More than 4000 people would be riding today in two different courses: a 138km percorso mediofondo and the 205km percorso granfondo. Kim was doing the short one and I was doing the longer one. Kim had asked me how hard this was and basically I told her it was way easier than Bintan, a ride we have done a few times in Indonesia. I had this special knowledge by looking at the small profile map they provided and also figuring that this is a fun race…right? Well little did we know we were in for a bit of a surprise this sunny Sunday.
We were early enough to find a nice coffee shop beside the Pinarello store in Treviso. After a quick coffee we moved to the starting areas. My race started at 7am and Kim’s started at 7:30. Waiting in the starting area there were a number of announcements being made promoting Pinarello and introducing famous people and probably giving tips and hints on the race…all in Italian so it did not help us out too much. While most of the people there were Italian, there were a few foreigners around including a large Japanese contingent who were all riding the new Pinarello Dogma 60.1 bikes. Sweet. Anyhow at 7:05 the race finally began and thousands of riders took off for this 205km race.
The strange thing was that we were going so fast so early in the race. The pack quickly picked up to 45km/hour and I was wondering how long this pace would last. Well it was four kilometres to be exact as there was a big crash and we all had to slow down and go around a poor guy who was badly injured after his fall. His bike was nowhere to be seen but he was surrounded by medical personnel and looked bad. That set the tone for the day and it was a nerve racking experience for the next 30 minutes or so with the injured guy fresh in my mind. Anyhow the first 30km of the ride were flat and there were some small climbs on this route which started after the 35km mark. I knew this because I used the idea that each climb was X times bigger than Mount Faber, an easy 100m climb in Singapore that everybody does all the time. I learned quite quickly that may not be the best way to read these profile maps. After the first climb I had a power gel to ensure that I could pace myself for the entire 205km. I had three gels with me so I figured that should carry me thought the entire race……wrong. The climbs were much harder than I thought and I had taken all three power gels by the 50km mark! Kim’s route was also part of my route and when I saw a sign on the first climb that said Maximum 18% gradient I knew she would be mad. : )
This was the second climb of the day at kilometre 57. In my mind this was supposed to be the equivalent of doing Mount Faber three times however it was actually 8km of 8-10% gradients and very hard. Anyhow I had to snap a picture of these cool tunnels as they were all switchbacks and very steep in the tunnels.
After figuring out that I had totally misunderstood the profile maps I was starting to worry about the bigger climbs that were still in store for me that day. I knew there was a 10X Mount Faber coming up at kilometre 79 and after this 2nd climb I was worried.
Doing 205km on a bike is not a worry for me. I regularly do long distances with the AUDAX group in Singapore. Doing 205km with mountain climbs however was a new experience for me. At kilometre 70 there was the 8X Mount Faber, kilometre 79 the 10X Mount Faber, and believe it or not, the 5X Mount Faber at 111, the 3X Mount Faber at kilometre 128, and finally the 4X Mount Faber at the fun kilometre 174 mark. Phew!
So the climbs were tough. Most of the signs were in Italian and the one I finally understood was ‘Danger, Sharp Curve”. At the end of most of the sharp curves there were people wiping out and medical attendants helping them out. The other sign I came to understand was:
And something that I think was ‘good luck’. This was supposed to be Mount Faber 10 X! This seriously was a killer climb. Normally when you do a climb you get a small reprieve where you can rest your legs. Not this one though…non stop climbing and it was starting to get hot too! After the one big climb it was supposed to be all downhill from there…..so I misunderstood.
Ristoro means rest stop area….that was a nice sign I was glad to see after each climb. Each rest stop had places to refill your water bottles, have sandwiches, oranges, bananas and other things to refuel. The people at the rest stops were all very nice and overall the race organization was excellent.
On I went figuring that after 100km it was all downhill. There were still a few Mt. Fabers to go and I think I was starting to get weary. One thing about Italians is the love to descend climbs at mind numbing speeds. I had a maximum speed of 76km/hour so I am sure there were many people in the race who topped 100km/hour going down some of the mountains.
Knowing that the big climb was over I shifted focus to the endurance component of the ride. Long rides usually make people play mind games with themselves so I was doing just that. Only 10 more rides to Song of India left…Song of India is where we normally meet for our rides in Singapore, and is 8.25 kilometres from our house. Anyhow it kept feeling that Song Of India would never arrive. The last climb, which was supposed to be easy, arrived at kilometre 174. An Aussie guy who I found in the group told me that it was hard and he was right. It was 8-12% gradient and 3.5km long, which after so much riding was a bit of a challenge. Knowing the finish line was nearing, I pressed up the hill and then started descending back into Treviso where the race ended. The last 24km was pretty downhill and we had a big group of 40 riders hitting speeds of 35-45km/hour to finish the race. The kilometres were ticking down quickly at this pace and I forgot about Song of India and started thinking about how good it felt to finish this very tough ride. 5km, 4km, 3km, 2km Ultimo Kilometre and Finish! Kim was there waiting for me (which is good if you consider all the SMS messages she sent me along her ride- most of them cursing me for being totally wrong about this ride – ‘easier than Bintan’ ooops). We went through the finish line and then picked up our congratulatory saddle bags. We were done…it was great. Kim forgave me as she also felt great about such an accomplishment. At the finish line there were loads of riders eating and celebrating the ride. The winners of course were all long gone having completed the race more than 1.5 hours earlier.
Overall it was a great experience. The Pinarello Gran Fondo was by far the hardest ride I have ever done…and much harder than Bintan!