The Road to Vicenza

by CycleChick on November 29, 2013

Joe

Today, our second last day, was supposed to be another long one. Like 206 kilometres long. But on a routine recon of the route that took place several weeks before we arrived, Sergi and the boys had determined the first 130 kilometres of the route were pretty much bullshit and best travelled in the van. As incomprehensible as it may be, it seems that there are parts of Italy that are… dare I say it?… ugly.

And so it was decided that today would be a paltry 70 kilometre ride, starting with a trip in the van to a point outside the ugly bits and ending in Vicenza – the home of Campagnolo. When Sergi explains the reason for the ride or “transfer” in the Super Ban, I can tell he is not happy. This is not normal. We should be riding, not sitting in the van – but looking out the window as we sit in an unexplained traffic jam, it is clear the ride would have been shitty. Super shitty. Perhaps even shittier than sitting in the van. Even still, the ride is dreadful, for more reasons than I can share here. Everyone who was there that day knows why. And maybe, one day, if you buy me enough drinks, I will tell you the story.

Finally, blissfully, we are back in paradise. Another small, Italian town that was around hundreds of years before anyone east of Newfoundland knew North America even existed.

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We get our picture taken in a park, and for the first time it occurs to me that this trip is almost over. And as much as I miss my life back home, my family – the thought of this coming to an end brings a certain panic. I push it aside as we start to ride. _AAA1875_S

The mood of the group has changed. We ride together, relaxed and in no particular hurry. The fast riders have proven themselves. Each of us have shone in our own way – some as climbers, some descenders, some wisely conservative. We are, in turn, exuberant cheerleaders, mechanics, and documentarians. And in this short week we have gone from strangers to friends. Maybe even family._AAA1857_S

We have trouble finding a place to have lunch. It’s later than usual and here most of the restaurants inexplicably close for a few hours in the afternoon, something a North American restaurant wouldn’t even think of for fear of losing the late lunch and early dinner crowd. Clearly the Italians are far more in synch with each other in terms of mealtimes. I can’t help but wonder where all the old Italian gents go and sit during these mid-afternoon sabbaticals.

Eventually we find a small garden restaurant and Sergi sweet talks the owner into feeding us. The poor woman must suffer from double vision, because she brings out enough food to feed an army.ToddMike and PabloAnd no, there are no celiacs in Italy. If there were, they have either died or moved to California, where you are more likely to get busted for possession of flour than cocaine.

You might think hopping back on your bike after eating a massive amount of pasta would be excruciatingly difficult. And you’d be right. But this is exactly what we do._AAA1891_s

We ride all afternoon, to Vicenza – or rather a small town on the outskirts of Vicenza, where we are booked into what might actually be the most beautiful hotel in the world._AAA1948_S_AAA1942_SWe take advantage of the first early finish we’ve had all week and sit on the patio (which is oddly devoid of Old Italian Gents) for a nice cold beer._AAA1955_s_AAA1954_sJordiWhen they talk about “the life”, I’m pretty sure “this” is it.

Tomorrow we are officially no longer the responsibility of our Thomson guides. Tomorrow, we are in the hands of Campagnolo – and as far as hands go, I figure these are pretty capable ones indeed.

Somethings Wicked this Way Come

by CycleChick on November 19, 2013

cx prov- ktphoto-5As if in some desperate attempt to make me like her again, Not Italy has been issuing forth awesome bike-related announcements with almost the same regularity as Rob Ford issues insincere apologies to the media.

First came the announcement that Winnipeg will host the 2014 Canadian Cyclocross Championships in November at The Forks. For those of you out-of-towners, The Forks is a historic site in downtown Winnipeg where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet. The crotch, if you will. The Forks offers all manner of food and bevvie options, plus indoor toilets and places to warm yourself, should that be required. It was also the venue of our recent provincial championships, which we are told attracted around 4,000 more people to the venue than would typically have been there on that day, many of whom had never even heard of cyclocross. I would assume not all of them were lost.

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In addition to the National Championship races, the weekend will include “sport” races as well (all welcome!), plus a UCI 2 race on Sunday, which will mean some pros will show up to remind us how slow we really are. Plans are in the works for UCI day licences so we can hand our American Brothers and Sisters their star-spangled arses. Afterwards, at one of the MANY après-bike parties being held, we will buy each other drinks and poutine and all will be forgiven.

Of course, if you are a Yank spectator, you needn’t concern yourself with such trivial matters as race licences, but rather just sit back and enjoy the show, like these two dudes who spectated the shit out of Cyclocross Worlds in Louisville, Kentucky last year.Cycle Chick fansAs an aside, I was thrilled to discover these fine gents are bonafide fans of this here blog – a fact revealed when they met a Winnipeg contingency there, and explained by the sheer volume of alcohol they consumed.

Spectators of all shapes and sizes from both sides of the border will be treated to some world-class heckling. Winnipeg is, after all, birthplace of the notorious racer known as “Yoga Pants”. Yoga Pants earned his nickname as he raced past professional heckler Cousin Thomas, who loudly and enthusiastically suggested the racer’s mom might want her yoga pants back. Much to the chagrin of Yoga Pants, the name stuck.

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The planning has just begun, and trust me kittens, this is NOT something you want to miss.

In other, frostier news, one morning after far too many glasses of a lovely chianti, I awoke to discover I had signed myself up for Actif Epica, a 130 kilometre winter bike race in the middle of February.6897704667_04033c3768_z

The funny thing is, I did this race two years ago, so I really should have known better. But it could have been worse – I could have woken up from my little wine adventure with gonorrhoea and a face tattoo.

Of course I jest (about the gonorrhoea, not about drinking the chianti and signing up to race). I was actually very disappointed last year when I had to miss this race because of a certain date I had with California. But life is full of disappointments. In all seriousness, I have to say that Actif Epica is one of the most incredible events I have ever done, and I can’t wait to do it again. Especially since it coincides with the International Winter Cycling Congress which is being held in Winnipeg this year. Crazy winter cyclists and cycling advocates from all over the world will come to Winnipeg in February. On purpose! And not think it sucks. How awesome is that? One might say wickedly awesome.

Bravo, Not Italy. You have my attention.

Provincials and Epica photos by Kyle Thomas. CycleChick fans photo by Brad Enns.

An Afternoon Ride in Not Italy

by CycleChick on November 10, 2013

Here in Not Italy we do not hide from shitty weather, rather we embrace it with enthusiasm, fearlessness, and 40 layers of technical fabrics. IMG_0296Not Italy kind of looks like an Ivan Eyre painting this time of year.IMG_0300We rode along the edge of a gravel pit, a popular hangout for teenagers in the summer.IMG_0303IMG_0309IMG_0308Apparently, they like to jump off that thing out there. Sometimes they die.
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We walked almost as much as we rode.IMG_0311IMG_0322IMG_0323But Cricket didn’t mind so much.IMG_0326IMG_0328Thanks Olli for a fun, dirty, badass ride on a day when most normal people were curled up in a chair with the latest copy of 50 Shades of Whatever. Your misses makes a pretty mean pot of meaty goodness. I still can’t believe she let us in the house.

Day 6: The Ups & Downs of Nove Colli

by CycleChick on November 8, 2013

www.augustusfarmer.co.uk @augustus_farmer

Photo: Augustus Farmer/Peloton Magazine

You may have been wondering (although probably not) “Hey! Where did that Winnipeg CycleChick go? Did she crash and fall off a mountain? Or run off with that sexy Italian guy?” The answer is no. I’m right here, back in Winnipeg – or, as I now like to call it, “Not Italy”. As you can imagine, the transition has been difficult. In comparison, the food here at home is crap, likely as a result of the terrible scenery, and when you ask for an ‘espresso dopio’ at the local Tim Hortons, they may or may not throw you out and threaten to call the police.

In any case, before the glorious climax of my final days with Thomason Bike Tours becomes a distant, sexy memory, here is the next instalment of The Great Winnipeg CycleChick Italian Campagnolo Adventure Experience™, a name I will be pitching to the fine folks at Thomson and Campagnolo. I think they will be all over it.

Without further adieu, or the Italian equivalent thereof, I give you Day 6.Joel

Back in 1970, a group of Italian cyclists decided to stage a bike race that would equal – or preferably crush into oblivion – a famously long and challenging one they had done that was put on by the Swiss. To do this, they picked the most difficult route they could find – a 200km traverse of nine cols in the heart of the Apennine Mountains. Legend has it that this new race, Nove Colli, or ‘nine hills’, inspired a group of Italian youngsters to take up cycling, including a certain Marco Pantani, who lived in a nearby town. Forty three years later, Nove Colli has become the biggest and most famous Italian bike race you’ve never heard of. With 13,000 participants winding their way through the narrow and undulating roads with white-knuckle switchback descents, it is likely the most exciting and terrifying as well.

While the race itself happens in May, the long and winding road it follows remains conveniently present all year long. So today, minus the 12,992 other cyclists and 50 euro entry fee, we will ride the Nove Colli. Or at least die trying.

At just under 200km and 3,800 metres (12,467 feet) of climbing, this was by far the most intimidating day on the itinerary. But unless I was to stay in Urbino forever (plausible), or ride in the van all the way to Faenza (out of the question), I was going to do it, one way or another.elevation

The first climb starts almost immediately. As is our custom, the group spreads out, each of us plodding along at our own pace. Sharon, an oncologist from Utah and the only other woman in our group, has impressed us all with her relentless determination. She is content to ride her own pace, and never takes the van unless the guides force her to, in the interest of time and safety. She is always smiling (unless they make her take the van).SharonNear the first summit my bike starts to feel weird. It’s a familiar feeling specific to a soft rear tyre – the ass end of the bike seems disconnected from the front, sort of like those two person horse costumes, causing a rear waggle that is most easily detected on corners or fast descents when you crash onto the pavement with your face. Thankfully I make this discovery at the summit of the climb rather than halfway down the switchback descent at 60km/h.

No sooner do I stop to change the flat than the Super Ban appears! How do they do that?

Normally I insist on changing my own flats, but these tyres are a total bitch to get off. Plus, it’s not often I have handsome Spaniards following me around to offer mechanical assistance whenever I need it, so I let Pablo work his magic. When I suggest he might be more comfortable in his task without his shirt on, he laughs. Must be my Canadian accent. He dutifully checks the tyre and the rim, puts in a new tube, and I am on my way down the descent.www.augustusfarmer.co.uk @augustus_farmer

Photo: Augustus Farmer/Peloton Magazine

This is probably a good time to mention how much I love me some Campagnolo brakes. I don’t usually get all mushy about bike parts (ok that’s a lie), but these brakes moderate my descents like the sweet lips of an angel gently caressing the rims – completely silently and with no trace of shuddering, slipping or grabbing. In other words, these brakes are The Shit.IMG_0225

Halfway down the dreaded waggle is back, but this time it’s dangerous. If I stop, Jordi – who is too far in front of me to hear my pitiful calls for help – will have to climb back up the col, since my one and only tube was used on the last flat. I know the Super Ban will be at the last summit for a while waiting for the last rider. So I wiggle my way down the descent – knuckles white, and angel lips fully engaged.

At the bottom, Jordi is waiting. I tell him my tyre is flat again, and he gets to work with the change. Jordi does not love these tyres. I know this from the double flat two days ago. He is muttering under his breath and I strain to hear in the hopes of learning some cool new Catalan swearwords. But I am out of luck. Apparently “fuck” is pretty universal.IMG_6040

The air holds until the top of the next col, but the tyre goes soft again on the next descent. At the bottom we make yet another change, and Jordi decides that we will change the tyre at lunch, which is only about half an hour away. As we start rolling again, my chain snaps.

Fuck.

The Super Ban arrives (of course), a quick chain repair is done, and we are on our way to lunch. By now, the rest of the group is well ahead and enjoying the incredible countryside.

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By the time we get to lunch, which is at a small patio in yet another (yawn) perfecty charming little town, all the other riders are about to leave. They offer to wait, but there are tyres to be changed and paninis to be eaten, and neither should be rushed.IMG_6052IMG_6054IMG_6049IMG_6046

And so Jordi is stuck with me all afternoon as we climb, and then descend col after col. Some of them are ridiculously hard. Like 20% hard. Counting my pedal strokes isn’t cutting it anymore, so instead I follow Jordi’s wheel and match his pedal strokes. When he stands, I stand. When he sits, I sit. His cadence is smooth, and his upper body perfectly still, not like those drama queen pros who rock back and forth like drunks on a cruise ship. He admits to me he is finding this difficult. He usually likes it steeper. Yeah. Me too. 856600_10151696457683144_929309661_o

At some point I tell Jordi things would have to be really bad for me to get in the van. As long as I am physically able to ride, I’m riding. He says that’s good to know. We don’t talk much, but when we do it is about the things we know and love – our kids, food, and riding. I regale him with tales of Winnipeg winters, and try to explain how truly flat it is, finally showing him a picture I have on my phone from a training ride back home. He shakes his head and tells me if he lived there he probably wouldn’t be a cyclist. And I understand.www.augustusfarmer.co.uk @augustus_farmer

Photo: Augustus Farmer/Peloton Magazine

It’s getting late. We have two more cols to climb. The weather is perfect, and the sun is starting to set. This ride is breathtaking, both in the literal and figurative sense. The Super Ban follows us, stopping occasionally as Augustus spills out, scrambling to find the best vantage point to shoot us in the magical light.

I try not to vomit.www.augustusfarmer.co.uk @augustus_farmer

Photo: Augustus Farmer/Peloton Magazine

In the end we complete eight of the nine climbs. I am disappointed, but we lost too much time with the mechanicals and now it is getting too late to be on the road. So I have no choice but to put Nove Colli on my bucket list of unfinished business.

The Hotel in Faenza is amazing, but even more amazing is the restaurant. The owner is something of a cycling buff and the walls are lined with photos, old and new, of him with pros and other cycling celebrities.IMG_6066One in particular stands out.

PantaniIn spite of all of my mechanical issues, not to mention the sheer intensity of the riding we’ve done today, compounded with all of the other days before this, this has been my favourite day of The Great Winnipeg CycleChick Italian Campagnolo Adventure Experience™ so far. It has also been the hardest, and maybe that’s why.

I will remember this day forever.

Special thanks to Augustus Farmer (check out his great blog here) and Peloton Magazine, as well as Pablo and Thomson Bike Tours (the ones with the Campagnolo Experience logo on them) for the incredible photos. They tell the story far better than my words and crappy snapshots ever could.

I’m Not Dead Yet

by CycleChick on November 7, 2013

1398759_657184750992693_920451437_oI’ve just been busy.

Lately I have received some very touching emails and assorted notes expressing concern at my whereabouts and well being. You guys are way too nice! The reality is I am back here in Winnipeg and working hard on the next post from my Amazing Italian Adventure. It’s a really good one, honest. I am just waiting for some fancy approvals to use one of Augustus Farmer’s amazing photographs that he shot for Peloton Magazine. Apparently the good people at Peloton were sleeping at 3am and unable to approve our request. As I am writing this, Augustus is likely sipping his last cuppa tea and settling into bed.

So to make a longish story shortish, the next post will be up tomorrow, with or without Gus’ amazing shot. I hope they say yes, because this is my backup shot.robfordparty2Stay tuned!

Day 5: The New Normal

by CycleChick on October 22, 2013

621012_10151693967963144_159323533_oRising early, I feel like hell. Again. I am starting to get used to this sensation – part hangover, part ride fatigue, part jet lag. And I am always starving. During the day we are burning an impressive number of calories, and even eating constantly does not compensate. I know as soon as I eat something I will feel a bit better, but I am nervous about getting back on the bike again. Surely at some point my body will just refuse to do this anymore. But oddly, as soon as I get back on the saddle I feel great. Normal.

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1147503_10151693967423144_1369667921_oYes, this is my new normal. A word that reminds me of a discussion with our ride leader and tour manager Sergi – a diminutive Spaniard (oops, Catalan) who bears a remarkable resemblance to every Spanish pro you’ve ever seen. Even just standing around in his helmet, glasses and kit on, his looks way more pro than you and I ever will. It’s in his blood.SergiBack home, he rides with this guy Flecha. You might have heard of him. They talk, as ride buddies do, about everything, but there are some topics that are mutually understood to be off limits. Flecha will not discuss doping, but when someone in the peloton does something that is clearly beyond what might be considered typical, his response is clear. “It is not normal.”

Today’s ride is another long one – 195km that will bring us deeper into the Apennines. Our ride profile is a “sawtooth”, starting with a short, nasty climb, then into a series of ups and downs until we reach today’s highlight, Monte Petrona. Sergi is very excited about this one because of the white gravel road, or “strade bianchi” on the climbing side, and picturesque switchback descent. I try, truly, to share his enthusiasm, while trying equally hard not to think about the 9,678 feet of climbing we will do today.

I have a strange coping mechanism when I am climbing hard – as I grind away, trying not to judge how much further I have to go, I count my pedal strokes. I guess it’s just enough of a distraction to get me to the top. I wonder how many pedal strokes are in 9,678 feet. I guess I’ll find out.The ups and downs are not so bad. We spread out, as some of us are better at going up and some are better at going down, but we always regroup at the “Super Ban”. On the first day during our tour briefing, Sergi told us all about the “Super Ban” – a wonderful place where we would find food, clothing, shelter, and mechanical help. Sergi speaks excellent English, but with a heavy Spanish accent, so it was halfway through the meeting that I realized he was saying “support van”.Jordi I have come to enjoy passing through these little remote towns, and the townspeople are warm and welcoming, if a bit curious. One thing that each town shares is a guard of watchful old men, who sit in cafes and trattorias watching the comings and goings around them. It’s like they are waiting for something really exciting to come into town, and always seem mildly disappointed when all that turns up is a bunch of skinny foreigners in lycra.

IMG_60191397974_10151693966778144_426884877_oMonte Petrano does not disappoint. Like most climbs here, you turn a corner and suddenly you are going up. It starts off paved, which is a blessing, then soon turns to the legendary white gravel. Of course this is not the strade bianchi – the real one is in Tuscany, but it is just as pretty, and likely just as punishing. I thank goodness for our gravel grinders back home, in particular the one in the Pembina Valley where we faced similar conditions, albeit with a slightly more Mennonite flavour. There are no mountains anywhere near Winnipeg, but you can drive three hours to the bottom of a valley and climb your way out – which is sort of the same thing. Not really.

At times it is so steep I am forced to stand on the pedals, which then makes the back wheel slide out if I’m not careful. I am too tired to be careful. In my head, I try to imagine myself as tiny, graceful Spanish climber – like Contador, but more well liked. And I count my pedal strokes, which are plentiful.IMG_6028Along the way, I meet Joe, one of the Aussies. Joe is a frame builder and refurbisher back in Brisbane. He reminds me a lot of Ben back home, both physically and by the effortless way he goes uphill. Jerk.1401667_10151693967688144_998218494_oI also ride for a spell with Jordi, one of today’s ride leaders. Both of these gentlemen are clearly impressed by how I climb with the grace and agility of a Spanish pro. Yes. Clearly.IMG_6029The top is another world. Cold and damp, it feels more like Scotland than Italy. I’m pretty sure I could see Canada from up here, if I’d had any idea which direction it was.

IMG_0212I am always overheated from the effort when I reach the top of these climbs, like I could shed every piece of clothing and still spontaneously combust. But in about thirty seconds, when my body starts to cool down, I am freezing and worried about how I can possibly navigate a steep and treacherous descent with frozen eyeballs and no feeling in my hands.1398085_10151693966808144_1049408786_oAt the top, Sergi informed us there had been a landslide on the road we are taking down, but that it is not a problem. After all, this is not just any tour. This is a Thomson tour.IMG_0215IMG_0214We move the barricades and a wayward boulder for the van to get through, and ride around the rocks. No problem.

When we get to the bottom, it is starting to rain and getting dark. We still have 30km to go. Todd – our strongest rider – wants to continue, and Jordi is going to go with him. And if you know me, you know that if someone else is going to ride, I’m going to ride. But we are losing light and I’m afraid I will slow them down and we will be riding in the dark. Thankfully it starts to pour and they change their minds. We ride the final 30km to the hotel in the van.

It was another epic day. The daily routine ends as it has everyday – shower, dinner at eight, in bed by ten. The new normal.IMG_6034Amen.

Day 4: The Terminator

by CycleChick on October 20, 2013

Monte TerminilloIn case you hadn’t heard, I’m not much of a climber. The lack of elevation where I live, combined with my not-exactly-petite stature and delicate composition make me about as suited to going uphill as an old John Deer tractor. However, under the right circumstances, being good at something has little to do with how much it can be enjoyed.

Speaking of enjoyment, I really couldn’t have picked a better group of people to be sharing this experience with. Our conversations are easy and we always seem to be laughing.The GangWe talk about everything under the sun, but I must say I get the most enjoyment from listening to the Europeans among us talk about Europeans. I have learned that while they do make exceptionally good beer, the Belgians are not to be trusted. The Italians and Spanish are half an hour late for everything, while the Germans are fifteen minutes early. Finnish women make Swedish women look like dishrags, and the Dutch are becoming more British than the British. While there is some debate about which nation boasts the worst drivers (although the Italians are favoured), there seems to be clear consensus that everyone hates the French.

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Our Dutch rider, Joroen, warned me never to buy a French car. “Out of a 30 hour work week, they are on strike for 13 hours.” he explained. “They spend the next 14 hours drinking wine, and in the remaining three hours (when they are terribly drunk), they build your car.”1266524_10151686731578144_956359653_oOf course it is all in good fun, the kind of ribbing only close siblings can get away with.

With the granfondo behind us, I was looking forward to getting out of Rome for a smaller, more relaxed ride. Or as relaxed as a 190km ride with a massive amount of climbing can be. After about 100km, our major climb of the day would be Monte Terminillo, which starts at about 400 meters (1,300 feet) and rises to about 1,900 meters (6,200 feet).

The ride out of Tivoli took us into the foothills of the Apennine mountains, where we rode though countless little mountain villages intermittently perched on peaks and nestled in valleys.IMG_0176IMG_0173Every so often we would stop and regroup, fill water bottles, and stuff food into our mouths to fuel the next hour or two of riding. Finding places to pee is a bit of a challenge here, and I’m sure I have tinkled in some places that were less private than they could have been. My socks are a mess, covered with burrs, crushed wild raspberries, and mud – among other, less savoury things I’m sure.IMG_0175IMG_0174The farther we got away from the city, the prettier it became. We passed an impossibly beautiful turquoise lake, surrounded by a long and twisting road that was fast and fun to ride, especially after some slower, steep sections of climbing. The flatlanders among us were in heaven.1403650_10151686730018144_1386788086_oSo amazing. The road to Headingly back home will never quite look the same again.

After about 70km we stopped for lunch in Rieti, the town at the base of Terminillo. Each town we pass through seems to have a trattoria, bakery, pizzeria or café on every corner. The food (if they have any left) is always delicious and a nice change from the sickly sweet gels and energy bars we eat on the road. IMG_0180IMG_0181With lunch finished, it’s time to face the Terminator. The climb takes about an hour and a half – less time than Mount Lemmon in Tucson, and about the same in terms of grade. Of course there are some nasty little steep sections, but we won’t talk about those.IMG_01841277717_10151686730628144_1303917134_oYou can’t see it in this picture, but my “climbing vein” – the “Y” shaped one that pops out of my forehead when I exert myself – is out in full blazing glory.

The temperature got cooler and cooler as we climbed, and at the top was downright freezing. But I didn’t care – I had made it to the top and the remainder of the ride (with the exception of one little “bump”, as Sergi likes to call them) was downhill.IMG_0189There was a bit of a scary moment on the descent when I hit a pothole and immediately and violently punctured both front and back tubes. Thankfully a) it was on a relatively straight section so I was able to stay upright, and b) Big Aussie Mike was with me and was able to show me how the Campy brake releases work, and c) my fabulous Spanish domestique Jordi (who magically appears every time I am in trouble) drove up with the van and quickly changed both flats.

IMG_0193IMG_0191And of course the paparazzi was there to capture the whole thing.IMG_0192

The next 60km to Norcia was a bit of a grind after the effort of the climb – not to mention yesterday’s granfondo. A pre-shower beer and a bag of nice salty chips at the hotel bar was a perfect way to end the ride.IMG_0195Moments like this are as brief as they are rare. With Thomson, there is no fucking around when it comes to our schedule. It is late, and we have to clean ourselves up and get to dinner before it’s too late. There’s another move in the morning, and another big day ahead. We enjoy the  walk to dinner, if not the stairs we encounter along the way. As always, there are amazing sights to be seen, followed by a recap of an unforgettable day over an unforgettable meal.IMG_0199IMG_0200IMG_6010A domani!

Day 3: Campagnolo Granfondo Roma

by CycleChick on October 19, 2013

1397997_10151685195248144_1970768540_oI’m not sure there is a word I could use to describe what it’s like to be on the start line of an event with five thousand cyclists. If there was, it would be big. And probably Italian. The Campagnolo Granfondo Roma, now in it’s second year, had attracted cyclists from all over Italy, as well as 21 other countries from around the world. Here at the start line they formed a mad swarm, like a crazy critical mass of European roadies with immaculately shaved legs and matching jerseys. Even the women were terrifying. IMG_0137As special guests of Campagnolo, we had a prime spot very close to the start. Behind me was a massive, nervous army of Italians, with an obvious mastery of the art of looking casually deliberate. If they cycle anything like they drive, I was a goner.IMG_0136We found out yesterday the government had forced the organizers to shorten the route to just over 100km, saying they would only provide police support to shut down the roads for that distance. Needless to say, this was a complete disaster for the organizers and sponsors. But the race would go on as planned.

Today we would ride on a combination of pavement and cobbles – most notably along the Apian Way, the ancient road where we had enjoyed dinner just the night before. Perhaps at the end, someone would put my remains in a nice urn and place me in a catacomb beside a freed Roman slave in Paolo’s restaurant, where I could spend the rest of eternity infused with the fragrant scent of garlic and olive oil.

cobblesTo my surprise, the start was quite civilized – we whizzed along the cobbles without incident and I was quickly part of a large and constantly changing grupetto. If I have learned anything from riding the deplorable streets of Winnipeg, it is to keep the pressure on the front wheel light. It’s also best to go as fast as possible, with the bike skipping along the top surface of the road, thus smoothing out the ride. Going slow is a sure way to feel every bump, not to mention lose water bottles, break spokes, and dislodge expensive dental work.1266502_10151685195928144_1437591101_oThe two Italian words I made sure to memorize before the race were “left” (sinestra) and “right” (destra), ensuring I would understand when people were coming up from behind me, or indicating an upcoming turn. I was sure to learn the appropriate swears along the way as well.1404499_10151685196303144_178512720_oThe race was fast, and had two main climbs into small towns outside Rome. I don’t quite understand the Italian custom of putting towns so high up, and therefore hard to get to. A bit of a pain in the ass, if you ask me. The climbs were brutal, made worse with the incomprehensible taunts of the crowd. As beautiful a language as Italian is, “Get your fat ass up there!” sounds pretty much the same in any language.

1403514_10151685195398144_702415279_oI vaguely remember passing the colosseum.

1397779_10151685194363144_836671216_oMy time was 3:29 – not spectacular for 105km, but given the climbing (about 3,200 feet) and two weeks off the bike due to illness, I’ll take it. The results are confusing, but I’m on page two of twelve pages of female finishers. I’ll take that as well.

At the end of the race I hung out at the finish just long enough to take in some fluids and check out the locals, who have definitely taken to the new trend of “high viz” cycling apparel in a fairly major way. I think there was more neon at the granfondo than at a Wham! concert.IMG_0142Once all of our riders came in we did a quick change and birdbath in the hotel bathroom and went to a local trattoria for some Italian recovery food – perfectly cooked pasta and a bunch of wine. Once everything was messily devoured we hopped into the van to make our way through the perpetually congested streets to our next hotel in Tivoli, north east of Rome.  It was spectacular.

Hotel Torre San AngeloHotel Torre San AngeloDanielIt was also here we were introduced to Augustus Farmer, a photographer and journalist who would be following us around for an upcoming article in Peloton Magazine. In addition to having one of the coolest names in Christendom, Gus would become a key member of our merry band of misfits, not to mention a friend.

Augustus Farmer

Gus and SergiToday was hard, and tomorrow will be harder, with 195km and 9,500 feet of climbing on the agenda. After today, I’m not sure if that scares me more or less.

You’ll notice some of the photos I’ve put up are actually good. Those ones (with the Campagnolo logo) were shot by Pablo, our other intrepid photographer. Thanks Pablo!Pablo

Day 2: Buonasera signor Campagnolo

by CycleChick on October 15, 2013

Valentino CampagnoloIt’s not everyday you meet someone like Mister Campagnolo – but then today was not just any day. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start back at the beginning.

In the morning I was able to meet the Thomson Bike Tour crew, which consists of group leaders Sergi and Daniel, Jordi the mechanic, and Pablo, the photographer. Sergi, Jordi and Pablo are from Spain, but quick to point out they are Catalan. Catalonia is part of Spain, but they are like a divorced couple forced to share the same house. Kind of like Quebec and Canada. Daniel is from England, but speaks to the others in Italian – or rather “Spatalian”, more a mix of Italian and Spanish, not that I can tell the difference. In any case, they are all awesome, and seem to have things running things like a well-oiled machine. Speaking of well-oiled machines, my loaner Bianchi is perfectly Italian, and, as promised, came totally decked out with a Campy Record group which I will need to learn to use post haste. Jordi had everything set up and waiting for my saddle and pedals, and soon it was ready to roll.

Jordi

IMG_0076

Our group is much smaller than I expected only eight riders, compared to the 30 I was expecting. That puts our rider to staff ratio at 2:1, which is far better than most daycares, so I know we will be well taken care of. One of my biggest fears before coming was that out of 30 riders, I would be the 37th slowest. Even with only eight, our group is varied in strength and speed, but everybody is really easy going and has a great attitude about the riding ahead. All that worry for nothing!

The other riders include three Americans – Ted from Norfolk, Virginia, Sharon from Utah, and Todd from San Diego. We also have two Australians – Mike from Melbourne and Joe from Bisbane (so I know I’ll have someone to drink with). Jeroen from the Netherlands, and Joel from Manila round out the group, meaning we have all but three continent covered – two if you consider than nobody really lives in Antarctica anyway.

After a brief run through of the rules (basically, don’t ride like a dick, be safe, and be on time), we went upstairs to the hotel restaurant for a typical Italian lunch of antipasti, pasta, meat, salad, and desert. It sounds like a lot, but oddly, you can clean each and every plate and not walk away half as stuffed as after eating half a burger from Five Guys.

After lunch, we put on our sweet Thomson/Campagnolo kits, loaded up the bikes and headed to Circus Maximus, a kind of ancient Roman velodrome for chariots. Called Circo Massimo in Italian, it is a very rare example of something that sounds cooler in English than Italian. Once the playground of gladiators, popes and kings, the Circo would be the location for a trade show in conjunction with tomorrow’s granfondo.IMG_0080 IMG_0085

It was here I met Valentino Campagnolo. I have to say he was extremely warm and pleasant, and laughed when I told him how jealous my friends were that I was there, and how much they would probably hate me for having met him. When Joshua (Campagnolo’s marketing director) told him I had won the contest, he looked genuinely concerned and asked it I had done any training. Then we both laughed.

To everyone’s surprise, at the last minute the granfondo had been shortened down to 100km from the traditional 165, chopping out one of the most picturesque climbs on the route. So it was decided the chopped out part would be out warmup ride. We quickly chaged into our sweet Thomson/Campagnolo kits and loaded up the van with our bikes. I was exploding with excitement!

My legs felt pretty good, but my lungs and cardio felt like hell – not a big shocker after two weeks of doing nothing but watching reruns of the Walking Dead and going through massive amounts of Kleenex. But the ride was spectacular – about 30km with a nice eight kilometre climb in the middle. And the views. Good Lord. Pictures really can’t even touch it. Well, not mine at least. I’m sure Pablo’s will be better.IMG_5995IMG_5997Everywhere in Italy the views are stupendous, the food is incredible, the women are beautiful, and there is always a bunch of old Italian dudes hanging around on the patios. I asked these guys if I could take their photo, and they enthusiastically agreed. We had a lovely conversation – them speaking Italian, and me in English – undeterred by the fact that neither understood a word of what the other was saying. IMG_0103Dinner that night was hosted by Campagnolo, in a great restaurant in Rome called Hostaria, located on the Via Appia Antica, which, by many accounts, is the oldest road in the world. The road is lined with catacombs filled with the ashes of freed slaves, and these catacombs can even be found inside the restaurant itself. Chef and owner Paulo proudly informs us we are eating in a graveyard. The setting and the food are sublime.IMG_0105IMG_0106IMG_0111PaoloTime to run! That bike is not going to ride itself!

Ciao!!

The Campagnolo Experience, Day 1: When in Rome

by CycleChick on October 12, 2013

Piaza di SpagnaToday was a resounding reaffirmation that airplanes are flying germ canisters that put us in unacceptable proximity with other humans – complete with all of their unpleasant habits, noises, and smells. However, until teleporting becomes a reality, mass transportation will be a heinous necessity if one wishes to be anywhere far away from where they are.

Arriving in Rome is like landing on another planet. It’s big – huge even – and so packed with people they mill around each other at frightening speed and proximity, completely at ease, regardless of their mode of transport.IMG_0052My kamikaze shuttle driver delighted in sharing the incredible historical marvels of his great city as he repeatedly skimmed past pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles and cars on roads narrower than most North American driveways.

When I finally arrived at the Aran Mantegna Hotel – which makes up for its disappointing distance from the historic city centre in size in modern opulence – I am exhausted, filthy, and an wanting to be as far away from other humans as possible.

My room wasn’t ready, so I celebrated my arrival with a glass of prosecco from the hotel bar, which I halfheartedly drank while trying desperately to stay awake. hotelMy wait was rewarded by an upgrade to my room. I think the girls at the front desk either felt sorry for me, or were worried that my appearance was re reflecting poorly on the image of the hotel. Regardless, my room is enormous and modern, with a bathroom larger than most of the rooms in Europe I have ever stayed in.

After freshening up, I decided I should get out and explore before dark. Against my better wisdom (which is questionable at best), I decided to take the bus. Busses in Rome suck pretty much the same as busses anywhere else.Roman BusI arrived at Theatro Marcello, right in the middle of the city centre. I figured it would be an easy landmark because it’s right beside this, which is pretty hard to miss.IMG_0046“Il Vittoriano” was built in 1911 as a tribute to Italy’s “first” King after one of the million wars in its history. Interestingly, it is not loved by the Italians, and often compared to a typewriter or wedding cake. It is seen as too “monumental” and flashy – and for the Italians to think that, you know it must be bad.

Even still, you know me and directions. IMG_0047It was fun to wander around with no particular agenda or knowledge of the touristy landmarks. I just wandered, and looked, trying my best to remember where I was. I found all sorts of amazing things, many presumably older than Jesus.

Roman BathsIMG_0062IMG_5983Ok, that last one may not be quite as old as Jesus, but it is the great grandmother of my Fiat 500, and so small I could put it in my pocket. SO CUTE!!

Everywhere I looked there was something amazing.IMG_0044 IMG_0056 IMG_0051IMG_0061By far the most interesting thing to look at is the people. They are everywhere. Stylish Romans and tourists by the thousands.IMG_0049IMG_0053IMG_0060I decided I couldn’t be in Rome without trying one of the many pizzerias lining the old cobbled streets, each one more inviting than the next. IMG_0050I randomly picked one with the most handsome Italian waiters, and sat down for a fantastic pizza and glass of the house wine. Magnifico!IMG_0065And just so you are not totally disappointed, on the way back to the bus, I may have done some shoe shopping.IMG_0068Amazingly, I did not get lost, and found my way back to the hotel and was in bed by 9pm. It was a fine, if exhausting first day.

Tomorrow morning I will meet the tour group for the first time. I haven’t seen anybody here at the hotel that looks like they might be a cyclist – but in my white leather pants and shiny new red stilettos, I might not look like one either.

Ciao!



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