Photo: Never has a hot chocolate been so welcome
For the second time this year I had that dreaded feeling. “What have I done?” was ringing around my head as I climbed up to Tavullia (the home of Valentino Rossi) in the pouring rain. It wasn’t me that I was feeling bad about, but my companions.
As the only audaxer in my Italian club I have been asked by a few club mates if I would help them try their first audax. We pencilled in the summer of 2022 for their first 200km.
Then came along Rando BeFano. Befana is on the 6th January. Pino Leone, who lives in Fano, had organised a 200km audax to mark the end of his tenure as the National Captain of Audax Randonneur Italia. Audaxers from all over Italy registered to pay tribute. I knew the course well, having ridden the roads many times and accompanied Pino on recce rides of the course the week before. I didn’t expect many, if any, club mates to join me in what might be a very challenging ride, weather wise. The forecast for the national holiday was cold and rain all day.
In December I organised a meeting to explain how audaxing works. Seven club mates turned up saying they’d like to give it a go but January wasn’t the ideal time. I agreed. I left it up to them to decide.
To my delight (L-R) Sandro, Roberto and Luigi joined me for the 07:00 start.
The first loop of 101km went really well. We skipped coffee at the first control (37km) so we could get to the next without having to queue. The plan worked. As we headed back to Fano we had plenty of time in the bank.
Daniele and Sabrina surprised us by welcoming us back to the control in Fano between the first and second loop.
Then the big decision. Before the start they said they would decide whether to do the second loop after completing the first.
All three were keen to give it a go, so off we went, but not after we visited Sandro’s flat nearby to use the facilities. We’d been lucky with the weather on the first loop but would our luck hold out?
The first half of the second loop was along the Via Panoramica. A stunning ride with views of the Adriatic on one side and the mountains on the other. Every time we pointed towards the sea our faces were exfoliated with bitterly cold wind.
The Panoramica completed and our control selfie taken, we headed down from the ridge into a nightmare. Roberto punctured for the second time just as it started to rain. As we set off again the heavens really opened. Climbing up to Tavullia the road was more like a river. Pedalling against the flow and signalling to drivers to slow down as they passed for fear of getting even wetter I really began to wonder what I’d let them in for. As an experienced audaxer I was fine, but I felt really guilty about helping them get so wet and so cold.
I felt even worse because earlier I had joked that as each of them would achieve their personal distance record on the ride, they would have to buy the coffees at the controls to celebrate. Roberto duly paid in Tavullia. I cupped the hot chocolate with my hands in an attempt to restore some feeling in my fingers. It did the trick. We restarted in the rain but at least I could feel my fingers. For a while.
The final climb to Trebbio was horrendous. Cold and soaking wet we climbed against the cascades of water and soil being driven down to the valley below. I had repeatedly told them that audaxing isn’t so much a challenge of the legs but a challenge of the mind. To keep going in those conditions was a real test of their spirit.
I was so proud that all three of them kept going to the finish. Club mates Alceo, Rodolfo and Sabrina were waiting for us. We looked very different from the first time we arrived in Fano after the first loop, but we’d made it in 10 hours 35 minutes. Impressive for first timers in those conditions. Bravissimi.
Our hands were so cold we could hardly hand over our brevet cards.
The day wasn’t over until I’d had another soaking. A hot shower at home, but not before I was treated to tea and dry socks from Roberto’s wife Rafaella in their home where I’d left my car for the day. Grazie mille.
The answer to the question “What have I done?” can be found on our club website. Each of them wrote a little piece about their experience. If you don’t read Italian then run them through a translator. Here’s what they said about the experience:
With 10km to go my Wahoo packed up. It kept re-booting itself. It stopped recording but did save the ride. For whatever reason it wouldn’t upload to Strava. According to one maxim “If it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen”. I’ve uploaded the ride manually. Trust me, the ride happened.