Monday, July 23, 2007

What is Riding in a Granfondo Like?

In the words of the Editor of BICYCLING magazine:

By Steve Madden

I have a recurring dream that starts nicely enough but turns into a nightmare. In it, I'm in the audience at a concert by one of my favorite bands--Pearl Jam, U2, the Clash--when the guys ask me to come up on stage and join them for a number. They don't seem to care when I tell them I can't play an instrument, or sing, or clap in time to the beat. They point me toward a drum kit or a keyboard, then kick it. So I bash away, enthusiastically, and with no discernible skill. Before long, they're all staring at me, shaking their heads. In one version of the dream, Eddie Vedder says, "Man, you suck."

That's sort of what last July's Gran Fondo Pinarello festival was like. I had flown to Treviso, Italy, to join 2,000 other riders in the Medio Fondo, the hilly, 125 kilometer little brother to the mountainous 209 kilometer main event, both of which, I had been assured by my Italian friends, were "timed rides, not races." If fondos are what pass for rides in Italy, I'd hate to be in a race there.

This was no charity cruise; the only gut in evidence was mine. You want road closures and police escorts and fellow cyclists who can hold straight lines through dizzying descents while talking on a cell phone? Go to a fondo, a full-on leg-shavers smack-down. But bring your best game. Just out for a ride? Get the hell out of our way, Yank.

We started in waves of 250 riders, one minute apart. Despite my protests, my Italian hosts put me in the first wave. They were being polite, I'm sure, giving a guest top-notch treatment. But I'm not exactly an off-the-front kind of guy. Nor am I, as I learned over the next five hours, the product of a culture in which cycling, in all its many forms, is as deeply ingrained and revered as it is in Italy.

I dropped back off the first wave with my friend Mandelbaum, who was along for the ride, and hugged the right curb as the next five waves washed past us, pouring by in a rush. Finally, we decided to grab onto the back of the seventh wave, which towed us to the bottom of the initial climb. And there we were left, trying desperately to find wheels to hold on to. When we found them, they belonged to 70-year-old men, who, while we pressed on, stopped at all the rest areas, ate ham sandwiches washed down with wine and passed us on the next climb. And the next. And the next.

Finally, mercifully, we rolled back into the main square of lovely Treviso and across the timing strip. The line for the free lunch was a mile long, so Mandelbaum and I pedaled to a deserted piazza and ate the best pizza we'd ever had.

"I wonder how we did," he said."We got shelled," I answered. "How can you be so sure?""We got our asses kicked by old men," I said. "Yes, but they were old Italian men. It's different over here."

The day after we left Italy, Mandelbaum called to tell me he'd found the results on the web, and we'd finished in the lowest 10 percent of all riders. He said, "Man, we suck."At least I had company this time.
Photo: a Granfondo Pinarello start

1 comment:

  1. That reminds me of riding with a 70 year old named Fausto....