One each, then?
The Scene is Set
The Granfondo Pinarello is one of the highlights of the Italian “sportive scene” if you will, and in my experience, as this was to be my sixth participation in this event, is always run exceptionally well in glorious weather conditions…
I was fortunate enough to be invited to this year’s event as a guest of Pinarello themselves and this year there was to be an added bonus… a brand new Prince Carbon bike assembled to my requirements would be waiting for me.
So after an early start I arrived at Stanstead well ahead of check in to give me plenty of time to chill out and wolf down some breakfast before meeting up with a few veterans of previous Granfondo trips that I recognised.
The weather conditions were good and snow capped peaks were clearly visible during our flight. Passing over the Dolomites my thoughts turn to the fact that soon enough I would be dragging body and bike over something similar!
The Maggior Consiglio hotel is taken over each year at this time by Pinarello and guests. I catch sight of Luciano Fusar Poli who is one of the key members of Fausto’s team. He advises that our bikes will arrive early on Saturday morning. Bang goes my planned lie in! Remarkably, I am one of the first to breakfast at 7am then down into the hotel basement to find my steed for Sunday’s mission clutching my pedals, my own mini tool kit, a handful of zip ties and my Polar speed sensor which will record the event for posterity.
Fausto Pinarello enjoys his own ride
When I get down there I find frantic activity as dozens of riders rummage through the piles of Prince Carbon bikes, yes…that’s right piles of them! Pinarello are taking the launch of the new Prince seriously, very seriously and have built something like 200 bikes, one for every one of their guests each in the size required with relevant stem and crank lengths already fitted.
I finally find my bike still partially wrapped in protective paper with my name printed on a sticker. I spot that they have kindly wired up my brakes ala UK with the right hand operating the front brake. Unfortunately they had forgotten that I requested right hand for the rear as I am used to. Well I suppose with 200 bikes to put together a couple of little oversights are inevitable…
After a few minutes I decide that I will not “risk” it and proceed to carefully remove the bar tape and start to pull the cables off to refit. Hitch no 2 as I realise that the rear cable is routed through the top tube. The frame has no internal tube or conduit for the inner wire, presumably to keep weight to an absolute minimum, so after a quick garbled discussion, a third English, a third Italian and a third in hand waving with one of the Pinarello mechanics we worked out that we could use the front brake outer casing to temporarily bridge the gap.
An army of Pinarello Prince FP riders
Suddenly large cardboard boxes arrive and we are all given matching custom jerseys and bib shorts announcing the “Return of the Prince”. All of us, with the exception of Fausto Pinarello who is dressed in a bright yellow ensemble to match his custom painted yellow Prince, are resplendent in red white and black.
Meeting outside the hotel just after 9am the heat of the day had already started to build. All 200 of us, led by Fausto and his helpers, sailed off en masse on a leisurely 50km spin through the countryside surrounding Treviso.
During the ride, Pinarello outriders, on Princes of course, stop the traffic at each intersection or roundabout with little or no fuss. One of the riders in our group, ex pro mountain biker and seemingly all round nice guy Gary Foord, then points out that collectively we are riding a million pounds of kit…no crashes please!
We woke to an early breakfast before the short ride from the hotel to our start pens in Treviso town centre at 6.15am. The pre ride nerves had already started… The start of the ride is always where self doubt starts to kick in. In previous years my preparation had been carefully executed with good long steady miles under the belt during the winter months. This year a repeatedly postponed surgical procedure had finally gone ahead and as a result had seen me miss the best part of three months riding at the beginning of the year. A brief spell of racing effectively put the mockers on my prep. So, with only about 100kms ridden at snails pace in the previous month I decided I would be able to get round the full distance if I just used my head…yeah right!
Rohan’s is the one in red
The excitement builds with a crescendo of frantic Italian commentary. And we’re off… One cleat engaged, then both before one is back out as you are stationary again. As we leave Treviso the speed of the group kicks in almost immediately. The roads are closed as we head out of town and are pan flat with smooth Tarmac, travelling at close to 50kmh waves of riders pass in faster moving groups which then split and reform. It never fails to amaze me the state of some participant’s bikes, with their loose saddle bags, worn tires and squeaky transmissions.
My group is moving swiftly and I know even after 10km that this pace is too fast for me. I am on the verge of hyperventilation, as much from stress as exertion, knowing this ride is really beyond me in my current state of fitness. Soon enough, I am alone, until I look back to see a large group amassing on my rear wheel.
Dream bike of the moment
As we hit the first climb proper, I am glad of the compact chainset fitted and find myself in all but my lowest gear trying to regain composure. I see a couple of what look like familiar riders up ahead. Suddenly I spot Maria from the Addiscombe CC dressed from head to toe in pink. We exchange pleasantries as I trundle by. I half expect to see her come back up to me and pass me but she does not and I tap along alone again…
I have made arrangements to re group with some of my colleagues if, read when, we are separated, at the feed station at the top of the first major climb of the day, so I head up the climb “spinning”, a word I use reservedly, my 34×25.
This gradient looks harmless enough but is somewhat similar to the lower slopes of Box Hill. You cannot really see any rise in the road worth talking about but somehow your legs just feel heavy and lifeless… There’s a melee at the summit feed zone with crushed plastic cups littering the road and riders everywhere grabbing at bits of banana and apricot tart. The sad fact dawns on me that no-one has waited for me as planned…
And so I make the first descent proper. I start to get to grips with the new bike and soon find myself settling into a rhythm of sorts as I prepare myself for the next excruciating climb. As each kilometre ticks by I now find difficulty matching the climbing tempo of guys weighing 20kg more than me. I am drinking furiously as I am well aware it is not a matter of if but when cramp will take its first bite out of me. A watering hole at the side of the road is something I would not normally use to fill bottles from but I decide the risk is worth it. I may get an upset stomach but I will definitely fail to finish this if dehydrated. My heart rate on my Polar HRM is showing a consistent 84% of max so I am, to some extent at least in control…
Motley is not the word
As the climb levels out it’s time to stuff myself with as many electrolytes and carbs as my already tired body will absorb…a small amount of descending takes place and then we face the climb up to the ski station of the Nevegal. It’s not brutal but has a loose gravel surface in the last few km just waiting to punish the unwary or tired. I feel confident on the bike despite the Conti Attack front tyre’s narrow profile. As we near the highest point on the course, a badly needed refuelling stop awaits…
The descent from the top is smooth, wide and fast…Hairpins come and go but despite my fatigue the bike is a joy to ride. I am not the quickest descender on the road at this point, a couple of guys fly past me with a slightly reckless air but they are few and my confidence in the bike grows.
We are on flatter busier roads now and a headwind starts to make its presence felt. I know I am not last man on the road but cannot just sit and do nothing so I up the pace a little and finally reel in another rider. I sit behind him for a moment and then hear the whirr of wheels. A group has arrived – suddenly the end of the train …my companion jumps in. I go to do the same feel but the first stages of cramp and lose the wheel. I am alone again.
I see the group pull ahead but do not lose sight of them. An ambulance has arrived and sits behind me like a vulture waiting for its prey to die. I see a group slipping back toward me and decide to dig deep to get up to and then round them. I pass slowly but determinedly and now the ambulance sits with them.
Waiting for the off
The following climbs are not hard in isolation but with cramp niggling away in the back ground I climb slowly and nervously. Drink more and get another SIS gel down me…Each time I force down one of these warm sticky lifesavers my cramp quickly subsides.
There is little respite from the heat and blazing sunshine on these quiet roads. As the kms pass little groups form at similar levels of exhaustion. Someone clocks my bike. I explain I don’t speak Italian. My Italian bike speak is however up to scratch and when he starts talking about nastro I know he is referring to handlebar tape. I tell him you should only ever fit nastro bianco, not nero. He tells me in English that white tape shows the dirt more. I tell him they are still both dirty but with white you can see the dirt and clean it.
I see a sign which mentions I am on the Passo Montello, the last hard climb of the day. Not the side I recall from last year and somewhat easier. I try to convince myself that we will not have to go over the hard side today. Then I see it, the left hander taking us up the Passo Montello proper! Damn, we are going to go over it …
A carbon-fibre HRM in action
I know this is going to be judgement time and slip into my lowest gear carefully. I do not want a shipped chain here like last year. 34×25 is engaged and gravity nails me to the road until the summit.
Flatter terrain and the lure of ending the suffering make the last kms go by in a flash. The walls of Treviso are right there in front of me, through the archway and down a cobbled stretch to the finishing line, beep as I cross the timing mat and we are done!
I am completely shattered. Of the 6 times I have done the event, this one is perhaps the hardest. A long day out on a great bike in some fantastic countryside, plus I got to find out how slow I can go and if I really needed to know how hard I can push myself.
Will I go back next year if invited?
I wouldn’t miss it for anything…