June 30, 2007
We finished up our nice stay/vacation/recovery period in Lucca on Thursday when we left for Trentino. As we left the hills of Tuscany for the flatter, more industrial mid section of the boot, we wondered what all the fuss was about with the “hilly race” we were supposed to do over the next two days. Then, about an hour north of Verona, without warning the dramatic rock faces of the Dolomites immediately showed themselves. We continued through the valley floor passing vineyards, quaint towns and old castles lining the sections of rolling hills at the base of these craggy rock walls that extended up both sides of the valley. Pleased and in awe of the view we realized that this race would offer plenty of challenges in terrain.
The race took on abbreviated form from previous years, slowly and sadly being cut from five-to-four-to-three and finally two stages. Stage one had us leaving Dro, the home town of Guido Trenti, an Italian with an American mom who doesn’t speak a bit of English, yet he consistently makes the US Worlds team the last several years.
We had about five seconds to enjoy Dro before the race took off from the gun. While the European peloton consistently started races faster than most of the races at home, this one was going all out from kilometer zero. The day’s first climb came 5k into the race and it was a battle for position the whole time going into the climb. Going from zero to 30 mph hardly gives me the steady warm-up I prefer before climbing, but seeing as I hardly speak Italian, Dutch, German, or Spanish, I couldn’t exactly ask the leader’s to “tone it down” in order to feel my best going into the 8k beast of a climb.
I started way too far back and had to come around about 80 people to get to a place where I didn’t have to worry about dodging the shrapnel of exploding riders in the first two k. I found a group with three other teammates and entered my personal hell for the first of three times that day. I have never been so hot on a climb. The headwind that almost knocked me over on the ride to the race gave no clues about the heat that would bake us as we traversed the wide open roads in the Dolomites. Cursing the makers of my jersey with its ¾ length zipper, I began questioned how hard it would be to take my undershirt off without crashing or how hard it would be to sew in a full length zipper, deciding against it, I began to praying for rain.
Our group of twenty odd riders in pursuit of the twenty-two “best of the best” riders did a decent job of organizing and rotating through on the descent of the 38k circuit. When we reached the valley floor again, we got smacked in the face with a head/cross wind that made me thank god (and my mechanic) that I had switched from the deep dish to shallower wheels. Despite the gusts, I stayed in a straight line and prepared to attack the climb again.
Round two of the cuircuit did not fare so well and within one k of the ascent I had fallen off the group as people started accelerating. I settled into my own rhythm and gathered up the rest of the “fallen” on my way up the climb. The heat wasn’t as bad the second time up…instead of hell, it was like sitting in a car with no A/C in Memphis during the summer.
The Lithuanian national team director took pity on me, yelling out the window, “USA (ooo-sah), you want bottle?” I drifted back to his car thinking a tow up the hill sounded way better than water, but I figured the latter was all I was going to get. I watched as he skillfully poured water from one of his team’s bottles into mine, without spilling a drop or loosing control of his car, all the while yelling encouragement to his rider. This was impressive, but the straw that won him the multi-tasker award of the day (an unofficial competition, decided by the press and myself) was while doing all these tasks he managed to smoke half of the cigarette dangling from his mouth without dropping any ash.
I rolled back up to the group of five who continued to labor up the climb. Andrea Dvorak, my USA teammate for the past two weeks, asked/commented, “water?” Unsure whether to confirm or offer any of my new H2O, I decided to take the bottle out and offer it to her, track relay style with my hand extended behind my back. For 20 seconds I held the bottle out until figuring that I had misunderstood and she was just making conversation up the hill. “You’ve got water? Cool, I like water.” I now know that she was dangling behind me, trying to gather up the strength or balance or whatever else she could find to grab the bottle and have a swig. Our “fallen” companions must have thought I was some kind of ass for teasing her so with my H2O.
The wind smacked us around some more, but this time it hurt just that little bit more in our small group, and we silently approached the final climb. The third time up the climb, it was not like hell…or Memphis, the temperature had dropped just enough so that an egg would only partially fry on the pavement but the saving grace of this last climb was that the finish was half-way up. We rolled across the line, looking around for the rest of the team that had fared much better on the day. Chrissy finished 10th , just behind the leaders, in the main chase group that wouldn’t organize itself to catch the a break-away. Dotsie, Tina and Kristen finished six minutes behind the leaders.
Day two did not leave us many options for “racing.” To improve Chrissy’s GC position, we would need to get her up the road for a head start on the final five kilometer climb the day. The biggest flaw in our plan was the pancake flat 85km lead up to the climb. Team Nuernberger, were the strongest team in the race with four riders in the top six and were riding firmly in control of the race at the front. A small group managed to escaped, taking advantage of the peloton’s hesitation and ensuing crash fest when crossing a set of near-parallel train tracks that turned to ice after a small rain shower. Our best work on the day as a collective unit would be to put Chrissy into good position before we made the final turn and started the 5k climb to the finish. Andrea demonstrated that cyclo-cross might be a good discipline for her as she led Chrissy to the front in daring fashion, doing a little off-roading and branch-dodging. All I could see was a “spidey train of speed” moving up the left side with Chrissy ducking beneath the extended branchs.
The final climb was brutal. The first 300 meters were not dissimilar to the road that I have to ride everyday to get up to my house in Sausalito. I imagine those climbs home might hurt more if I approached them at speeds greater than 6 mph. The first three windy kilometers up the climb were hectic, dodging dropped riders, at the same time that we needed to keep a constant look over our sholders in order to not get in the way of the passing team cars, not that they would creep up on us, as the directors were constantly on the horn. This was followed by a short respite of 500 meters before we passed under the “ultimo kilometro” flag, indicating that we were about to start the final 1000 meters of the climb. It ended as it started. Steep.
Chrissy, who was still in the lead group as they passed under the flag, was suffering horribly, but mistaking the flag as the 100m to go marker, presumably due to oxygen-deficiency, attacked out of the group. I can only imagine the shock that must have set in when she saw the 500 meters to go sign. Luckily our Soigneur for the week, Autumn, was there at the finish to stabilize her and keep her from falling over. Once again, we all rolled in behind Chrissy who has been racing so well lately. It truly is amazing how only two days of racing can take so much out of you.
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