The 2010 Gran Fondo Sportful - Wet Wet Wet!
Woke up this morning at 5am to a loud pattering of rain. It was a sound that I was to get used to during the day. Outside temp was about 9C and we knew it would be a lot colder up in the mountains, so as Jon said a lot of people made the wise move to pull out of the event. I decided to give it a go on the basis that I could always turn back after 25k if it was bad.
This was basically going to be like a wet winter ride. Taking into account the height, the temperature would be below 5C at the top of the climbs and about 7C at the average height that we would be riding at. With the windchill and the rain it was going to feel an awful lot colder. I had my long-sleeve jersey but no bib-longs so had to make do with 3/4s and the 1 base layer that I had brought. I had planned to try to make do with just a gilet on top for the descents this year, but it was definitely a case for the full Goretex rain jacket in today's conditions.
I had a fairly early start number of 757 out of around 3000, probably as a result of having done the event last year and/or registering early. All the other foreigners has been given numbers at around 2000. However the field had thinned out a lot and the normally crammed pens were less than 1/4 full, so the groups all started fairly close together.
Saw Fraser, Howard and Mark zoom past me about 10k into the ride and said hello. They must have started a few minutes later but were clearly going for a good time and were going well.
The first 38k are rolling and the rain, which had been constant since leaving the Villa, now got heavier. It quickly penetrated everything apart from my torso that was wrapped up in the rain jacket. Even though Goretex is "fully waterproof" the rain somehow seeps down your neck, up your sleeves and even gradually soaks up from the waste. By the end of the ride I was left with a dry patch mid-chest but wet everywhere else. I was rolling along in a big group for a lot of the time and not working too hard, but this meant I was getting very cold. A lot of riders were seen heading the other way back into Feltre and I very nearly turned round and followed them after about 30k. However I thought I would just see what the first climb felt like.
The first climb of the Forcella Franche is a 400m 5 kilometer climb that tops out at 992m. It is not too steep and was mostly seen off in 34-24 without much sweat. The effort warmed me up and I felt a lot more comfortable. However the worrying thing was that I didn't even need to crack open the zip of my rain jacket to let out some heat on the climb - not a good sign!
There is short descent off the climb. As soon as I picked up speed my hands and face immediately went numb and it felt very cold, giving a taster of what was to come.
I had already decided to do the 122km Medio course before we reached the split point at Voltago, 51k into the ride. When we got there the organisers had closed the Gran Fondo course; even in its shortened format it was deemed that the conditions were too bad for anyone to do it. So everyone would do the Medio.
Straight away we started the long and gentle 450m climb of the Forcella Aurine. The rain eased off considerably and I started to enjoy the ride as the climb warmed me again. Soon though everyone's breath turned to clouds of steam as the temperature dropped and it was another bad sign.
At the top we were at 1300m and faced 6k of descending, interspersed with some short kick-ups. The descent was horrible, the coldest and wettest I have ever been on a bike. Normally you are worried about the climbs, on this ride it was the descents! My arms started shaking uncontrollably, making it very hard to control the bike and therefore having to slow right down to avoid losing it in the corners. I tried to keep the pedals turning but it's not enough to counter the fierce cooling effect of a 60kph descent.
The beginning of the Passo Cereda climb was a welcome relief as you could work again to generate heat. The height gain is about 400m in 3k so quite a stiff climb but I loved it. All too soon we were at the top, it was the coldest point of the ride, now raining hard again and the next 30k is downhill. The descent off the Cereda is a beautiful wide smooth sweeping descent that you could really get some pace on with a warm dry day. But again I was shaking uncontrollably and had to slow things down to stay upright. Thoughts like why the hell am I doing this went through my mind. It easily beat the Aurine descent for the coldest and wettest I have ever been on a bike! It is the first time I have seen people WALKING on a descent, they were so cold. By the time we reached the feed staion at Imer, 84k into the ride, I was seriously hypothermic. I stayed there for a while and downed two hot drinks which gradually began to make me feel better. Everyone arriving there was in the same state or worse, many packing in the ride.
A very hard-working paramedic lady was fitting people with silver survival blankets underneath their rain jackets, so I got one of those. It made an amazing difference and I soon started thinking that the easiest way to get warm would be to go bike riding, so off I went again. There is a nice flat road back into Feltre, smooth like only Italian roads are, and with my new silver layer I was feeling ok again. A group formed and I had plenty of energy left as I hadn't really done much actual work so far, having taken it pretty easy on the climbs and been in some good groups for much of the way. I therefore towed the group most of the way through to the bottom of the climb of the Passo de Croce D'Aune. Felt pretty good on the climb too, and even though it was very wet I was able to take the descent pretty fast as it's the fourth time now that I've done it.
Not sure what my overall time was as the battery on my bike computer died on the Cereda descent (cold causing voltage drop I guess), but I was just happy to have completed the ride due to the conditions. It just shows how much you can push yourself when the conditions are really tough and you think you've come to the end of your endurance. I even managed to ride up the gravel drive to the Villa at the end of ride which if you've seen it is quite an achievement.
Mark Sterling, Botley Writes:
We were staying in Treviso which was an hour from the event so drove into Feltre in the rain looking forward to a pretty wet day on the bike. Once in the start pen we heard the announcement that everyone had to do the medio route, which I have to admit was very welcome news.
Within minutes of the start we were all soaked through and with thunder and lightening as a soundtrack we headed into the hills with the climbs providing a chance to generate a bit of welcome body heat.
Howard punctured pretty soon into the ride but said not to wait so Fraser and me continued on. At the first feed stop they were giving out warm drinks which were very nice but it took ages to get warmed up again once back on the bike so I decided not to stop at any of the other feed stations.
Fraser then had to pull over for a call of nature, possibly because of the continual sound of running water, so I carried on solo.
The descent after the 2nd feed station was the coldest point of the ride with my bike vibrating as I shivered uncontrollably. Then at the bottom things got even worse when I punctured. I stood by the side of the road shivering voliently unable to open my saddle bag. Luckily 2 of the marshals came over and swapped my tube for me, which meant I could get going again, but lost a load of time. It was worth it though just to see the look of amazement on their faces when, after asking me for my pump, I proceeded to almost blow the tyre off the rim with a CO2 cannister.
Once back on the bike I guessed Fraser and Howard had passed me, which they had, so I spent the rest of the ride just trying to make up as much time as possible. Turns out Howard and done a fantastic ride in 5:02 and Fraser had done an extremely respectable 5:16. I dragged myself in at 5:27.
Once finished I got completly lost in Feltre trying to find where we had parked the cars and by the time I bumped into the others I'd totally lost the plot. Things were OK though after I'd warmed up in the car, changed and had had a plateful of pasta etc at the HQ.
As for the rest of the weekend it was a really great trip with excellent company. Certainly the stuff that memories are made of.
John Skidmore, Bristol Writes:
Excellent write up chaps and major respect (again). My decision to pull out was right for me as I'm not near the standard of you guys and if I hadn't done major damage to myself on the descents I'd have probably caused damage to other people.
Anyway, looking back on it I had a great weekend away although I would have preferred a bit more time on the bike. I've put together a few pics Chris and myself took on the trip that should start a slidehow here,