It was a hard day, and I retired. Bummer. It is the first time I have not finished a race.
In retrospect I made some mistakes and there were factors I couldn't control that caused havoc with my ride strategy.
I felt very good in the morning and rolled into the starting grid for the "red", long course (183 Km) at 7:30a.m. The start was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. Ms. E. was very gracious in getting up early to take some photos. The race organizers announced a change from previous years: there would be 15 minute breaks between the starts of each course; long would start at 8:00, medium at 8:15 and short at 8:30. The big implication of this for me was that if I were dropped no group would be coming by for at least another 15 minutes.
A very loud cannon announced the race start. The long course attracts the strongest riders so we are off like rocket ships. I was at the back of the red grid. Mistake number 1: the back of a grid is not a good place to be, I was jettisoned off the back immediately. I worked hard to get back into the main group but was making minimal progress. Not how I wanted to start. Fortunately, the group had to slow down about 1 km from the start due to some cars that had gotten onto the road. If was enough of a delay for me to latch back on. From then on I was flying at 55 km/h for 20 km; I love riding in fast groups. I was feeling good, going harder than I wanted but I thought it was better than riding by myself.
20km into the race the red course group was still "gruppo compacto". After passing Ponton there is a slight pitch that bites and I went off the back again. Here I found myself with a smaller group and we all worked together to arrive at the Spiazzi climb. The sign announced that it was 12 km long, 6-7% if I recall the indications on the signage. About half way up I was caught by the leaders of the medium course that started after me. At this point things were still going well. I arrived at Spiazzi and now I was onto roads that were new for me. Mistake number 2: Underestimating how difficult the following climbs were going to be.
From Spiazzi to Novezza was 12.7 km, 9-10% with one very short stretch at 18%. This tired me out a bit, especially since things are moving along at a very un-social ride pace. The "killer" came next: Novezza to Valico Monte Baldo, 2.3 km, where we were literally in the clouds of Monte Baldo. A 19% stretch. My god. I made it to within 10 meters of the top when my right hamstring cramped (last time I had a cramp was at the GF Italia which also had a long, flat, start). I managed the last 10 meters and then rode along a flat section before beginning the descent. First, I put on my windbreaker and rolled up my arm warmers.
The descent into Avio was an incredibly beautiful, somewhat technical, 22 km. The views were spectacular; I'll have to ride up there again some time with my camera. On the descent I was passed by a number of ambulances which always gives me the chills. I passed two down riders that looked seriously injured. A reminder that you always have to be very careful on descents on these small roads.
I then found myself alone TTing along on the flats between Avio and Peri. As I approached Peri I realized Mistake number 3: the red course had a time cut-off at 2pm at Erbezzo; if I didn't make I wouldn't be categorized as I would be forced onto the medium course. A digital clock at Peri announced "12:15" which surprised me; I couldn't believe that 4 hours+ had already passed. At this point and next on the agenda was the 10 km, 10% average, max 16%, Peri-Fosse climb. On a very good day, and fresh, I have made it up Peri-Fosse in 55 minutes. I didn't look good for making it to the Erbezzo cut-off in time. But, just maybe....
On the Peri-Fosse climb I really felt miserable. My right hamstring was cramping, my legs were not interested in turning over, my heart rate was much higher than normal for the amount of effort I was doing, and it was hot with the sun blazing. Five switchbacks later I called it a day. I descended to Peri and rode back to Verona. Even that felt hard although comparatively speaking it's "flat". I was all of cooked, fried and toasted.
Arriving back in Verona I went to the post race pasta party at the Arsenale where I met up with Beppe, Daniela, Attilio and Juliana who had more intelligently opted to do the short course. We had a nice lunch and shared stories about our day.
Back home I checked my POLAR stats: 4 hr 43 of race time before retiring; average heart rate 152; maximum heart rate: 185; September 16, 2007.
Obviously it was a too ambitious undertaking, on this particular day, for me. It's also obvious that I need to do some more training going flat-out fast on the flats to build up the muscles particular to this discipline, it is twice now I've cramped later in a race after an ultra-fast start.
Photos: I was at the optimistic at the start; the start area in Piazza Bra with the Arena (Roman coliseum), the cannon goes off and the motorcycles lead out at precisely 8:00 a.m. towards Corsa Porta Nuova.