Road to Paris, Part 2 (Backup)

Photo: All participants received this really nice neck buff

My PBP qualification plan includes 2 of each qualification rides. Having completed 2 x 200km and 1 x 300km in the UK, my rides have now switched to Italy. My backup 300km starting just 14km from where we live.

The second edition of the Randonnée della Fortuna was also my second time in the event.

I had a good start, others didn’t.

On the way to the event a car pulled up beside me, the windows dropped and a voice shouted “Ciao Colin, cosa stai facendo?” What are you doing? asked Lucia. A good question. It was 9pm and I was heading off to the 10pm start of a tough 300km with 5,000m of climbing.

At the start, my mate Peter (an Ironman), and Pino came to see me off. Thank you Peter, grazie Pino.

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No sooner had we started, we had to stop. 500 metres into the ride we had an event photo in front of the Arco di Augusto, Fano.

Rando start

We enjoyed a police escort stopping the traffic for the route out of Fano, then we were on our own. That was to be the theme of my ride – on my own.

10km in something happened that was to shape the rest of the event and my ride in particular. It all happened in a split second but seemed to be in slow motion as my thoughts raced through my mind.

Being a local I knew the road very well, especially where the pot holes are. As the della Fortuna attracts riders from all over Italy they didn’t have that local knowledge.

We were still in a peleton as the field rode out on the flat before the first climb. Two bikes in front of me a rider spotted a hole at the last second and swerved to avoid it. He clipped the rider next to him and they both went down, followed by the two riders between them and me as they crashed into them. Luckily for me I was on the outside so I could swerve to avoid them without hitting anyone. It’s amazing how much thinking the brain can do in a split second. I realised I could not brake suddenly as riders would hit me from behind so I kept my speed and missed them by centimetres. My Fortuna.

I heard a terrible scream of someone in pain. I have to confess it spooked me. The entire field stopped. As Italian is not my first language and every one else stopped, there was very little I could do. Like all the other riders, we thought it disrespectful to just ride off. So we waited a while. That was the dilema. How long does one wait before heading off when there is nothing you can do to help? Riders started heading off in singles and very small groups, so I decided to resume having waited a good few minutes.

This incident converted the ride from a peleton to a long string of singles and small groups stretched over several kilometres. I thought to myself, this is going to be a long night. Prepare yourself for a lot of solo riding.

And so it proved. I rode solo for about 90% of the ride, part joining small groups for only short spells. Audax is not just a physical test but a test of the spirit. One reason why I love it so.

At the first control in Urbino I asked about the riders who fell. The good news was that it wasn’t as bad as I thought. In fact, three of the four fallers had overtaken me and been through the control already. The fourth had to retire as his bike was unusable. I felt a lot better after that.

The centre piece of the Randonnée della Fortuna is the climb of Il Cippo. Il Cippo was Marco Pantani’s training hill. 6km, rising 600m. A relentless 10%. As the final 200m or so are actually near flat nature makes up for it with a short 20% ramp at the very beginning. Thanks.

There is a control at the bottom of the climb in Carpegna and another control in the same place at the end of the descent forming a loop. This is so the controllers can do their Brian Hanrahan ‘We counted them all out and we counted them all back’. As I arrived at the control to start the climb, a few riders were returning to the control having completed the loop. I had to remind myself I was not competing with them, just challenging myself.

This was the 6th time I’d climbed Il Cippo and easily the toughest. Alone in the dark I started to struggle at about half way. I started to follow the outside curve of the 22 bends to kid myself that I could have a rest around the bend. I was so slow that I started weaving. I realised that it was dangerous to ride on the edge of the tarmac as I had no margin of error as I started to weave. Like the Scottish band I stuck to the Middle of the Road.

For the first time on Il Cippo I seriously started to think I’d have to stop and rest. Several times I came close to doing so but managed to keep going. For me it’s a zone 4 climb the whole way up. I’m not a natural climber but I will get there. Indeed I did, without stopping.

I stopped after the summit and my body gave way. My right leg seized with cramp. Unbelievably painful. I couldn’t dismount, I couldn’t move. I was stuck, alone in the dark and in pain. Many of my Italian friends ask why I do this. Good question. It’s a passion.

After much massaging and stretching while still astride the bike the cramp subsided after a few minutes. I descended the Cippo with my right leg unclipped in case the cramp returned. It didn’t. More Fortuna. I can’t tell you how glad I was to take this photo once safely back down to Carpegna (no translation needed).

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The rest of the ride was another 200k of hard, solo slog. Dawn broke and I enyoyed a classic Italian breakfast in Urbania.

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With 40km to go I had one last climb to the ridge outside Fano. It was 12:00. The mathmatics were simple. If I could manage 20km/h average I could finish at 14:00, beating last year’s time by 29 minutes. My competitive spirit kicked in. Finish before 14:00 was now the target. It didn’t seem possible as I started the climb at 8km/h, especially as I had one more control to complete.

Along the ridge is classic “mangia, beve, mangia, beve”. Literally meaning “eat, drink, eat drink”. In the cycling world it means “up, down, up, down”. Rolling hills of great fun on the descents but work to do on the rises.

In my brevet card I carried a list of the times that I’d arrived at each control the year before.  One of the controllers said I had a ghost rider alongside me. How right he was. The ghost of Christmas past began to haunt me. For the final control, last year I arrived at 13:00. This year I arrived it 12:35. Game on. Whilst getting my brevet card stamped I decided to prepare with the food of champions. Ice cream.

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For the last 25kms I rode as hard as I could. With 2kms to go Sabrina, Rodolfo and Rodolfo , my Centinarolese club mates, came out on their bikes to greet me. I waved, thanked them but raced past them on a mission to finish before 14:00. At the finishing arch I jumped off my bike and handed in my brevet card. 15:47, 41 minutes faster than last year.

Exhausted but happy.

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2019 YEAR TO DATE

Rides: 26

Distance: 3,253 km

Average distance per ride: 125 km

Elevation gain: 25,339m (2.86 Everests)

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