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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gran Fondo Campagnolo Roma

What do you do when one of the biggest cycling events in Italy comes almost to your doorstep? Well, if you're like us, you get out there! This was the Gran Fondo Campagnolo Roma, the 3rd edition. We signed up online but Larry failed to notice the bit about which distance we wanted (75 or 120 km) or the part about having to produce a doctor's note proving we were unlikely to die on the route. Ooops.

We went down on Saturday to the expo near the baths of Caracalla to pick up our numbers, etc. We brought some copies of our health insurance documents, hoping that would placate the folks at the registration so we could get our numbers. Heather explained it all and after they photocopied the pages we completed the forms and were sent to the next counter.

Here we got our "pacco gara" which included a nice GF Campagnolo Roma jersey, a bottle of wine from Vini Fantini and other promotional stuff. Next we were sent to get what they call in Italy, our "cheeps" or transponders to keep track of our progress. We turned these down as who cares how fast we go? At this point the young lady said we should have instead signed up for the "pedalata" instead. Huh?

We hobnobbed with our friend Joshua at the Campagnolo stand for a bit before riding back up the hill to the Academy.

The start was at 7:30 Sunday morning. We rode down to the Imperial Forum and got in the mob at the start, as you can see here. We chose to ride in CycleItalia kits but noticed 99% of the folks around us were clad in the official jersey, but theirs were white, while the ones they gave us were gray/black. We should have been farther up with the 120 km group it seemed. But we wanted only about half that distance, the tour of the Castelli Romani rather than the full-blown GRAN Fondo which covered a lot of the course used for the Roma Maxima pro event in the spring.

Oh well, off we a snail's pace past the Circus Maximus over the cobbled surface, almost entirely surrounded by folks on.....mountain bikes. Huh? Turns out the "pedalata" folks tend to be those slogging along on MTB's, though some of them moved along swiftly. For some reason these folks have no clue about slower cyclists keeping right to allow faster riders to pass, but we slalomed our way through until things thinned out on some prettier roads as you can see above. We were both glad we'd chosen our own kits as with everyone else in the same jersey it would have been tough to find each other after being separated, either on a climb or descent as one of us would be blocked by some of the less-skilled riders.

The first real hill thinned things out further and we began to enjoy the scenery, though we left so early there was no time for breakfast. We gazed longingly at a few bars serving cappuccini and cornetti, but we were so close to the back of the whole thing we were reluctant to stop and perhaps ending up on a no-longer-closed course or worse, be sucked back into the swarms of mountain bikes. Larry did stop for a quick photo here at the Albano lake, near where the pope hangs out when it's too hot down in the Vatican.

Lucky for us, it wasn't too much further to a RISTORO, as you can see above. We'd closed up to a few clad in the gray/black jerseys (we never saw any suggestion that one HAD to wear the official jersey, but the rest of the riders certainly got the hint!) so felt OK stopping here for panini and bananas. The atmosphere here was pretty much the same as a century ride back in the USA, though of course the surroundings were far different.

Unlike the GRAN FONDO's back in the USA there were no Ferraris pacing the riders. Instead the local Fiat 500 club sent a few of the cute old cars to entertain us. Larry just loves these things and has mad-mechanic dreams of seeing one with a Ducati Monster engine jammed into the back. Someday?

Also unlike a Gran Fondo or century ride in the USA, the post ride snacks were PORCHETTA sandwiches! We'd crossed the finish line hand-in-hand and saw the line for these tasty panini right away. It wasn't too much later the first riders on the 120 km route raced across the finish line. Our ride turned out to be a bit longer than 60 kms. These fast guys whipped around their route around 40 kph on average, not far off from pro speeds though the few real pros there (Davide Malacarne of Europcar for example) didn't contest for the "win" if you can call it that. The organizer hinted that for the future they might ditch the timing and finishing details entirely to be more in tune with a fun, festive event to celebrate two wheels. That would be fine by us!

At the end they handed out these cool medals. A nice keepsake.

Mille Grazie, especially to our friends at CAMPAGNOLO who were the main sponsors of the event.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

l'Eroica 2014 - Part 2

And now, as they say, for the rest of the story.....

Our visit to l'Eroica was certainly not a lark. First, we were in ROME so off Larry went to the airport (9-passenger rental vans are tough to find at inner-city rental offices) on Wednesday, October 1. This involved a taxi to the train station as he had a huge suitcase filled with stuff to be left at our HQ, followed by a short train ride. Once in the van, a 600 kilometer blast up the coast to Hotel Ariotto, arriving early enough to get a head start on pulling our bici d'epoca out of storage along with all the clothes we stash there. These would be needed later.

Friday morning, off to Tuscany. 300 kilometers down to Pisa airport to pick up Maynard and Tamar, then on to Empoli to pick up Heather at the train station. She'd zoomed up from Rome on the Italo train to Florence, then to Empoli on a normal train. From here it was on to Colle Val d'Elsa, our home for the next three nights and one of the stops on our self-guided Taste of Tuscany tour. We stayed here, just an hour from Eroica HQ Gaiole, to be out of the chaos of the actual event but close enough to get in and out easily. Colle Val d'Elsa offers many more choices when it come to mangia bene too. Above you can see the jet-lagged Maynard and Tamar with Heather at one of our favorite eating places in the high town. Despite their bodies wanting breakfast instead of dinner, they were good sports and toughed it out through most of the meal.

Saturday we needed to go over to Gaiole and get our numbers, etc. This is always fun as there's lots to see, with museum displays, vendors of all kinds of retro equipment as well as food and wine.

The above photos are of the Eroica Shop on the main street. Some say this event has become a bit too commercial and we can't argue with them.

Sponsors are of course essential to the event so they get prime display space and one has to admire the creativity of some of their exhibits as well as say thanks for their funding.

Maynard was a little less jet-lagged on Saturday. Here you can see one of his dreams coming true, posing with Marco Gios at the venerable frame-maker's stand. We're friends so we put the arm on them for some cool schwag (not that we had to try very hard) including a way-cool poster of Roger DeVlaeminck and Aldo Gios at Paris-Roubaix. Larry had his trusty Sharpie at the ready so Aldo could autograph a copy just for Maynard!

Above is one of The Gypsy's personal racing machines displayed in the little museum. They had a gorgeous replica outside along with other bikes, both old and new.

The museum is always enjoyable. A little crowded, but still fun.

This Bianchi was not too far from what Larry rode on Sunday, though the legs that powered this one were far, far superior.

Rare machines of all kinds were on display.

As were some rare riders!

We paused for some panini and birre after getting our official numbers and race schwag, then piled into the van for the drive back to Colle and a quick shake-down ride on our own bici d'epoca. We enjoyed a ride uphill towards San Gimignano before turning to the south and quieter roads, withTamar joining us on a modern bike she'd rented. We popped over to a local pizzeria (I know, pizza in Tuscany? But this was very good Napolitano-style stuff) for a lighter meal and early night before our big day Sunday.

Sunday you already read about in an earlier post. We'd planned a celebratory Sunday evening dinner at one of our favorite places to dine, Il Molino, but our two friends were pretty worn-out so just the two of us enjoyed the full Tuscan meal experience.

Monday morning it was time to bid farewell to our friends, who were staying on for more sightseeing in Tuscany and then take Heather to a train station. Another 300 kilometers back to our HQ, unload the bici d'epoca and reload the van with our "modern" bikes, suitcases full of clothes, a couple of MTB's and then enjoy a Piemontese dinner.

Tuesday it was 600 kilometers back down the coast to Rome where we could finally "move-in" and get into some different clothes! The van went back on Wednesday morning after more than 2000 kilometers of driving and around 100 kilometers of cycling. Whew! But it was worth every minute.

And this Sunday it's the Gran Fondo Campagnolo Roma. 

La vita e bella!!

PS- We'd like to thank VITTORIA for the way-cool 1976 shoes, Nalini/Albabici for the equally cool wool shorts and Soigneur for the retro jerseys

Monday, October 6, 2014

l'Eroica 2014 - Part 1

Greetings from l'Eroica 2014! It was a fantastic event in most every way, just what we hoped for after our little preview a few years ago. Above you see Heather just before the start with our friend Maynard Hershon, whose work you can read these days at BICYCLE PAPER. And yes, he DID wear that modern crash hat despite the clash with the bici d'epoca theme of the event. Maynard signed up for the 135 kilometer distance while "Harry & Leather" wisely opted for 75 kms of fun. Maynard came to his senses late on Saturday night and decided to ride the shorter distance, meaning we got to sleep in and have breakfast at the hotel when the sun was up. Great idea Maynard!!

One of the great things about these events is how they match up with our pedala forte, mangia bene philosophy of cycling. Above you see Heather at the first ristoro where they provided apples and grapes, plus fresh bread with olive oil or hazelnut spread or even wine and sugar. We were more than hungry by this stop in Radda in Chianti. Although we'd sampled some of the route during our visit years ago, even the shorter routes proved VERY challenging. Really steep climbs on the famous Tuscan white (dirt) roads proved tough on many - we'd guess only 20% of the riders were able to ride up rather than walk. With our low gears and dirt road experience we managed to pedal up all of the climbs, though it was tough finding a good line and weaving around and through the various folks either walking or stalling out and falling over.

In the spirit of the event, we ran only one water bottle cage, so stopping for water was a regular practice during the day. 75 kms is around 50 miles and our route featured almost 6000 feet of climbing. What that doesn't describe is the DESCENDING. Not only were some of the climbs close to 10% and on dirt, more than a few of the descents were as well! Just as the climbs, some walked while others wobbled down at barely a walking pace, meaning WE slalomed our way down just as we did on the way up. Heather got pushed off into a ditch early on, while Larry shouldered a couple of wobbly riders out of his way rather than crash. We saw a few crashes ourselves, with quite a few riders showing the effects of various contact with the ground, either with dirt covering their clothes or blood running from scraped elbows or knees. This is not an event for novices. We've ridden cyclocross courses that were easier than this route! When they say EROICA they're not kidding!

But of course it's not ALL suffering, as above you can see the salami and Chianti stop. We rode through this one years ago (but didn't enjoy anything since we weren't officially entered) so we knew what was to come shortly after, but couldn't help ourselves to a taste of salami with a little bread, washed down with a plastic cup of Chianti. Here a band was playing and we filed through the steep, narrow lane. A 15% climb started just after this, quickly turning to dirt, probably the most challenging climb of the route. Very few were able to ride this, but when you think a lot of these bikes might have a low gear of just 44 X 19, you REALLY begin to appreciate the old champions who powered these bikes up real mountains and then must have scared themselves silly on the way down with brakes that weren't much better than Fred Flintstone's.

Above you can see our bikes after the event. No mechanical issues for us, though by l'Eroica standards these are thoroughly modern bikes even though you have to center the chain on the sprockets by feel and sound and jam your feet into toe clips and straps. At speed on the descents, avoiding holes and bumps in the road was difficult, so these bikes took a beating, but came through with just a coating of the famous Tuscan white dust, some sweat and rather dry chains.

We're looking forward to another of these events and we think the bikes are as well!

More details and photos from the Saturday expo in the next post.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A little tour of Rome

A gorgeous Sunday morning, but no bikes yet. Heather's off hobknobbing with her fellow wizards in Greece. What's a man to do? Well, the pro cycling World Championship race is on TV, but nothing much happens in that until the last couple of hours. How about a walk around the Eternal City?

About twenty minutes walk down from the Janiculum Hill you can find yourself here at Teatro Marcello, a structure that actually predates the famous Flavian Amphitheater, but after a cleaning attempt gone very bad, somehow looks newer. From there........'s just 5 more minutes to here, the steps leading up to the Capitoline.

Once up there, you can admire a copy of the bronze Marco Aurelio (the real one's inside)

and be reminded of the mythical founders of Rome, the kids nursing on the female wolf.

From there it's back down to the Forum...

...where you're reminded you don't have a bike when you see this vast, car-less avenue.

Next, take a lap around the Flavian Amphitheater, also know as the Colosseum,

exiting to the south so you can pass an arch...

....or two.

Then swing by the Circus Maximus and again wish you had a bike, maybe one with fattish tires?

Then head back "home" to see cyclists riding along the Tevere and get jealous again.

But be glad you can take this steep shortcut back up the hill since you don't have a bike.

Then pause to admire, well...catch your breath....the Fontana Grande as home's just behind it.

Probably took 90 minutes for the whole thing. We'll plunge into the bike thing head-first starting next weekend with l'Eroica in Toscana followed by the Campagnolo Gran Fondo here in Rome the following weekend. We'll hope our residual cycling fitness will get us through, but the lack of sitting on a proper bike saddle for weeks might cause the most discomfort!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Back in the Eternal City

The heat and humidity of recent days has subsided so Larry took this photo across from the Fontana Grande looking out over the city of Rome. Clicking on the photo make enlarge it enough to pick out a few landmarks, but in any case it was a gorgeous day in the Italian capital city. This vantage point is just a minute's walk from the American Academy.

Heather worked on her academic projects while Larry went to his first Italian-language class. They are now evaluating his language skills to decide what to do with an almost 60 year-old man who speaks Italian like a 4 year-old boy. Can they improve him? Can he improve himself? Only time will tell.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Under the Tuscan.....clouds.

Photo: Pappardelle con ragu, Signora?

We took a quick trip up to Cortona the other day to attend an academic conference. "We" as in Larry drove the car, but in the end they kindly let him attend the conference and enjoy the meals as well.

We'd been around this area before but never bothered to venture up into the hilltown made famous by the popular and enjoyable novel (and awful movie) Under the Tuscan Sun. Why? Because we feared it was (or would soon be) another San Gimignano, full of foreign tourists and shops that cater to them, most of its authentic charm flaking off under the steady onslaught of modern tourism, only to end up a "Disney-fied" replica of what was once a charming village.

We parked our car and hiked up the STEEP, cobbled road and around to find our B&B, then off to the evening's reception, where our fears were realized. While we didn't see copies of USA Today for sale on every corner, we heard more English than Italian being spoken and even saw Frances Mayes herself the following day at the conference. As you might guess she's kind of like the Pope up here, being responsible for putting a lot of tourist revenue into the pockets of the locals and receiving bows and accolades from those who recognize her.

At the conference we enjoyed some excellent Tuscan food and learned a few things (especially Larry) about archaeologic sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum, especially relating to what is original and what is restored in sites like these. The converted monastery now housing the University of Georgia Residential Center is (once you hike up there) thankfully free of the tourist influence below and offered stunning (despite the cloudy, hazy weather) views of the surrounding countryside.

We're now back in the Eternal City, getting ready for our next adventure while looking forward to having some bicycles to play with. The local park looks like it might be a fun place to play with MTB's!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Room - with a view

Photo: View from our window into garden (not ours)

Photo: View from same window looking onto the street

Heather has won a Rome Prize for 2014/2015. This prestigious fellowship includes room and board at the American Academy here in the Eternal City. And she's letting Larry join her!!!

She's been here for a week already while Larry just arrived. We spent a month here back in 2005 and enjoyed it immensely, so of course we were thrilled when she was awarded the prize, which lets us again live in Rome, but this time for much longer than a month.

Larry will be studying Italian while Heather will be doing a variety of different things during our time here.

Meanwhile, reservations are coming in for CycleItalia 2015, so don't wait too long before making yours.

More soon from ITALIA...