Campagnolo would be a better idea for your Ridley — like those Lotto guys!

When we returned to Villa Lina, the gang were all putting the spit and polish on their machines, and getting some last minute relaxation in. The plan was easy. Michael and I would take the van with our bikes over to San Felice. The rest of the team would use the 7 mile rip to San Felice as their warm up.

Meditation and preparation. #48 — that’s me!

As we got to the start line, it looked like it would be a serious challenge to find parking. We were up on the base of the climb. I slid the van into what looked like a good spot, although probably very illegal on any other day. As the Carbinieri didn’t move from their posts as I pulled in and backed up, I considered it good. I crossed the street and said hello to Uli and Lidia. I didn’t realize they would be racing today. They were in great spirits. I checked the start list and established my time — I had at least 90 minutes to kill. At least 60 before Michael started — he would be the first out, and the only 75+ in the race. This was getting exciting. As I considered all the pageantry I see at American time trials, I remembered they were nothing compared to the team preparation I saw before GFNY Ventoux, and even less than that when compared to what I was seeing here. We were among some amazing riders.

For openers, Mirko’s teammate from AS Roma (one of several at the race), is the Italian National Women’s Time Trial Champion. We’re good here right? You get it? Huge.

I was saving this for the next installment — but, seriously — the Italian National TT Champ! (myself, Tom, the champ, and Mirko)

The team arrived in from Terracina one by one up the climb from the San Felice beach road. We would be seeing that punchy bastardo tomorrow at the end of the road race. As we were pulling gear from the van, and getting prepared, I couldn’t find my shoes. For the love of Pete. Am I going back to Terracina to get my damn shoes? Will I never learn, what the hell, come on, oh shit — there they are! With the crisis averted, and Tom now in charge of the van keys I decided to get a ten minute warm up in. I head down the road away from the course and decided to go 1.5 KM in each direction. Race time was getting closer, and I wanted to be sure and be in the corral toward my start time.

The rest of the gang, ran through some stretching with Mirko, had coffee, checked the start time, and did what they could to distract from race jitters. Well I am supposing that’s what they were doing, because that was what I was doing. As the great philosopher Krusty the Clown once said “aaaaah, I’m not made of stone!”

It was finally close to time, and so we gathered near the corral. Michael was up first and so we had all gathered there to support him as he got started. He leaned against the rails as if he hadn’t ever stopped racing. A pure racer and cyclist in his heart and in his mind, just looking at him captured the spirit of why cycling is such an amazing place to be.

The Gavia Warriors arrive in San Felice. The start corral for the TT.

When the start happened there was some confusion between Michael and the starter. He was holding, he wasn’t holding, and so as the clock wound down, Michael took matters into his own hands and was off and riding. It was a good start. He disappeared around the first bend and we awaited his return. During that time we watched other riders go, and started to work our way toward starting position. Uli and Lidia were now at the start line ready to race as well, and cheering folks on as they started.

Suddenly, Michael came walking back around the corner. He had gotten about half way up, but during his ascent, his rear wheel began to shake. He was trying to avoid another racer, when he caught the side of the road, and the shaking wheel shook loose. His wheel was off, and it took him off the bike.

Luckily, he was ok, but his race day was unfortunately over. We would need to get his bike fixed prior to the next stage, but as always, Michael was upbeat and gave us a full account of everything.

Mirko with LIdia pre-start. Mirko giving Chris T and Frosty a last minute thumbs up!

I must confess that I don’t remember everyone’s start. I am reasonably sure that the Gavia men-folk started first. First Tom, then Chris, then me. This might be why I don’t remember Aleksandra and Jenny’s start.

There was Mirko at all of our starts though. Urging us on. Going to the first bend with us, encouraging us the whole way. Then riding back. He was going closer to the bottom of the order, so we would (hopefully) be up top by the time he was started or in progress.

Tom was first. I can only remember that his start was exactly as I expected it to be. Rhythmic. Effective. He was quickly and evenly disappearing into the curve ahead.

Next Chris T. A little fast. There is a video somewhere of me encouraging Chris as he pulled out. But as I watched how fast he went out, I guess I got carried away. “CHRIS — TOO FAST! CALM DOWN PULL BACK”. He couldn’t hear me. Both Chris and Tom crushed the first 500 meters.

The TT Profile — hey a couple of PR’s I guess that Monday camp ride really paid off.

I threw the Strava shots in so that you would know how this ends. It was finally my turn. The moment I was waiting for. Since we had climbed this route already, I knew I wouldn’t fall off during the climb. It was now down to my typical TT anxiety — falling off as they let go of me on the start. My TT start mantra of “don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall” was repeated over and over until the clock wound down and I was off.

No sooner did I start up the corralled section of the course. did I hear Mirko’s voice. “Come on Chris! Be aggressive! I want to see you bite the cinghiale! Come on be aggressive!”. It was an unbelievable help. As I listened to Mirko, things seemed more normal, I focused on pedaling and breathing. I had forgotten to switch my Garmin to Kilometers so I struggled understanding where I was on the course. “How many miles in a kilometer? Is the course 2 miles or 2 kilometers? Where am I?” As I continued to wind through bend after bend, I would alternate standing and sitting. I was managing my heart rate and not worrying about power or cadence, or speed. Just heart and distance. I was in disbelief as I saw the 1k and 500m signs. Is it possible that I am almost finished? Soon after passing 500m I started to hear music but thought I had at least a half mile to go. I was wrong. I was at the top and through the kite. Finished.

Mirko at the start and at the 2K to go banner.

Tom and Chris T were waiting and congratulated me. I did likewise. There was some talk of track-hack. The boys had cut a swath in their lungs giving it their all and they made great times! Soon Jenny Aleksandra, Uli, and Mirko were up. What a fantastic way to spend a day.

THe whole gang at the start of the TT — you can see Michael inside the corral getting ready to start.

That night I finally got the precious protein I had been craving. We got out for steaks at a nearby eatery. During dinner we discussed the road race strategy for the next day. Mirko filled us in — his teammates in the past had put together a great race plan to work for the rider with the best shot. They would work for that rider, and split the prize. Their plan worked and so Tom declared Mirko our directeur sportif for the road race, so that we had one voice in the huddle on Saturday. We would be working for Aleksandra tomorrow as she was in top form and raring to go. The boost she would get from the lead out could be a real difference maker and get her to the podium.

At long last, PROTEIN! Our new directeur sportif prepping us on race day strategy.

I was hoping to get all three stages into one installment, but I will take that as an acceptable failure.


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