Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Journo World's 2005

For those who don't want to bother with the reading crapola, here's the short version:

Carlo Alberto Rossi wins the bike race
© Fotoreporter Sirotti

Now read on...

Part the first

I will begin at the beginning because that's where I am now, holed up in my sumptuous room at the three star Hotel Rossi in Domangano, which is approximately in the vicinity of San Marino. Most of the Others are staying at the four star Primavera about half a k up the road. If I'd gone there, it would have meant 40m less climbing to get to San Marino. But I'll come to that.

After last year's fun and games getting to Bussolengo, I vowed to take it a bit easier on myself this year. We were told already last year that the Journo World's would be in San Marino, and that it would be hillier. I wasn't a hundred percent sure that I'd be able to go this year, as it was in the middle of the Vuelta, but I convinced my workmates that I wouldn't let the side down if they covered for me.

There was to be no 15 hour all-night train ride this year, because I'm always looking for new experiences. Instead, I flew to Bologna and was going to catch the train/bus to Rimini/San Marino, but I took Tim's advice and hired a car at Bologna airport and drove the 140 km instead. Never mind that I'd never driven a car in Europe before, nor in Italy, nor in the pouring rain.

I had checked out the weather beforehand, and Belgium actually had better weather predicted than San Marino. Friday was supposed to be thunderstorms easing to rain; Saturday and Sunday showers, and Monday as well, although I didn't care about that. Thus, it wasn't surprising that when we set down at Bologna airport it was pissing down, to coin a phrase. I was concerned about getting my bike back and asked Baggage Assistance where the oversized baggage reclaim was. I was informed it was "over there" but just as I went over there, I saw my trusty red SciCon bag lurch out on the conveyor belt in the normal baggage reclaim and get stuck. That's why they have an oversized baggage reclaim, I reasoned.

Picking up my roomy Peugeot 206 from Europcar was painless, and I could somehow fit my bike bag in the back seat, after a little manoeuvring and squashing of the wheels. I spent five minutes trying to figure out whether the accelerator was on the same side as it was in Australia (it was. I think.), even though the gear stick was on the right. Oh well, nothing for it but to set off. I had an internet map itinerary, courtesy of Mappy.com and thanks to it, I didn't even miss a turnoff. Italy is sign crazy though.

The rain was shocking, but I figured out the autostrada system fairly quickly: don't stay in the right lane unless you want to do 70 km/h with all the trucks. I chose the middle road. Me and the Peugeot 206 arrived at the Hotel Rossi intact at 2:30pm, only seven and a half hours after setting out from Gent, instead of double that.

I crashed out for an hour and then put the bike together, although it took me ages to figure out what I'd done to the front brake. I still don't know, but it works now. Then, using more trusty internet maps, I rode up to San Marino. It wasn't too hard to find, because it sticks out like the proverbial. It's quite spectacular actually - an old city built on top of an 800m hilltop. I was hoping that the Hotel Rossi was already at that altitude, but it wasn't, so I set off at about 12 km/h (trying to take it easy) for the three kilometre slog to San Marino. When I got there I didn't look at my map, so I missed the turn I wanted and ended up going up even further. It's quite a climb! Finally I figured it all out and ended up on the course.

The fabulous three star Hotel Rossi
© Jeff Jones

San Marino, from one of the castles
© Jeff Jones

The course

I was armed with a course map and profile. The map was accurate, but the course profile was only qualitatively useful. It had altitude numbers on it, which were rather fanciful. I also had these comments from the organiser:

"Our colleague Andrea Mandusia has tested the circuit. He says that: 'It seems a demanding circuit, viale Campo dei Giudei is rising with some points at 6% or 9% in the beginning, but it's possible to do at high speed; the downhill road is more easy, without curves.'"

"On the same circuit, the prologue of the women's Giro di San Marino was organiser. The winner averaged 44 km/h and you can expect a fast race."

And finally:

"Some colleagues have said it's a little harder than it seems."

You're not bloody wrong mate! Some details: 6.7 km circuit to be done nine times for 60 km-ish. Basically it went up and down viale Campo dei Giudei with a 3 km loop at the top of the road where the main descent and climb were. I wish I'd brought an altimeter! According to the profile, the first 1.3 km were uphill at about 1%. Yes, that would explain why I was using my 39x23. Then it went down for a couple of hundred metres before turning right off the viale Campo dei Giudei and going up for another couple of hundred metres, then down, down, down for a kilometre or so. The descent was quick, until you hit a sharp right, easy left, then really sharp right at the bottom. It had more curves than an Italian game show hostess. I pictured myself doing it in a bunch in the wet on carbon wheels, and it wasn't anywhere near as pretty.

After the sharp right hander, it went down for a bit more (not up, according to the profile), before the main climb started. On the profile, it was 1 km at 3.5%. This was bollocks. Every lap I did it, I was using the 39x25 going at 10-11 km/h in the steeper second half. No, I wasn't going hard, but I know what a 3.5% hill feels like (bottom part of the Trap Op) and this was more like 5% at the bottom at 8-9% at the top, maybe an average of 6-7%. They're only numbers here, but numbers like that translate into pain in your legs.

After reaching the top, it was back onto the viale Campo dei Giudei for a rather pleasant 1 km back to the start/finish, before I realised that would only give us 5 km and that we would have to keep going along the Campo dei Giudei up the final "bump" that the profile indicated, do a U-turn at the top, and come down to the finish again. I could also see it like a wall in front of me. The profile had it rising 20 metres in 800, but by now I knew what to expect. It was 400 metres for a start, and I think Mr Mandusia was correct about the 9% section here. It reminded me very much of the climb at the end of the West Head road in Sydney. After the U-turn at the top, it was a fast descent and then 300m gradually uphill to the finish. Repeat.

The start/finish
© Jeff Jones

The hairpin at the bottom of the descent
© Jeff Jones

The top of the start/finish hill
© Jeff Jones

Packed into 6.7 km, it was easily the hardest circuit I've ever ridden on. At the end of 2 hours riding, I had an average speed of 21.7 km/h. By comparison, for the same average heart rate along the flat, I'd average 31-32. Thus, it was getting a bit dark at the end as I coasted back to Hotel Rossi. Tomorrow, I'll take the camera, but I might look for an easier ride somewhere.

I dined extravagantly in the hotel, going on Tim's menu advice: pasta bianco (plain pasta with olive oil and cheese), bistecca griglia (grilled steak), verdure griglia (grilled veggies). It was plain but quite OK.

I'm now watching some Italian-Japanese Anime on MTV, which is even weirder than in English.

Saturday, part the second

Eight hours of sleep at last, a luxury in these modern times. At brekky, I checked out all the photos of riders who had stayed in the Hotel Rossi, and I figured out that Mr Rossi was something of a cycling fan. He's had everyone from Paolo Savoldelli to Joane Somarriba stay here. There are plenty of pics of him with Francesco Moser, Gianni Bugno, Marco Pantani, Claudio Chiappucci and other Italian legends as well.

After an hour of messing around to put the Zipps on and making sure that the front was true after the harrowing journey in the bike bag, I chucked the bike in the car and actually drove up to the course again. I realised that it was impossible to find a flat road in San Marino, but I wanted to avoid climbing up to the city in the Saturday morning traffic. I rode on the course for a little bit, especially the descent to see how different the carbon wheels felt. Not bad, but I vowed to change them at the first hint of rain.

I met who I thought was another journalist, but it turns out he was just up here for a ride and was a bit lost. He had a jersey on from Wooly's Wheels, a bike shop in Sydney, which I thought was pretty funny. I wasn't particularly helpful in my directions, but he wished me luck for tomorrow's race and went on his way. As did I, although I'd had more than enough after 40 km at 24 km/h and put the bike back in the car.

More wheel truing followed.

I caught up with the Dutch guys I met last year for a cuppa at the Hotel Rossi. Peter de Groot, Mark Koghee and Karel Beckmans had all driven down from Nijmegen - about 1300 km all up. They'd stayed overnight in Milan, although they'd found a somewhat cheaper place en route in Switzerland. They didn't stay there for long because the all-female hotel "staff" were a little, ahem, too friendly. They did say it was cheap though.

The Dutchies had also checked out the course, and were a bit dismayed. Peter was the defending champ in the Over 50s, but he quickly realised he'd need to rely on all his cunning to survive San Marino. Oh well, they were here and it was Too Late Now to go home.

At any rate, we had a dinner to go to, and the Dutchies trusted my driving skills to let me take them up to La Fratta, which is right near Parking Place 6 towards the top of San Marino. It was a cool place, and we had a fairly substantial six course meal. I ate everything that was put in front of me, although I would have been happy with what I had the previous night, which was quite plain, but very digestible.

It was a chance to renew acquaintances from last year, and I caught up with Ze Chermans: Robert Kuehnen and his friend Tobias Krug, from Tour Magazine. Actually, Robert is more of a freelancer these days and has his own coaching business. I think San Marino's top brass was there too: the mayor and the president of the cycling federation (not the same person). There was also a delegation from Austria, where the Journo World's are next year, and they handed out course maps and info for next year's races. That's bloody organised!

Getting back to the hotel was easy, because it was all downhill, and I was getting the hang of all of San Marino's hairpins by now. I could watch more Italian-dubbed Japanese Anime on MTV before getting some sleep. Not a lot, I admit.

Sunday, part the third and the most important part

Race day! We had an early-ish start (11:15 on the program), but I couldn't be arsed getting up at 6am to eat breakfast and then another breakfast. That said, I always ride faster after I've had two meals instead of one. So I ate as much cereal as I could, lamenting the lack of available porridge. I had a snack about an hour before the race, and in hindsight I should have had a bigger one, because I wasn't feeling full at all during the race.

I also caught up with the Slovenians at brekky. They'd come in two proper team cars, complete with roof racks and logos on the side (I think they were borrowed). They even had a team manager, mechanics/photographers, etc. Very organised! They were tops, and I remember Primoz from last year. He asked me if I was going to win today, and I said I'd try, but you never know who turns up to these things.

I drove up to the course but couldn't get onto it because it had been blocked off. I couldn't argue with an San Marino cop, so I just parked at the top of the start/finish hill, and chucked everything into my backpack and rode down to the start. Sign on was in the sporting complex a bit further along, and because it was sponsored by Enervit, we got lots of free stuff like a jersey, waterbottle, racing food, some Zone cookies, and so much more. I found out later that the cookies tasted really weird, but I still ended up eating them all anyway. I'm not sure if they put me in the Zone, but I can say that I didn't feel like eating anything at all after eating a few of them.

This year, I got number 136, which was a bit less auspicious than last year's number 1. I didn't see Mr Agostini anywhere (he was still at the Vuelta with Petacchi), but I did spot Mr Riparbelli, who pipped me for second last year. He looked scarily fit, not an ounce of fat on him anywhere. Also there was Bart de Schampeleire (5th last year), looking super-skinny, on a super-light bike, and obviously super-motivated. Davide Cassani was there too, but he was an ex-pro so would race in his own category. He didn't look that fit, but you never know with these guys.

First up was the Over 50s/Women, who had to do 6 laps for 40 km. After one lap, there were only six left, including both women and Peter de Groot. After about three laps, there were four left, as Slovenia's Lucija Bosnik had been dropped along with one of the men. They stayed together until the last climb of the last lap, when I heard "scatto Peter de Groot" over the loudspeaker. Yep, Pete had saved it all up for that hill and left the others behind with a massive attack. He came back down with a pretty decent gap and had plenty of time to celebrate. Nice work! I congratulated him, and he advised me that that was the hill to go on, but I had to wait and wait, and not do too much during the race. I actually hoped to get away before then, but I remembered what he said.

The Over 50s podium, with Peter de Groot as the Champ
© Fotoreporter Sirotti

Lucija Bosnik (L, 2nd) and Ilenia Lazarro (1st), winners of the women's race
© Fotoreporter Sirotti

We set off at 11:45 for our nine laps (60 km) and finally I was in the race. I took Peter's advice and stayed back for the first part. Everyone was fresh, so it's harder to make a difference then anyway. It was also a good opportunity to find out who was strong. Thankfully, the descent was not too frightening in the race, although Riparbelli had the strangest descending style I have ever seen: on the corners he was out of the saddle and over the back of it, with his hands on the brakes. It wasn't very safe. Afterwards, he told me that he'd only been racing for four years, and wasn't so good technically.

By the end of lap 1, our group had been cut in half down to 15, and that was just us riding, no attacks at all. On the second lap, Bart was a bit frisky and tried to get away a couple of times, but the bunch was still a bit big and everyone was still a bit fresh. We had it down to 11 riders after two laps though, and I hadn't done much at all. I noticed Riparbelli was taking the hills very easily: if there was a gap, he'd close it in a tiny gear. Robert and Bart were also strong, but I didn't notice any of the others (including Rossi) looking that good. Even Cassani was sitting at the back.

On the fourth lap, Bart came up to me and said that it was still too easy, and we'd have too many left for the finale. I agreed, but I said 'next lap', which was when we started really attacking. At the start of the lap on the long, steady climb, Robert, Bart, and Riparbelli got a bit of a gap, which Mark Koghee and I closed. Rossi came along a bit later, as did a few of the others, but we did manage to reduce it to nine riders over the next two laps. I was doing a lot of the tempo making on the steep climbs, because that's when the drafting effect would be minimised. But there was always a descent to recover on.

The group was still too big, so on lap 7, I put in a bigger attack on the steady climb. Although only Riparbelli and Bart came with me, Riparbelli didn't want to work, so we lost a bit of momentum and firstly Robert K, then Mr Rossi caught us. I was actually surprised to see Rossi suddenly appear, because we weren't going that slow, but I thought we could drop him again. Needless to say, he didn't do a turn after that.

We had it down to five with two laps to go, and it seemed as though I was the only one interested in attacking. But after the steep climb midway through the eighth lap, Bart and I had a small gap, so we made the others work to get us on the way back to the start/finish. And then, we were on the last lap...still with five. This wasn't how I'd planned it, but I hadn't quite been able to break the elastic. I noticed that any acceleration would put Robert and (usually) Rossi out the back, while Bart and Riparbelli would always manage to get my wheel immediately.

Me leading Bart, Riparbelli and Rossi on the short start/finish hill
© Robert Hajdinjak

Final lap. I had to keep attacking. I went near the top of the first steady climb, again taking Bart and Riparbelli with me. But then Bart came past on the short descent before the real downhill started and said 'keep the speed up on the descent'. The plan was to drop Riparbelli here, and it sort of worked. We got a gap and he was again forced to chase with the other two. But Bart wasn't super strong and neither of us had the balls to take the first corner 5 km/h faster - necessary if we wanted to keep the gap. At the bottom, they were almost on us again, but as I was in front, I accelerated hard out of the hairpin. I looked back and alas, Bart had sat up and was back with the others. 2 against 3 would have been better odds than 1 against 4.

I had maybe five seconds when I hit the 1 km climb, and tried to save a little bit as I hit the first part of it, which wasn't so steep. My speed was OK, but I didn't have enough in the tank and I started to lock up and get that all-over lactic feeling as I hit the steep part. Well, I hoped the others were feeling that too! Evidently not as much as me, because at the top, first Riparbelli, then Bart, then Robert, then Rossi caught me. Dang.

I was running out of options, as there was only one more climb to go: the 400m one past the start/finish line, the one that De Groot had flown away on. I had less than two minutes to recover for one last, all-out effort, but I made sure I did one short turn on the descent to keep the pace up and stop everyone from sitting up and watching each other. That worked, and I dropped to fourth wheel while Riparbelli and Bart led us to the bottom of the last climb. Rossi was still in fifth wheel, but I wasn't about to start worrying about him now.

I had no idea how effective this attack would be, but I made sure it counted. I backed off a bit, then jumped in the 53x14 about 50m before the bottom of the descent, taking three of the others by surprise. I had a much higher speed than them at the foot of the climb, and that was absolutely crucial. It was maybe a one minute, full gas effort. This was as important as the sprint. But again, I got 150m from the top and started to lock up, unavoidably losing speed as the U-turn approached. I looked back quickly just near the top and saw a flash of red coming up behind me: Rossi! Dang and damn.

The other three were further back, and I knew they wouldn't get me, but Rossi was right on my wheel just after I rounded the corner. I didn't want it to come down to a sprint, but it was Too Late Now (again) and I just had to hope. There was no way he was coming past me on the descent, so I just got into a tuck and tried to recover.

We hit the bottom - 300m of 3 percent uphill to go, but with a 65 km/h headstart. I started to pedal, but just to keep the speed going. I looked down and saw him glued to my wheel, as expected. I'm a bad judge of distance, but I think I got out of the saddle at 200m, then wound it up to top speed at about 150m out. The line was a long way off, but I was completely committed now, and I still felt good. At 100m, I could sense that he was trying to come around me, so I dug a little more and went as deep as I can ever go in a sprint. At 50m, I felt like I was going to burst, but he still hadn't got around me, although I could feel him moving up on my left. 40m, he was level and I was losing steam. 30m, and it was all over. It was like something snapped. He was past me, and I knew that I wasn't getting him back, and I stopped pedaling. He was too fast. Damn my lack of fast twitch muscle fibres. Aaaargggghhhh, so close, and yet so far. 1 metre, 1/10th of a second - it's nothing, but it's the difference between being a 'world champion' and not.

I wasn't completely happy with the result. In fact, I was shocked that he had beaten me, and not one of the others. Where on earth did he get the legs to follow me on the last hill? True, he hadn't done any work, but he'd also been dropped a few times, and that's never easy to recover from. Either he was a complete genius at reading the race, or he just wanted it a little bit more than I did. Last year it was different: I was OK with being beaten by Agostini because he was clearly the better sprinter, but he could also match any of my attacks. This year, although I finished a place higher up and much closer to the jersey, it was almost too close.

I think I was the strongest in the race, and Bart, Riparbelli, and just about everyone else told me this, but I still lost. I'd perhaps overestimated the severity of the course, too: sure, it suited strong riders, but it was still very hard to make a difference on your own because of the recovery time on the descents. It was a fun course to race on, though. The bottom line was that I was strong, but not strong enough to get away alone. As always, that depends on the competition just as much as it does on you.

If I could re-run it, I'd probably do the following:

1) Get a 2kg lighter bike (like I had earlier this year). On course with 27 km of climbing at an average of about 5 percent, that would make a difference of 1'00, even allowing for time gained on the descents with more weight. This doesn't mean that I would win the race by a minute, but it would have saved me a bit of power.

2) Start attacking one lap earlier. Lap 4 would have been OK.

3) Eaten the last half of my energy gel on the last lap.I'd been eating for the previous laps - shouldn't have stopped.

4) Led out the sprint 50m later, or at least not hit full gas until 50m later. That may or may not have mattered. The person coming from behind does have the advantage.

5) Made Rossi work a bit more. That probably wouldn't have mattered either, because if someone doesn't want to work, they won't. And they certainly won't work hard.

6) Attacked with Bart a bit more: he was the only one who would work with me. He was even more pissed off than I was, because he finished fourth, and he'd also done a hell of a lot of training for this, even using an alti-trainer!

Oh well, could have been worse: I could have punctured on lap 1 and got zilch. Maybe revenge next year, maybe not. The course is not nearly as hard, although it does contain a few climbs. We shall see!

Not quite happy Jan
© Robert Kuehnen

The Slovenians distribute largesse
© Jeff Jones

Me, Carlo and Valerio - top 3 in the U50s
© Fotoreporter Sirotti


We had the presentations and a post-race buffet, but I was so late and so not hungry that I didn't get much of it. I nearly missed the presentation too! The Slovenians were great though: they gave us all some Slovenian bubbly, which I can use to drown my sorrows at one point. Later on back at Hotel Rossi, Peter bought us a couple of bottles of prosecco, so we could celebrate our first and second place. As he said, 'not bad for a couple of pancakes', referring to the predominant terrain of Belgium and The Netherlands. He also revealed that he'd done a bit of training in the Alps in the last two weeks, so that would have helped, I'm sure!

We went up to San Marino again on Sunday evening and found a different restaurant - the Titano - which was overhanging a wall. It looked pretty precarious, but there were a lot of folks in there so we went in and enjoyed another very fine meal. Incredibly cheap too - I think it was 20 euros a head, including booze.

After another nightcap in the Hotel Rossi, we all retired, although I didn't (couldn't!) get to sleep until 3am.

Monday, part the fourth

I had an afternoon flight so I had plenty of time on Monday morning to check out San Marino in full. It's not such a big town, but it is pretty cool. There are two castles built right at the top, and you can climb up the towers and get an amazing view. One of them had an antique weapons exhibition, and I noticed that the San Marinese(?) were big on weapons. Most of the souvenir shops sell fake guns, knives and swords, which all look pretty authentic! It's bizarre. I can understand one shop selling these, but not all of them! A friend of mine said it was so they could defend their fake country. Hah!

I think I walked every street and saw every fake weapon shop in San Marino, all in the space of two hours, with plenty of time to take pics. It's not the biggest metropolis in the world, but it's worth a visit if you're ever in this area of Italy. San Marino, I mean.

The restaurant Titano where we had dinner (on the right)
© Jeff Jones

Walking up to Castle #2
© Jeff Jones

Escher would have been proud
© Jeff Jones

Nice view. Don't fall.
© Jeff Jones

Looking back to Castle #1
© Jeff Jones

Antique weapons museum
© Jeff Jones

Bars in San Marino
© Jeff Jones

Look at moi
© Jeff Jones

Castle #1
© Jeff Jones

Looking across to castle #2
© Jeff Jones

Fake weapons - a San Marino specialty
© Jeff Jones

Downtown San Marino. It's thriving.
© Jeff Jones

San Marino's place of worship
© Jeff Jones

The City Hall Thing
© Jeff Jones

I love narrow streets
© Jeff Jones

More San Marino streets
© Jeff Jones

The drive back to Bologna was pretty quick, as I had fully mastered the left-hand drive of the Peugeot 206, so I had oodles of time to check out the queues in Bologna airport. Then, back to Gent and back to the computer, where I have been stationed for the last two weeks until the Vuelta and World's have finished.

It's been nice weather - calm and 20 degrees - but the rain has returned today and looks like setting in. I've got a few fun things lined up this week: doing a TV spot (with Scott Sunderland) for Proximus - an English version of their latest commercial, which is a pretty funny take on cycling commentary. It won't get to be aired, but you might hear me on a funniest home video show at some distant point in future. The irony is that my Proximus mobile has been cut off again this week, due to lack of bill payment.

I'm also meeting photographer and track guru Fat Nick (Nick Rosenthal) for lunch on the weekend, which will be cool!

On the not so fun front, I turned on the TV last week and I have become an addict again. It's really bad. So many crap shows, so little time. I even saw two minutes of Outback Jack the other day, and I was so rooted to the spot in horrified fascination that I didn't change channels until I had seen him instruct one of the girls on how to change a wheel on a ute. Oh dear. It'll end in tears.

1 comment:

Uncle Ron said...

Phew! Quite an epic adventure. Again, congratulations Jeff - you have another 15 years to get the "worlds under 50" title...?