Tuesday, July 31, 2007

David, the "Flatlander", Visits Verona

We first met David, and his wife Kim, last year. Kim was here in Verona for operatic voice lessons while David wished he had brought along his bike. After Kim decided to return for this year's classes, David was in touch with me about bringing his bike and planning some rides.

David is a BIG guy and also happens to live in the flats of the southern Chicago suburbs. David's familiarity with climbing and descending came only as close as having ridden some highway overpasses. I knew the riding here for him was going to be an eye opener, maybe even an eye popper.

Over his stay of two weeks we did some nice rides: two Gruppo 1 club Wednesday rides to Bardolino followed by our famous lunches; the Pisarotta ride that featured climbing and switchback descents, the club ride to the Parco Adamello, and a ride that visited the Lake Garda towns of Lasize, Garda and Torre di Benaco, and included the scenic climb to Albisano. It was amazing how quickly David adapted to climbing.
We also managed to squeeze in visits to some of bike shops in Verona province: Grandis, Fontana and Paola Pezzo's Olympic Bike Center.
We all enjoyed David's visit and look forward to his return next year.
Photos: David in the hills near Rovere, north of Verona; the Parco Adamello climbs await us; rowboats in the harbor at Torre di Benaco; at Torre di Benaco; a view of Lake Garda and Torre di Benaco

Sunday, July 29, 2007

La Gazzetta dello Sport & the Giro d'Italia

The "La Gazzetta dello Sport" is THE national, daily, sports newspaper of Italy. The paper is printed on pink, or "rosa", paper. The first edition was on Friday, April 3, 1896; it was then printed twice a week on Friday and Monday.

The first Giro d'Italia, in 1909, came about because editor Emilio Camillo Costamagna wanted to increase the circulation of the newspaper (as had the Tour de France for L'Auto). The first Giro d'Italia started on May 13, 1909 at Milan with eight stages totalling 2,448 kilometres (1,521 miles). The race began with 127 racers but only 49 finished. The winner was Luigi Ganna who also won 5,325 lire.

Photos: 1909 Gazzetta front page showing winner Luigi Ganna

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Galibier, Alpe d'Huez, Izoard Part VII

More photos: the group on Galibier (it was cold in mid-June), on the way to Alpe d'Huez, me climbing Alpe d'Huez, the group on Alpe d'Huez

Friday, July 27, 2007

Going to the Milan EICMA Bike Show!

On the basis of my blog I applied for a press pass to the Milan EICMA Bicycle Show and was accepted! I enjoyed my general admission visit last year and hope that this year I'll have better access and information. This is the message I received:

"We would like to confirm that your registration for admission to EICMA Bicycle 2007 has been successfully completed. We'll see you at EICMA Bicycle." The show will be November 8th to 11th.
The biggest announcement thus far is that a velodrome will be built inside the pavilions. "Sixday" races, an event with roots deeply embedded in Milan’s sport’s history, will be relaunched on this occasion. The track will be used for other purposes, first and foremost the presentation of the Giro d’Italia of 2008. However, the EICMA isn't forgetting about “other bicycles”, those meant for fitness, transportation, or for touring, and is also getting ready to host the first “National Bicycle Conference”, promoted by the Ministry of Environment. The current situation and potential of bicycles will be examined during 5 meetings and as many as 54 workshops.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Giro d'Italia delle Piste

Tuesday night I went to see my first track racing since arriving in Italy. The event was part of a series of track events underway around Italy named the "Giro d'Italia delle Piste".

Being at an evening track event reminded me of the fun evenings at Trexlertown with the Bedminster Flyers . The track, located in nearby Pescantina, is 340 meters long, cement based, with very steep ends and slightly sloping centers. As always, the racing was intense with the highlight of the evening seeing World Champion Vera Carrara win the women's point race.
One big difference between Pescantina and Trexlertown was having risotto rather than a hot dog!

Photos: Vera Carrara

Monday, July 23, 2007

What is Riding in a Granfondo Like?

In the words of the Editor of BICYCLING magazine:

By Steve Madden

I have a recurring dream that starts nicely enough but turns into a nightmare. In it, I'm in the audience at a concert by one of my favorite bands--Pearl Jam, U2, the Clash--when the guys ask me to come up on stage and join them for a number. They don't seem to care when I tell them I can't play an instrument, or sing, or clap in time to the beat. They point me toward a drum kit or a keyboard, then kick it. So I bash away, enthusiastically, and with no discernible skill. Before long, they're all staring at me, shaking their heads. In one version of the dream, Eddie Vedder says, "Man, you suck."

That's sort of what last July's Gran Fondo Pinarello festival was like. I had flown to Treviso, Italy, to join 2,000 other riders in the Medio Fondo, the hilly, 125 kilometer little brother to the mountainous 209 kilometer main event, both of which, I had been assured by my Italian friends, were "timed rides, not races." If fondos are what pass for rides in Italy, I'd hate to be in a race there.

This was no charity cruise; the only gut in evidence was mine. You want road closures and police escorts and fellow cyclists who can hold straight lines through dizzying descents while talking on a cell phone? Go to a fondo, a full-on leg-shavers smack-down. But bring your best game. Just out for a ride? Get the hell out of our way, Yank.

We started in waves of 250 riders, one minute apart. Despite my protests, my Italian hosts put me in the first wave. They were being polite, I'm sure, giving a guest top-notch treatment. But I'm not exactly an off-the-front kind of guy. Nor am I, as I learned over the next five hours, the product of a culture in which cycling, in all its many forms, is as deeply ingrained and revered as it is in Italy.

I dropped back off the first wave with my friend Mandelbaum, who was along for the ride, and hugged the right curb as the next five waves washed past us, pouring by in a rush. Finally, we decided to grab onto the back of the seventh wave, which towed us to the bottom of the initial climb. And there we were left, trying desperately to find wheels to hold on to. When we found them, they belonged to 70-year-old men, who, while we pressed on, stopped at all the rest areas, ate ham sandwiches washed down with wine and passed us on the next climb. And the next. And the next.

Finally, mercifully, we rolled back into the main square of lovely Treviso and across the timing strip. The line for the free lunch was a mile long, so Mandelbaum and I pedaled to a deserted piazza and ate the best pizza we'd ever had.

"I wonder how we did," he said."We got shelled," I answered. "How can you be so sure?""We got our asses kicked by old men," I said. "Yes, but they were old Italian men. It's different over here."

The day after we left Italy, Mandelbaum called to tell me he'd found the results on the web, and we'd finished in the lowest 10 percent of all riders. He said, "Man, we suck."At least I had company this time.
Photo: a Granfondo Pinarello start

Sunday, July 22, 2007

2007 Birthday Ride to Parco dell' Adamello

July 21st: THE BIG ONE. You know, the one that the second digit rolls over from 9 to 0 and the first digit rolls over and brings you that much closer to Social Security eligibility!! I can't even bring myself to say it.

Traditionally, I do a long ride on my birthday so having a Gruppo 1 club ride scheduled for the Parco dell' Adamello near Trento was perfect. It was a beautiful, but perhaps too hot, day featuring lots of climbing. We passed lakes, villages in valleys, and a very large reservoir on a route with few cars. We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the reservoir with extra amounts of Prosecco to celebrate my birthday. We really know how to enjoy ourselves. After the big lunch we had to get back on the bikes to climb back to our starting point, 2 hours of riding. That wasn't fun.

Ms. E. called on my cell phone later in the afternoon to say I'd better be getting home as I was going to be late for my (no longer a) surprise dinner at a restaurant with some friends. I was late for my 50th (as Mr. Lee will attest) and I wasn't going to let that happen again. I made it to the restaurant with about 2 minutes to spare. Close call!

Photos: 3 scenes from the ride, birthday dinner with friends (L to R: Edi aka as Ms. E., me, Gianni, Bianca, Agnes and off camera Alexander), 6 candles???!!! You can also find 5 pages of photographs of the Parco at the official website: http://www.parcoadamello.it/eng/galleria/default.htm

A Visit to the Tour de France, Part VI

Preceding the riders by about two hours along the route is the "caravan" to entertain the crowds. Quite the spectacle.

Finally, the lead riders arrived in Briancon. The 24 year-old Colombian Soler won by 38 seconds and gave his Barloworld team a huge boost after arriving at the Tour de France via a wildcard invite. He literally flew towards the finish line, incredibly fast.

Photos: some of the caravan, the winner at the finish followed by President Sarkozy

My thanks to Eros for making my first visit to the Tour de France an incredible experience.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Visit to the Tour de France, Part V

The ladies that looked after the guests of the Club were all very nice and a few also presented jerseys after the stage. It was a perfect weather day so everyone was in a good mood and enjoying themselves.

A Visit to the Tour de France, Part IV

Having picked up our Club Tour de France bracelets we set out to find good vantage points and the Club. Exploring the arrival route in Briancon we eventually came to the Club.

Whoa! What a surprise!! The Club Tour de France is right at the FINISH LINE! How incredible is that? I have to tell you, it was mind bending being right at the finish. Not only that, during the course of the afternoon I met Tour de France winners Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond (again!), Bernard Thevenet, and Joop Zoetemeik, and also Tour Director Christian Prudhomme. When you are just an average cycling guy it doesn't get any better than this. Well, meeting some of the famous podium girls was entertaining as well....

Photos: lots of things to buy, the Club Tour de France, the finish line, a big screen TV to watch the stage unfold

A Visit to the Tour de France, Part III

Stefano, one of the riders from the Galibier/Alpe d'Huez/Izoard trip, wanted to go so I was able to get a ride to Briancon. Due to some traffic jams in Italy it took 6 hours from Verona to Briancon. Upon arriving the first thing we noticed were the road closing signs. Just about every road would be closed the next day, and the one back to Italy, over the pass, wouldn't open until 10:00 pm after the stage which would end at 5:00 p.m. It was the first clue about the enormity of the Tour de France. Complicating matters from a security standpoint was the planned visit of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Our plan was this: take public transportation from our hotel to the center of Briancon the next morning, sight see, explore the best vantage points, pick up our bracelets to get into the Club Tour de France and watch the race.

Briancon is a charming city, the highest in elevation in Europe. The historical center is a strongly fortified town, built by Vauban to defend the region from Austrians in the 17th century. Its streets are very steep and narrow, though picturesque. Briançon lies at the foot of the descent from the Mont Genèvre Pass, giving access to Turin, so a great number of other fortifications have been constructed on the heights around it, especially towards the east.

Photos: Briancon in the distance as we came down the Genevre Pass, the fortifications that surround the city, narrow streets, a sculpture in the city center, Briancon river crossing

A Visit to the Tour de France, Part II

My friend Eros Poli had brought up the possibility of going to see a Tour de France stage. During the Tour, Eros drives one of the official Tour cars taking 3 VIPs each day, selected by the Tour organization, on a stage. He provides commentary on all the events occurring in the peleton (helped by the "Tour" radio in the car) and offers insights based upon his own personal experiences of riding in multiple Tours.
Eros had said that if I came I would be watching the stage from the "Club Tour de France". Was I in for a surprise for what that was! But, dates and travel still had to be figured but in the end everything fell at the last minute to be at Briancon for Stage 9.

To give you a reference point on the respect that the Tour organization holds for Eros, "Monsieur Mont Ventoux": he is the only Italian working in the Tour de France event.

Photo: Eros in his official Tour SKODA, stage 9.

A Visit to the Tour de France, Part I

Part I begins at the end of my "A Visit to the Tour de France" story. The winner of Stage 9, Val-d’Isère to Briançon, 159.5km, was Colombian Mauricio Soler of the Barloworld Team. It was a terrific, exciting stage. Congratulations to Soler who today out-climbed, and out-rode, the best in the world. Fantastico!

In seeing Soler at the finish two thoughts came immediately to mind: 1) this is the only guy in the world that has smaller calves than me, 2) he was INCREDIBLY skinny, more-or-less a skeleton with skin attached. I suspect that we was drawn from the day's effort, but still.......yikes.
I was near the finish line in Briancon, standing underneath the 25 Meter (to go) sign. If you look carefully at the first photo (click to expand) right under the 5 (in the 25) you can see me partially in the all white hat with a rim all round, with sunglasses...unfortunately I'm partially blocked...but that's me!
Photos: Soler crossing the finish line, Soler's legs. Photos are from http://www.cyclingnews.com/

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rasmussen Wins Tour de France Stage 8

Congratulations to Michael Rasmussen who not only won stage 8 today, but also took the yellow and polka dot jerseys!

Rasmussen, a Dane, lives in nearby Lazise on Lake Garda. I've met him on the roads twice now and he has always been friendly and taken the time to answer a few questions. He can also be found occasionally at the Los Locos Bike Shop in Lazise. They manage a fan club for him; for more information contact: rasmussenfanclub@loslocosbikeshop.com.

Photos: Rasmussen winning today, the "Flying Chicken t-shirt" from the Los Locos Bike Shop, a view of Lake Garda

Next: Off to see Tour de France Stage 9!

It's going to happen! That is, the visit to Briancon to watch the finish of stage 9 on Tuesday (Val-d’Isère - Briançon, 159.5km).

Cycling friend, Stefano, is doing the mad dash drive to Briancon on Monday. Tuesday a.m. we will explore Briancon on foot, early afternoon pickup our VIP tickets for the finish courtesy of Eros, and then settle into the VIP area at the finish line area.

The stage will feature some of the classic climbs of the Tour de France, including the Galibier which I climbed only a few weeks ago. Will it come down to a sprint into Briancon or will someone get away like young T-Mobile rider Linus Gerdemann on Stage 7? This is how http://www.cyclingnews.com/ forsees the stage:
"Bang! Right from the start of stage nine, the Tour peloton will ascend from the exclusive ski resort of Val d'Isère. The riders will head up the windy, wide-open slopes of the Col de l'Iseran (15km @ 6%) to the 2770-metre high summit, one of the highest in Europe.
Coming as it does on the day after the rest day in Tignes, the climb will be doubly-hard and once over the top, it's a long, fast downhill run down the Maurienne valley to St.Michel-de-Maurienne. There the long, legendary double ascent of the Télégraphe (12.0 km climb @ 6.7 % grade / 1st Cat) and Galibier (17.5 km @ 6.9 %) begins and it will certainly make a crucial selection, especially on the steep final 10 kilometres of the Galibier.
Then it's a long, fast descent past the monument to Tour founder Henri Desgranges with 37 kilometres to go to the finish in Europe's highest city of Briançon and a steep, difficult stage finish in the Fort de Salettes.
Km 15: Col de l'Iseran: 15.0 km climb @ 6 % grade / hors catégori
Km 99: Col du Telegraphe: 12.0 km climb @ 6.7 % grade / 1st Cat.
Km 122: Col du Galibier: 17.5 km climb @ 6.9 % grade / hors catégorie
Sprints:Km 33.5: Le Villaron (Bessans)Km 60: Bramans"
Stay tuned for a full report.
Photos: Stage 9 map and profile, a view of Briancon, me a few weeks ago on Galibier

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Valle Dell' Adige Ride, Part I

The solo ride to visit Dario Pegoretti in Caldonazzo was approximated 230-240 km (150 miles). On my part I think it was a bit over ambitious but it was a perfect day and I had a purpose. Ms. E. was totally pissed, when I returned, that I went by myself ("you could have crashed", "no one would know where your were", etc.).

In order to avoid any of the main roads going from Verona to Trento I decided to ride the "Pista Ciclabili Della Valle Dell' Adige". This is a paved bike path that begins about an hour's ride north of Verona, and continues north past Trento, Bolzano, and into Austria. Finding the start is a bit tricky but having ridden it one time previously I was sure I could find it again. There are sections of the path where you must jog onto small country roads but those are very short.

In general, the path hugs the Adige River or is the middle of vineyards. Mountains surround you on both side as you ride in the valley. The views are awesome.

My goal was to arrive in Mattarello, just south of Trento. From here I had to go east to Caldonazzo via Vigolo Vattaro. Fortunately, the bike path came within 100 yards of Mattarello. In asking for directions I was disappointed to hear, "Sempre su." "Always up". What my map at home didn't tell me was that the road from Mattarello to Vigolo Vattaro was 6.8 km of climbing, with two sections of 17%. I know this because in Italy ascents and descents are often marked with road signs indicating the grade. I had a couple of outer body experiences for a few moments in my lowest gearing of 39/23; I was using my old Malagnini which I wanted to show to Dario. Arriving at Vigolo Vattaro it was a nice descent (10%; and I noted I'd have to climb it later) to Caldonazzo. As I descended I was treated to views of the beautiful Lake Caldonazzo, nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides.

After visiting Dario (see previous blog entry) I grabbed a quick lunch of risotto and started the journey back to Verona. 3 km at 10%, plus a few more KMs at a more reasonable grade got me out of Caldonazzo and back to Vigolo Vattaro. From there is was downhill back to the pista ciclable. With the sun now in the west and heading South I found that the views were even more spectacular.

I usually do a Century (100 mile) ride on my birthday which is only a few days away. For this year, this is going to be my birthday ride.
Photos: the star of the pista ciclabile, my Malagnini, riding among vineyards, typical sign indicating grade, Lago Caldonazzo where Dario Pegoretti has his facility