Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I had my share of personal suffering during the weekend climbing Galibier, Alpe d'huez, and Izoard; plus all the going back and forth from the hotel to the climbs. Nevertheless, it became much clearer to me how much the pros must suffer. The pressures to win a stage, a jersey, to place high in the GC must bring them to levels of suffering that are hard to imagine.

23 year old Luca Ascani won the 42.8-kilometre time trial yesterday in Novi Ligure to become Italian National Time Trial Champion. This is what he said about his suffering afterwards, "The crono is a massacre. You have to go at your limits on the tip of the saddle. You have to depart at full speed and keep it going at full speed to the edge of death, saying 'I am already dead,' but still continuing on the tip of the saddle."

Quote courtesy of

UPDATE: August 3rd. Well, the doping situation is terrible. Post TdF comes this from on August 3rd:

Luca Ascani positive for EPO
The reigning Italian time trial champion Luca Ascani (Aurum Hotels) was suspended by his team following news that the rider had tested positive for EPO. The 24 year-old tested positive following his championship ride, according to the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), the country's antidoping agency.

Monday, June 25, 2007

ADVENTURE Magazine Story of the Maratona

This story from the June/July, 2007, issue of ADVENTURE gives you some insight into the Maratona dles Dolomites. I'll be there Sunday, racing.

Italy: Cycling the Maratona dles Dolomites

You don't have to be a hardcore biker to race in the Maratona dles dolomites. You just have to ride like an italian—or at least look good trying.

Text by Dan Koeppel Photographs by Lars Schneider

A crowd of spectators is lining Passo Campolongo, 6,152 feet high in the Dolomites of northern Italy, and screaming "Die! Die! Die!" at me. It's a bit disconcerting, especially while I'm pedaling up steep switchbacks where it takes every ounce of strength and focus simply to move forward. In fact, the word is "dai," and what they're really urging me to do is: "Go! Go! Go!" This frenzied adrenaline-charged mob is cheering the Maratona dles Dolomites, one of the great annual rites of Italian cycling and one of the biggest, most passionate, and most chaotic bike races on Earth. About 200 elite riders actually compete in the event to win, and they had quickly burst forward when the starting gun sounded. Now, stretching back behind them for miles are an estimated 8,700 others of all abilities—from teenagers to grandparents—just out to pedal to the finish. With a crowd like this there's potential for a lot of contact, bike to bike, rider to rider, and one crash can quickly domino into a spill that claims dozens. My girlfriend, Kalee Thompson, and I struggle to maintain our lines, exhausted from the hard climb, our pedal strokes sloppy. At times we lose each other in the pack, scanning ahead and behind for a glimpse of the other's red-and-white team jersey. It's not easy for an American to appreciate what cycling means to this nation. NASCAR culture comes close to casting a similar spell over its fans, but few disciples of auto racing would dare to drive a speedway track themselves. In Italy, spectating is only the beginning. You participate—in the colors of your favorite team, of your local club, or your employer. Male or female, you ride—even if you're a grandparent. Should you choose just to watch, you're required to provide encouragement to the pack."Dai! Dai! Dai!" A family leaves their pizza and Aranciata sodas on the table at a tiny café to crowd against the barricade and shout at me as if my life depends on it.

Yanks plying Italian pavement for the first time might find such enthusiasm shocking and a little confusing. In this country if a car honks at you, it's not because the driver wants you out of the way; he's just saying hello. He might even be waiting around the next bend with a bottle of San Pellegrino. If you want good luck, there's a cycling church, complete with a cycling saint to bless your bike. If you want your hand-built dream machine to last, you must stand on a copy of the Gazzetta dello Sport, a daily newspaper dedicated to cycling and soccer, while you're being measured for it. You dress outrageously: Pink Lycra shorts on a guy are fine, as long as the shoes match. So when Kalee and I checked in our disassembled bikes at John F. Kennedy International Airport, in New York City, and reassembled them a week ago in the mountain village of Corvara, it was not just to train for and ride in the celebrated Maratona—we wanted to experience the Italian reverence for cycling by becoming part of it. And now, here we are, six miles (ten kilometers) behind us, 28 miles (45 kilometers) more to go. There's no bigger bike party in a country that loves and lives for such events than the Maratona. Held every July since 1987, the race is split into three courses—hard, harder, and hardest—that loop through either four, six, or seven passes in the 10,340-foot (3,152-meter) Gruppo Sella (Sella Massif). Hikers and Nordic skiers also make their own Sella Ronda, but true possession of the circuit belongs to bikers. These mountains have been home to scores of hard-won stage finishes in the Giro d'Italia, the Italian equivalent—the natives say superior—to the Tour de France. Thousands of fans line these roads each May to watch their cycling heroes pedal the grades at impossible speeds, sometimes through scalding sunlight, other times through snowstorms. When Kalee and I stepped off the bus in Corvara and craned our necks up at the peaks of the Gruppo Sella, the first impression was, to say the least, disquieting. We could hear the clinking of tools as the other members of our group busily assembled their bikes. But we just gaped at the weathered crags jutting outrageously skyward—sculpted islands surrounded by seas of green pasture. I tried to remain confident; I'd been here once before. But Kalee hadn't. She'd never even owned a real road bike until six months ago, and she was concerned that this was going to be too much too soon. But we had seven days to learn how to climb and how to descend, to adjust to the altitude, and to accustom our legs to the four towering passes that circle these mountains. Bikes back in one piece, our group of 12 Americans gathered in the lounge of the Hotel La Perla, holding welcome glasses of wine in our grease-stained hands. Our guides, Connie Carpenter and her husband, Davis Phinney, are the closest America has to two-wheeled royalty. Connie won the road race gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, and Davis was the first American to win a road stage in the Tour de France—and to date he has more career victories than Lance Armstrong. For the past 20 years, through their company Carpenter/Phinney Bike Camp, the couple has dedicated themselves to one thing: teaching Americans, in the space of a week, how to ride hills like these.Our group was a disparate one: Two hardcore couples who had been training in Colorado for months; a computer technician from Atlanta who had been riding his local hills and looked as startled by the terrain as Kalee and I; one rider aiming to celebrate his full recovery from open-heart surgery with a Maratona finish; and Taylor Phinney, Connie and Davis's 16-year-old son, who was no doubt genetically destined for cycling glory (but who confessed to being more interested in soccer).I was on my second Maratona. The first time, three years ago, I'd chosen the middle distance: 66 miles (106 kilometers) and 10,140 feet (3,091meters) of elevation gain. I went out too hard. On the final climb I was so exhausted that I lost two hours. This time I'd be sticking to the merely "hard" route with Kalee, who was the least experienced rider in our group. Connie announced that to ride the Maratona—and not make it an exercise in torture—we would have to learn to ride in graceful confidence, like the Italians do. We'd have to learn, she said, "to live Italian and live Italian cycling."I've known Connie and Davis for years—I'd once rented a house next door to them when they were living a little north of Venice—so it didn't surprise me when Connie pulled me aside after the meeting. We stood on the hotel's red-brick patio and made small talk. I told her I felt strong enough to do the middle race again, without a meltdown, but that I was going to stick with Kalee, who, I confided, was already a little intimidated."How experienced is she?" Connie asked. She had only done two long-distance rides: a hundred-miler (161 kilometers) to the tip of Long Island, New York (formidable mileage on flat terrain), and a 60-mile (97-kilometer) loop around a New Hampshire lake (hillier, but nothing close to these mountains)."She's a terrific athlete," I said, "and game. She's going to do fine."Connie smiled, but I could tell she was worried. Her job is to get every single rider to the start and finish lines. Two hours into the race we crest Passo Pordoi, the second major high point in the circuit. By now the pack has stretched out, and we finally have some room to maneuver. We even stop for coffee and strudel. Such behavior, unthinkable in any other bike race, is perfectly acceptable in this one. The third summit, Passo Sella, is preceded by a gradual ascent through thick woods. It is the part that looks and feels most like a ride back home, somewhere in the shady woodlands of Northern California or New England. This, Connie had told us, is a place to rest, because the next two climbs will be the toughest.The entire pack slows down to a semileisurely pace. I can tell we're near the tail end. The French derisively call riders in our position "red lanterns," and being at the rear is considered an embarrassment. In the Maratona the situation creates self-deprecating dramas. We listen as one rider dials his cell phone and yells, "Mama! Mama! I'm on the Sella! It's hard!"At the final feed zone, we stop to refill our bottles and grab a few sliced oranges, the last of a dwindling supply. When I turn to look back down the pass, I see a truck slowly climbing. Two men trail behind it, loading in the traffic barriers that had been placed there for the race. Farther behind, I can see a pair of police cars, lights flashing, followed by a line of vehicles.The roads are reopening. "We have to go," I tell Kalee, "or we're going to get run over." The Maratona is a part of a category of races unique to Italy, called granfondos. In the U.S. the biggest amateur rides tend to be laid-back affairs: charity jaunts, where the fund-raising goal dictates that the terrain be mild enough for everyone, or just-for-fun affairs—long-distance excursions that are often more about the ice cream you'll eat afterward. In the more than 100 Italian granfondos held every summer, bikes rule. Roads are closed to cars. Drivers caught out by the ten-hour wait can either sit in frustration or pull over, make a roadside picnic, and watch the two-wheeled parade.The race in the Dolomites is one of the biggest and hardest of all granfondos, attracting everything from slow-moving cicloturisti (recreational riders) and fit ciclosportivi (enthusiasts) to the disturbingly fast amateurs known as cicloamatori (or lovers of cycling). And all of them know how to ride. Italian kids are taught cycling in school; this is a nation of tifosi (bike fanatics) who know they're not just on Earth to cheer their favorite racers, but to get on, pedal, and be, above all, bello in sella—"beautiful in the saddle."The morning after our arrival, promptly following a breakfast of strong coffee and eggs scrambled with prosciutto, we had our first chance to practice that art. The Maratona's three circuits start with the same initial 34 miles (55 kilometers), making a clockwise circle around the massif. In the short race, the final climb ascends to Passo Gardena and then drops high-speed to the finish line in Corvara. Our first day was a six-mile (ten-kilometer) warm-up. "Steep," Connie had called it, "but not too steep."It was steeper than anything Kalee had ever ridden. After we'd gone three miles (five kilometers), the summer sun vanished. The temperature dropped. It started to rain. Then it started to hail. In seconds, we were drenched. I yelled to Kalee, "Do you want to turn around?"She put her head down and kept pedaling, and it was clear from the quick glance she shot me that she found the question a bit patronizing. She was right: If we had abandoned ship then, we might never have made it to race day.It isn't just spectacular terrain or huge crowds that make the Maratona the ultimate granfondo. This route covers hallowed ground. On the second training day, we rode up the Campolongo, the hill outside our hotel and the race's first pass, and then continued up 33 switchbacks to Passo Pordoi, whose windy summit tops out at 7,346 feet (2,239 meters). I felt strong, and the climb hurt in a good way: My tight legs were unwinding. Kalee pedaled steadily, but I could tell that she was a bit shell-shocked. Her report, halfway up, was understated. "This is a lot more than I've ever done," she said.The top of Passo Pordoi offers the usual café and souvenir stand (an accordion-playing mechanical chipmunk is a popular choice), but the key attraction is a bronze relief that overlooks the pass. The sculpted panel depicts the famous Italian cyclist Fausto Coppi in action, his face etched with deep concentration as he climbs. It is difficult for an outsider to understand how important Coppi, who raced before and after World War II, is to Italy. He won the 1940 Giro d'Italia. When Italy entered the war, racing was suspended, and Coppi, who was conscripted into the army, was captured by Allied forces and held as a prisoner of war. He returned to a devastated and humbled Italy and in 1949 won both the Giro and the Tour de France (this double is bike racing's most impressive and rarest feat; Armstrong never attempted it during his career). For a racer of Coppi's caliber to pedal along substandard roads and through war-torn villages was unthinkable, so everywhere Coppi raced, Italy rebuilt. There's a Coppi museum in the Piedmont town of Castellania, where the racer was born. The mayor of the village is Coppi's cousin, Piero Coppi. "Fausto brought our country back from the dead," he told me. Heroism turned to martyrdom in 1960. Coppi contracted malaria during a visit to Africa, and three weeks later, at age 40, the legendary champion was dead. More than 10,000 people attended his funeral; the entire nation was in shock. "America had Kennedy," Piero said. "We had Fausto."The highest part of the tallest climb in an Italian bike race is known as the Cima Coppi. Although not technically the highest, Passo Pordoi has been granted this title dozens of times—and it would again during Sunday's Maratona. Climbing it in training was a smart move. Knowing what to expect, Connie and Davis hoped, would ease our minds on race day. At the top we did what every cyclist must: We paid tribute to Coppi, spending an appropriate amount of time standing reverently before the bronze plaque. And while we couldn't appreciate it the way the Italians do, to ignore it would have been more than bad form; it would have been bad luck. On the hardest day of our training week we split into two groups. Connie led the more advanced squad on a 60-miler (97 kilometers) that looped through the Plan de Corones ski area; its last half-mile angles upward at a nearly nauseating 12 to 14 percent grade (the stiffest climbs in the Rockies rarely exceed 10 percent). The second group, which Kalee joined, covered a hilly 40 miles (64 kilometers), instead of our 60. One of the hallmarks of an Italian climb is information. There's always a sign at the base of a hill indicating how many switchbacks you'll encounter. Each turn is numbered. On my last visit, this became a primary motivator: I loved that it was getting harder (the gradient increasing) at the same time it was getting easier (closer to the top). Kalee had a different reaction. "I just want to ride," she said. "I don't want to think about how many more turns we have left."The eight of us in my group started together. It is almost impossible to ride in a pack on a tough climb. Instead, the best ascenders—usually the lightest in the bunch—will start sprinting, while the bulkier members of the group (that's me) fall back. I succumbed after a few hot-and-sweaty minutes; on the final grade I struggled even to keep my bike upright, telling myself over and over again to keep pedaling, not to put my foot down. I made it to the Plan de Corones completely out of breath, my calves and quads burning. Some cyclists from a local club were gathered together, eating small cakes, getting ready to descend. They seemed to pity me as they pointed downhill, indicating that the rest of my group had already dropped toward the valley. The road leveled into forest, then farmland, as I pedaled toward Brunico, the region's commercial hub, where the group was scheduled to stop for lunch. I couldn't find anyone. I waited at an intersection for a few minutes, then pulled out the route map we had been given that morning. The plan had seemed pretty straightforward: We would complete a loop by riding a small path parallel to the main road and the river, meet up with the other group, and pedal up the valley together. I continued alone on the main road, alongside the river. Then I found a turnoff that ran alongside both. But over the next 20 miles (32 kilometers), the strip of blacktop turned horse-and-buggy narrow. It started to climb, and a sign indicated that I was heading back toward the Plan de Corones. I was definitely lost.I had polished off my energy bars and drained my water bottles ten miles (16 kilometers) earlier. I needed somewhere to refill: an open spigot or even a stream. Finally I saw a woman kneeling in front of a small farmhouse, picking berries with one hand as she held a parasol in the other. I gestured toward my empty bottle, and she led me to an old-fashioned hand pump. I showed her my map, trying to pantomime my destination. The woman shook her head—emphatically. She had no clue what I meant. I had visions of hiking through a meadow on muddy cow paths with my bike over my shoulder.I pressed on and soon found an even narrower road with no guardrails and sheer drops along every curve. Worst of all, it was one way—and not in my direction. But once again, I was reminded that this is Italy. Bikes and cars interact differently here. From the looks they gave me, the drivers coming up the hill certainly considered me to be something of a knucklehead. But I was a cyclist, and as I approached, each car stopped, making as much room as possible while I squeezed by.Connie and both groups were waiting when I reached the bottom. Kalee said she'd been worrying about me. As we headed toward Corvara, I kept falling behind. An unplanned snack and drink stop didn't help at all: I was beyond the point where food could be of immediate assistance (the exact term for this, I later learned, is a crisi di fame, a "hunger crisis").By the time we got to the hotel, Connie was convinced that Kalee was ready to race. She wasn't so sure about me. But now both of us are here, racing the course, descending the Maratona's final stretch. There's no chance of cars and trucks overtaking us anymore. We take the turns the way Connie has taught us, stabilizing the bike by shifting weight back in the saddle and pressing the inside knee to the top tube, slowing, leaning, then bursting through the hairpins, speeding up until the next curve. Kalee descends beautifully, angling through the turns, gaining speed at each one. It's a major transformation.As we cross the line, a digital readout flashes our standing: somewhere around 7,250th. We've finished in just under six hours. The winner of the race, we soon learn, is Italian Emanuele Negrini, who edged out Raimondas Rumsas, a former pro who'd been thrown out of mainstream racing in 2003 for doping (the Lithuanian's infamy increased when he allowed his wife, who'd been caught at the French border with a suitcase full of steroids, to languish in jail for 73 days while he denied any involvement). Since granfondos are not internationally sanctioned, black sheep riders are permitted to enter, and Rumsas and the other elite racers have finished the long course—almost three times the distance of our circuit—in three-fourths the time.We walk our bikes toward the Corvara skating rink, where everyone is redeeming their race numbers for all the pasta, sausage, cake, and beer they can handle. We fill our own plates to heaping and step out into the afternoon sun to lie on the grass with hundreds of other sweaty, hungry, and elated finishers. Our group has done pretty well: The Colorado squad finished quickly; Jason, the rider from Atlanta, came in just behind us; the cardiac-rehab rider didn't compete after all but is determined to come back; and the biggest news of all was that Taylor Phinney came in seventh in the junior division—an amazing result for a new rider competing against experienced Italians.We achieved what we, and Connie and Davis, intended. We started and finished one of the greatest rites of the grandest sport in a great country. But lounging here on the grass with a paper plate of pasta and the Gruppo Sella—no longer so intimidating—looming overhead, I find myself wondering if we've accomplished what we really set out to do. Have we, in Connie's words, "lived Italian—and lived Italian cycling?" And I realize that the defining moment came not today as we rode side-by-side across the finish line, but earlier this week, on that first training ride, when the afternoon hailstorm caught us out. Soaked and shivering, we had crested Passo Gardena and gone to the tavern to rendezvous with the rest of our group. As we entered, a hush fell over the place, and all the locals stared in our direction. We didn't see our companions anywhere. Had they already ridden off and left us behind again? Then one of the waitresses motioned us toward a back room. Inside we found not just our American squad, but half a dozen Italian riders who had also braved the hail and cold that day to train for the big race. And as we stepped into that warm room—the last two riders to come in from the cold—everybody looked up from their glasses of schnapps and applauded.We may have finished the race in almost last place, too—not generally the best place to be—but we have just biked the Maratona dles Dolomites. And with the mountains conquered and behind us, simply crossing the finish line counts as a win.

Galibier, Alpe d'Huez, Izoard Part VI

Photos: group photos coming in the future

Galibier, Alpe d'Huez, Izoard Part V

Sunday, June 24th: Izoard Day! From our hotel it was a long descent past Briancon, towards Gap. The first 17 kilometres from Guillestre climb at a very gradual gradient with gradients from two to five percent. The climb really starts when the route leaves the main road to Chateau Queyras and climbs through Le Pasquier and Brunissard before the last 7 kilometres of climbing, with sections of 10%, to the Col. The view as the forest is left behind and the eroded cliffs around the Casse Deserte is unforgettable. The descent of the southern side of the Col d'Izoard can be incredibly fast as the straights are long with open fields on each side of the road; Eros was cruising at 55 mph. In terms of shear beauty this was my favorite day. Forests, ice blue roaring rivers, the Casse Deserte, and riding through old rock tunnels. Absolutely spectacular.

By the time I reached the top I thought, "When I get back to Verona I'm just going to throw my Pinarello into the Adige River." I wasn't the only one having evil thoughts. One of the riders in our group was saying, "I'll sell my bike for 300 Euro!" That was for a 5,000+ Euro bike.
With dark clouds moving in we didn't spend much time atop Izoard. We could have used a rest as after the descent from Izoard we had to climb back up to and past Briancon to out hotel! Mama mia. A few cloud bursts insured a high pace as no one was interested in getting soaked.

Back at the hotel by 2:30 p.m. there was time for a shower, packing up the bikes, loading everything, and then a nice lunch with champagne to celebrate our giro. We left Le Monetier-Les-Bains at 4:30pm and arrived back in Verona at 10:30 pm.

The trip was absolutely wonderful! Eros did a fantastic job of organization and everyone was very satisfied.

I wonder what's in store for next year?

Photos: the monument atop Izoard, me and Daniela (note that we are bundled up), the clouds moving in, the Casse Desert

Galibier, Alpe d'Huez, Izoard Part IV

Saturday, June 23rd. I knew this was going to be a hard day, our Alpe d'Huez day. 130km with 10, 300+ feet of climbing . Ouch. Today there would be no wasted energy taking photographs while riding, it was a day for hanging onto some wheels.

The day began at 9:30 a.m. with the climb to the Col du Lautaret followed by a very long descent to the base of the Alpe d'Huez. The Tour de France first finished a stage on the Alpe d'Huez in 1952. That stage was won by Fausto Coppi. The climb up Alpe d'Huez is 13.8 (8.6 miles) km at an average gradient of 8.1% with 21 hairpin bends are marked with panels honoring the winners of each stage that has finished there. Arriving at the summit you find a good sized skiing village, a different scene than the tops of Galibier or Izoard.

I enjoyed the climb up Alpe d'Huez. Of course, I didn't break any records but once again I was left in awe the level of performance that pro cyclists reach:
Top 5 best times up Alpe d'Huez:
#1 Marco Pantani, 37' 35"
#2* Lance Armstron, 37' 36" (* = ITT)
#3 Marco Pantani, 38' 00"
#4 Lance Armstrong, 38' 01"
#5 Marco Pantani, 38' 04"

After arriving at the top I made the mistake of asking which road we were going to return on. The answer was, "The same way we came". That meant 30 km (18.6 miles) of steady climbing back up to the Col du Lautaret. Wow, what a slog that was. You get to a point you are so tired your body is telling you to STOP, but the the brain says KEEP GOING.

We arrived back at our hotel about 5:30 p.m. Everyone basked in the sun and had a cold beer. This day ended with another great dinner. This time a combination of French dishes with Italian risotto with tastasal followed by a TARTE DES MIRTILLE dessert.

I had a difficult time sleeping. My body seemed agitated, probably knowing that on the program for the following day was the Col du Izoard and 100 km didn't help.

Photos: on the way to Alpe d'Huez, a beautiful lake, the four Gruppo 1 club members that made the trip (Paolo, Daniela and her husband Beppe, and me) at the summit, basking in the sun back at the hotel

Galibier, Alpe d'Huez, Izoard Part III

We returned to the hotel at 6:30 p.m., stored our bikes, and got ready for the cocktail hour at 7:30 p.m. That was followed by a very nice French dinner featuring local dishes including TARTIFLETTE and RACLETTE.

Photos: Eros enjoying a moment during the cocktail hour with the owner of the hotel, Colette; the tartiflette warming up by the fireplace

Galibier, Alpe d'Huez, Izoard Part II

It's a gradual, steady, climb up to the Col du Lautaret (2.058 m; 6,752 feet). When you arrive you turn right and climb the Col du Galabier. It was a beautiful afternoon and the panoramas were spectacular. I felt good although I could tell I was adjusting to the altitude, running on something less than high octane. Arriving at the top it was cold so we donned windbreakers, long fingered gloves, and leg warmers for the long descent back to our hotel. Total distance for today was 44 km (27.3 miles) with 3,280 feet of climbing.

Photos: me at the Galibier summit and some views towards the valley we started from....way down the valley

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Galibier, Alpe d'Huez, Izoard Part I

Col du Galibier, 2646 meters (8,681 feet asl)
Alpe d'Huez, 1850 meters (6,069 feet asl)
Col d'Izoard 2360 meters (7,742 feet asl)

It's difficult to even begin how to describe this trip. Challenging, Difficult, Hard, Fun, Beautiful, Exhausting, Exhilarating, History, Friendship, Panoramas, are the words that first come to mind.

And, what more can I say? 294 km (182.6 miles) with 6,060 meters (19,880 feet) of climbing from a Friday afternoon through a Sunday morning!

Eros Poli's trip for this year was named, "Les Escalades Mitiques 2007". Eros, who lives here in Verona, is a former professional cyclist that is best known as "Monsieur Mont Ventoux" for his victory of the Mont Ventoux stage in the 1994 Tour de France. Last year he organized a trip to Mont Ventoux and for this year he planned a trip to ride several of the most famous cols of the Tour, Galibier, Alpe d'Huez and Izoard. Eros is foremost a really nice guy and, of course, incredibly knowledgeable. It's an entirely different experience when you are riding with someone that has raced on the very roads you will be riding.

The trip for 40 of us started on Friday, June 22nd with an early morning wake-up. We had to be at the starting point at Porta Palio starting at 6:00 load our bicycles into a very large panel van. Our departure, on a modern long distance bus, was at 7:00 a.m. Our destination was the Guisane valley in the Southern Alps of France. We would be staying at a small, simple but charming hotel, near Briancon that is often used by the professional cycling teams.

We stopped for espresso and brioches at 8:30 a.m. and made a lunch stop at 11:30 a.m. For lunch we made our own panini sandwiches with prosciutto, salami, and various cheeses. Eros encouraged us to eat plenty. Along the way Eros presented everyone with a cycling jersey designed for our giro.

We arrived in Le Monetier-Les-Bains at 2:15pm where we quickly checked into our hotel, got into our cycling clothes and put our bikes together. Our first ride, starting at 3:30 p.m., from Le Monetier-Les-Bains would be up to to the Col du Lautaret, followed by the climb up the Col du Galabier. In terms of absolute elevation this would be our highest climb at 8, 681 feet.

Photos: my Pinarello poking out of a sea of bike bags, lunch stop with Eros managing the formaggio duties; on the way to Galibier via the Col du Lautaret (with our custom jerseys; notice how 40 people that haven't ridden together before have organized themselves within a few minutes for efficiency)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Finally: My Richard Sachs S&S Bike

Finally! The build of my Richard Sachs S&S bike is complete. And, WOW, it rides beautifully! When you start these projects there is always some uncertainty about what the result will be. I'm happy!

The build is a mix of old and new as I intend to take the bike to granfondo events, often traveling by bus and train. The gruppo is 2007 Campagnolo Centaur compact 50-34 with 12-26 in the rear; the wheels are strong, but lightweight, built around 2006 Campagnolo 36 spoke Record hubs, with DT Swiss black spokes and silver Mavic Open Pro SUP rims; the saddle is a titanium railed Regal with silver rivets; Cinelli stem with Cinelli Giro d'Italia handlebars; and a no-name seatpost to be replaced with a Campy one as soon as I find what I'm looking for. Pedals are the white and black LOOK A3.1 model. Also, Richard Sachs handlebar tape (a Christmas gift from my daughter, along with a RS t-shirt) which matches the yellow Richard Sachs lettering. I think the combination of black and alloy look very nice (keeping in mind I was not trying to build a retro bike). Still need to put on a water bottle cage.

How I came to own this frame/fork (size "57.5") is a story in itself. Before coming to Italy I was considering purchasing an S&S coupled bike and had done considerable research. One evening while looking through ebay (!!) I came across a listing for this frame. I thought, "Well, that would be pretty interesting to have a Richard Sachs in Italy." Not only could I be a retro-grouch, I could be a reverse retro-grouch. I contacted Richard Sachs and he was gracious enough to confirm that he was familiar with the frame (the seller lived in CT) and that he himself had done the stainless steel S&S install and the frame was painted by Joe Bell. He advised me to, "Go for it." Ms. E used her considerable ebay buying skills to win the auction. Considering that the wait time is about 4 years+ for a RS frame and that prices now start at $3,000+ it was great to have bought this for $1,200. Through another set of strange circumstances I was able to pick it up 3 days later in CT where I had to be at a party...only a few miles from the seller.

The frame exhibits the beautiful lugwork for which Sachs is renowned. The S&S couplings may distract a bit from the classic lines of the thin tubes but they do add a bit of mystique to the bike. The fork, which is graceful, is of the flat crown type with the RS logo engraved. The foam green paint with white panels by Joe Bell is gorgeous. Sachs recently told me that the frame was originally built in 1985/6, most likely with True Temper RC tubing.

The Italian shop that did the build told me that they had quite a number of customers inspecting the bike while it was there. The notion I had, to ride an exceptional example of American craftsmanship here in Italy, I think will lead to some interesting discussions on the roads.

The next step is to learn all the tricks on disassembling, packing and reassembling. That will have to wait until I return from France.

Photos: you can click on photos to expand them

From the Richard Sachs website, December, 12, 2007: With the number of orders currently in the queue, the estimated time for delivery of new commissions is nearly six years.

The Man at work:

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Climbing in France Is Next

Friday morning I'm off to France do so some more climbing. Here's a chance to practice your Italian! The essence is: the Galibier on Friday afternoon, Alpe d'Huez on Saturday, and Izoard on Sunday. The same ride was done last weekend by another group; Eros told me that the option to go out to a disco on Saturday night was declined by everyone. Knowing the group I can only surmise it must have been a long day. I also don't like the sentences about about bringing arm warmers and leggings (hey, it's late June). Last year Mont Ventoux, now this. I must be crazy.

Photos: Alpe d'Huez


8.30 COLAZIONE IN AUTOGRIL.(gli ordini verranno presi in pulman)
ORE 15.30 PRIMA TAPPA: PARTENZA DALL'HOTEL PER LA SCALATA DEL GALIBIER 22km di salita facile/media e 22 di discesa

FORMAGGIO……. Colette ci preparerà una merenda al sacco per quando saremo sull'alpe d'huez.
PARTENZA ORE 9.30 SECONDA TAPPA: ALPE D'HUEZ 11km di salita in partenza facili e 13 di difficoltà media nel finale.Totale km 120(60 andata 60 ritorno)


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Peri - Fosse Training Ride

Today I decided to get my last climbing training ride in before heading off to France later in the week. My friend Stefano came along, it would be his first time up Peri Fosse. The climb from Peri to Fosse is one of the most popular local climbs to test your legs and heart. It's so popular that you can buy a card for 1Euro to use a timing mechanism that will print out your time. You insert your card at the bottom and at the top. Viola, now you can show your friends how fast you went up.

The climb is 9Km (5.7 miles) in length, averages 9.45% to 10% (depends what source you use), and the steepest pitch of 15% comes near the top at the 8th hairpin. It was at this hairpin that Stefano started repeating, "Oh my god."

It takes approximately 1 hr 40 minutes to get there from Verona so there is always that factor as to how you feel when you arrive at the climb. Today I went up in 59 minutes. The bad news is that some guys can really motor up this climb. Next weekend there is a time trial (named the "Coppa Lessinia") up Peri-Fosse and looking at last year's results I see that the winner won in 33 minutes 11 seconds (18.08 Km/h). Wow. When I met Rasmussen on the road last year we chatted about this climb and he thought, if he recalled correctly, that he had done it in 29 minutes or so. Pros are just in another universe.

This climb is also on the Granfondo Avesani that starts here in Verona. I know that discourages some people from entering.
Photos: a view into the valley below, a group coming up

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Citta di Bardolino Triathlon

My Saturday ride today to Lake Garda came across the "Triathlon Bardolino", the 24th edition of this tri. Bardolino is a lovely town on Lake Garda and today was a beautiful, sunny, and clear day. It's your classic tri event: very fit people, pump-me-up music, shopping area for clothing, bikes, etc. I enjoy the mood of tri's, everyone is upbeat and when it's over everyone has a good time.

Triathlon "Città di Bardolino" is an international event that uses the Olympic distance of triathlon: swimming race km1.5, cycling race km40, and running race km10. The event is promoted by Bardolino City Hall together with the G.S. Triathlon Bardolino club, and F.I.TRI (the Italian national triathlon federation). Athletes of both sexes can participate if they are affiliated to F.I.TRI or, if foreigners, to the national Federation of their country. Foreign athletes must have a permit from their Federation. I wish I were a swimmer, I'd definitely would be participating. The official website is, and there are English instructions for registering.

Photos: swim course (the start point is "Lido Cornicello"), bike course profile, Lido Cornicello were the swim departs on the left side and arrives back on the right side, swimmers nearing the swim finish, a few of the hills surrounding Bardolino where the cycling leg takes place and you can also see all the bikes behind the green banners. By the way, you can click on most of the photos in my blog to see them in a larger format.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Vini, Baci, Bici in Verona

The 20th annual national FIAB bicycle touring "cicloraduno" is being held here in Verona this week, from Thursday to Sunday. FIAB is the largest organization in Italy promoting the use of bicycles as transportation; Verona has the largest membership in FIAB. The organization also promotes cycling tours aimed at the more casual rider.

2007 Giro di Puglia Report, Part V

Photos: sunset on the Gulf of Taranto, a beautiful home near Santa Maria di Leuca, a road sign you don't often see, a brochure advertising to "invest in Florida" (very odd as Puglia is said to be the next big region to be discovered by foreigners and there is a lot of construction taking place; maybe the brochure is for those that are making all the $$$ ?).

Monday, June 11, 2007

2007 Giro di Puglia Report, Part IV

Photos: lighthouse at Torre Canne, the trulli houses in Alberobello, Matera and its "Sassi di Matera" (meaning "stones of Matera"), which are houses dug into rock, at night; our tour is officially over as we depart Matera down its stone steps

2007 Giro di Puglia Report, Part III

Ride photos; I've become adept at taking photos while riding. Not something I recommend for everyone. I use a Cannon Digital Elph SD-500 that fits in the back pocket of my jersey.

2007 Giro di Puglia Report, Part II

Photos: sandy beaches to craggy coastline devoid of people at this time of the year; our hotel pool in Santa Cesarea Terme overlooking the sea and a Spanish built watch tower from the 1500s; a group photo in Leuca; lunch on a beach, the van carries propane tanks and we cook pasta, prepare vegetables, set-up tables, etc., every day!