Just like last year, Italy was beautiful, the food was AMAZING and the stay too short. The people continually astounded me, with their helpfulness and commitment to acts of good will. Both this year and last I have been struck by the apparent cultural value of “people over money and time.” It is heartwarming and refreshing, and makes my thoughts spin with wanting to uproot and live there. Being in Italy is easy. Getting to Italy was the challenge.
Dejay, Fuzzy, Kristina (mama), Ian (22 month-old baby) and myself were slated to fly on the same flight, which we characteristically missed the check-in for by 3 minutes. The manager standing at the desk did not hurry us in, help us re-book, or make any effort to assist us in any way. As soon as he saw the bikes and baby every ounce of kindness was swiped from his face and he turned as French as sour goat cheese. In fact, he walked us over to the Delta desk and with no explanation dropped us off with a clueless, but sweet airline agent. We spent the next 5 hours trying to re-book our flights without spending an additional $12,000, and to get to Finale for the race. Finally, the impossible was accomplished and we were booked on a flight for the following afternoon. Hotel arrangements were made and we trudged off to lick our self-inflicted wounds for the night.
46 hours later, the 4.5 of us arrived at our hotel in Finale Ligure intact, but missing a bike box, a carseat, and the baby/mama luggage. Ahhh, the challenge continues. We pushed through frustration and exhaustion to catch up with the remainder of the team, get 2 of our bikes built, and try to salvage what was left of our time to prepare for a 24 hour race. Somehow we managed to get it all done, have dinner and get to our hotels at a reasonable hour. Fuzzy got his bike and luggage Friday night and planned to wake extra early to put his bike together before the race. Nothing like a last minute bike build to set the tone for an international event. We all bid each other goodnight and headed off to put in some pillow time.
Unfortunately for me, the espresso I had at dinner didn’t wear off until long after my nerves and I spent the better part of the night before the race fighting a losing battle to sleep. When I finally did rest (6:00 am), it was fitful and I arose sure that I would crack like an Easter egg when the whistle blew. I reluctantly pulled myself from the covers and put my game face as close to on as it would go. Time to flip the switch, regardless of my excuses.
The race started right on Italy time, aka an hour late….so, at 1:52 I headed over to the start line to get a spot right in front. Fuzzy and Dejay had placed my bike and told me exactly where to look for it- “inside the transition tent, on the right, middle of the line. One of us will be right behind it so just look for us,” they told me. That sounds easy enough, I thought, just look for Cousin It and I should be good to……GO!!! Run, run, run, ahhhh, I hate Leman’s start!.....run, run, there’s Sylvia in bright green and black,…. oh god I wish I’d gotten some sleep….ok, there’s the tent, there’s the bright green jersey……but where’s my bike??? Aaahhh!! On the right?? In the middle??? Did they mean on the left??? There goes Sylvia…….but where the hell is my bike? Quit panicking and move forward I told myself and suddenly I saw a too long beard like an angel in the crowd and my Air Nine in his hands. I jumped on and hit it. Those 20 seconds were like a slow motion picture reel. As I headed out of the transition tent and onto the singletrack I knew that those 20 seconds would turn into minutes fighting my way past countless riders between me and where I wanted to be.
I caught up to Sylvia on the second lap (laps were short- 5 miles and around 30 minutes) and could see her jersey bobbing just ahead of me on the climb. I shifted out of my big chainring when suddenly my pedals stopped moving and I realized something I haven’t dealt with in many moons, chainsuck…. Go figure! I jumped off to clear the chain and found it wedged firmly between my chainring and frame. I twisted and pulled and prayed the chain wouldn’t break, and after a little less than a minute was able to free the chain and get back on board. I have never had a chain wedged so tightly before- it left a large gash on my chainstay and I decided not to use the big chainring again unless I could get some mechanical assistance first. I've learned a good deal about single speeds in the past couple of years, but I admittedly have no idea how to handle a derailluer (or even spell it for that matter), so I was concerned to push the envelope with my new geared bike.
I could definitely feel the fatigue, travel and lack of riding in my body. My pace was significantly slower than I anticipated and wanted to ride. Every part of my body felt the facts of the past few weeks---and I was paying for it with long lap times and a sluggish pace. Nonetheless, around my 7th or 8th lap, I caught up to Sylvia for the second time and decided to play a little. I hung on her wheel for a half lap or so until my teammate came by cheering for me and giving away my position. Once Sylvia looked back and saw me riding behind her, she picked up the pace…and I let her go, still working myself into a nice rhythm. For 3 laps she rode up to speed and I held a steady pace, waiting for the right time to make a move. On lap 10 it presented itself and I sprung, passing Sylvia, blazing. I held the pace, gaining a multi-minute gap and riding into the night feeling steady and strong. I never got into my full-on "race pace," but at least I started feeling a bit closer to normal...
As night fell, the Niner team and I got to show off a little. Not only did the men’s team maintain consistent lap times throughout the night, some of them (eh-em Dejay’s) got even faster!! Throughout the night, the men’s team put a lap and a half on the rest of the field and I also put big time gaps on the competition, riding my way into a 3-lap lead by sunrise. Sylvia had quit racing by this point and the race was essentially down to 2nd and 3rd place. Just before sunrise I rolled into the pit to find Chris Sugai (co-owner of Niner Bikes) and Dejay waiting for me. Dejay asked if I wanted some inspiration and of course I did, so they informed me that I was sitting in 4th place… in the men’s solo field! Ha!!
With the sun came blistering heat and by mid-morning I was heading out for laps with twice as much fluid and a wet towel around my neck. Racers were cracking right and left. The Niner men were unfazed and continued to turn insanely fast laps, now having lapped the other teams twice over again. We came into the last hour of the race with leads that couldn’t be beaten, and rolled through the finish in perfect form. Honestly, getting to Italy may have been a mess, but the race couldn’t have gone better. I ended the race 1st in the female category (32 laps) and 4th in the overall (men’s/women’s combined). The guys team killed it too, winning by over 2 laps.
We spent Monday on the beach, eating gelatto and swimming with the jellyfish and flew back to the States on Tuesday to make it to the Mohican 100 (100 mile mountain bike race).
I had no business doing a 100 miler the week after a solo 24 effort, but I've never been one to make a logical choice when it comes to physical challenges, so, like a dummy, I signed up. Despite all of my friend's advice to chill out a take a week off, or at least enter in the 100k, I got on my bike to go and realized I couldn't sit on the saddle. And my left knee was stiff and sore from the trauma of the race, in fact it had been painfully sore all week. But, you never know until you get out there and try, I thought. So try I did. For 72 miles. Then I decided that having to pedal with one foot propped on my top tube, and sitting halfway off my saddle kinda sucked. I decided to quit. Right about this time, Danielle Musto caught up to me....wait, let me try that again. At about hour 7, Danielle Musto caught up to....what?? Apparently, she and 2 dudes she was riding with took a wrong/mismarked turn, and ended up 1.5 hours off the back of the pack....the DFL pack. So she came by as surprised to see me as I was to see her but in full-on go mode and I only tried to pedal with her long enough to catch up on the news. We were coming into Aid 4 and I asked her to pass along the info that some broken a$# chick would be coming through in a few minutes, begging for a ride back to the start/finish. Danielle kindly gave the volunteers a head's up and when I arrived they asked if I wanted to keep going. For the first time in my racing history, I gratefully accepted the 'out' and loaded up Jose's car with my bike and my swollen body.
I'm looking forward to a couple of weeks away from the race venue- to focus on the rest of my life and give my body a break. I have a bunch of things to accomplish, including getting a job, and I need to move my body in different ways. Italy was amazing, but next year, I'm staying for at least a week!!