Velo Veneto - Ciclismo Italiano !

Stories from the Velo Veneto bike racing camp in Castelcucco, Italy

Location: San Francisco, California, United States

I'm a 50 year old kid who loves to race bikes. I operate a bike racing camp in Northern Italy. When not in Italy I have the good fortune of living in one of the best places to ride, the Northern California Wine Country.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

UDACE Race on Croce d'Aune

By "Guest Blogger"
Bud Napolio
San Francisco, CA

Below is a long report, not just on a race, but on the whole experience of racing in Italy – the executive summary is that I finished 8th in the Veterani Category (ages 40-47), at 47 I was at the upper end of the age group. The course was a challenging roughly 20 kilometer (12 mile) loop that we did 3 times followed by a roughly 10 kilometer (6 mile) climb up the fabled Croce D’Aune (the climb where Tullio Campagnolo had the idea for the quick release and thus hatched his company). The 20 K loops had everything - hills, cobblestones, flats, roundabouts with “traffic furniture”, sections that went through towns where the road was only about 5 riders wide as it squeezed through ancient buildings, fast descents, a GPM (KOM), false flats, tricky tight corners. The 10 K climb was steep and tough with lots of switchbacks and has been used in the Giro d’Italia on several occasions.

I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful this experience was and the decent result was just icing on the cake. Pat asked me to be the guest blogger for the Velo Veneto Blog, so that’s why I rambled on in the full report below. So for the none or two of you who would like all the gory details read on:

Race Report: Pedavena Race

Sunday July 13, 2008

Racing in Italy is just plain different.

Team Velo Veneto showed up at the race venue which started at the 110 yr old brewery in Pedavena near the town of Feltre in the foothills of the Dolomites. We were there a little early and registration had not yet opened. I asked one of the women at the registration table “Scusi, dove bagno? – excuse me, where is the bathroom?” She got up from here chair, smiled at me and then practically took me by the hand all the way around to the back of the building. She took me right to the door of the men’s room and then asked me in Italian, with hand motions that I understood, if I could find my way back. Oh yeah, and she was gorgeous in a very natural, non-put-together, non-made-up way: jeans, a loose fitting silvery-grey T shirt and her hair up in a bun. Then as I was washing my hands the janitor came in and started yelling at me something I couldn’t understand. “Mi dispiace, non parlo italiano – I’m sorry I don’t speak Italian” I said. It didn’t slow him down, he yelled at me “Chiuso, Chiuso – closed, closed”. I repeated my line again – “Mi dispiace.” and rushed back to my warmer, prettier new friend.

I found my way back to registration and told Velo Veneto Director Sportive Pat Carroll “I might need your help filling out the registration form.” “What registration form?” he asked, “They take your racing license, it has all the information they need, they don’t have you sign waivers or anything like that here.”

So I got into the registration line for my category – my racing age is 47, so I am a Veterani, which is ages 40-47, so I’d be the old man of the group. There were two registration lines, one for the 4 or 5 categories that exist for those under 47 (juniores, dillentantes, under 23’s, etc – or something like that) and one for the age groups over 47 and the women. Since I was 4th in line I was given number 4, the guys in front of me, #’s 2 and 3, had butts about as wide as my thumb and looked ready to rock. I gave the lovely woman my license and she gave me a number that was different from the numbers we use in California in a few respects – it was fairly small, it was more cloth-like than paper-like and it had been used many times before as one could tell by the many pin holes in it. She took my license and said “otto euro – 8 euros”, that’s right 8 euros to race, not $30 to $40, and no paperwork to fill out.

The Course:
A humdinger!!! 3 roughly 20 kilometer giri (loops) with hills, cobblestones, flats, roundabouts with “traffic furniture”, sections that went through towns where the road was only about 5 riders wide as it squeezed through ancient buildings, fast descents, a GPM (KOM), false flats, tricky tight corners – it had everything. Then after the 3 loops we did a roughly 10 kilometer climb up the fabled Croce D’Aune. It was on the Croce D’Aune where Tullio Campagnolo came up with the idea for the quick release and the company Campagnolo was born. There’s a monument to him and the company at the top of the climb.

While we were getting our kits on near the Velo Veneto Van, one of the volunteers in an orange vest came over to talk to us. I think he heard us speaking English and thought we were a curiosity so he came over to check us out. It didn’t matter that he didn’t speak English – through Pat, and his able assistant, David Covington’s translations, we found out that his name was “Mamo”. Mamo gave us some pointers on the course – “watch out for the descent that comes halfway through the course, it’s fast and in a forest so there may be slippery leaves all over the road. The final climb up the Croce D’Aune is very steep at the beginning and at the end, but fairly “pedalable” in the middle section.

The Start
The skies were dark and there was loud, threatening thunder. All of the categories would start together and the placings would be picked separately. That meant us Veterani (40-47), Gentlemen (48-55) and Super Gentlemen (56+) would have to deal with the young budding pros out on the course.

The way the race started is there was a guy on a PA, he called up every single rider by name and race number – “Buda Napolio, numero Quattro”. There was another guy with a clipboard and a whistle – as each rider showed up on the start line, this guy would toot his whistle to acknowledge the rider checking in and then cross the name off the list on his clipboard. I wasn’t fully aware of how the system worked so there was a bit of a delay between the calling of my name and the whistle toot acknowledging my taking my place on the start line as I stood in the back waving my arm when they called my name. I wanted to start in the back to stay out of the way of the young bucks but my numero 4 meant that I was called up to start in the very front row.

As I stood there waiting for them to finish calling up the 100 or so racers, it started to rain. I was able to move back a few inches so that I was under the huge inflatable “Sportful” start arch. I was in Italy , I was in the front row, there was a herd of young bucks behind me, the course was technical, tricky and hard, it was raining and I was pretty darn nervous.

David had my camera and was able to capture my apprehension in about a dozen photos.

The race began with a promenade behind a small bevy of motorcycles and a lead car or two. They don’t do road closures here, and there is no center line rule. They do sort of a rolling closure and shepard cars off the road as we go – there were many cars on the left hand side of the road that had to stop to let us pass – most of the drivers sat patiently in their cars and more than a few got out of their cars to cheer us on – that was really cool.

The Race:
The speed during the promenade was about 15 mph, for about 8 minutes or so we rolled out of the brewery parking lot and through town. For this early on a rainy Sunday morning there were a surprising number of townsfolk out to watch the promenade and cheer us on. Then the lead car and motorcycle armada sped up and it was “game on”. Immediately, and I do mean immediately, 4 riders jumped off the front hard and the speed went from 15 to close to 30 mph, we quickly pulled them back in, but from that point on (i.e., for the next 2 hours or so) the race was fast and hard. I drifted to about 1/3 of the way back in the field and hung on for dear life. The challenge was to maintain the pace, avoid the road hazards (traffic furniture, cars pulled over on the left side of the road, the narrowing of the road through the old town, the fast descent (which wasn’t so slippery) and be very watchful as any gaps could quickly convert from a few seconds to minutes. One several occasions I saw a gap open up ahead of me – when this happened I waited a few seconds to see if someone would close the gap, but if not I bridged up to close the gap. On two occasions I almost got pinched off the back of what was beginning to be a leading group but I was able to hang on. My teammate, Alex, wasn’t so lucky in this respect – he got pinched off the back and ended up in a chase group that finished 5 minutes behind the lead group

At one point, I was suffering from the pace and drifting toward the back of the lead group, I was last in the line and considering easing up. All of a sudden the church bells from a local church tower began to ring – “Dude, you’re racing, IN ITALY , how cool is that, dig in man” Inspired by this divine intervention I found my way to the middle of the lead group. I was really pleased that I could hang on to the lead group given the difficulty and technical nature of the course and the fact that there were plenty of young bucks in the group. Somehow, each lap felt easier than the one before it, although Pat and David informed me that our splits per lap were incredibly consistent.

The racers in the pack were very smooth and safe and had perfect etiquette, any road hazard was translated through the pack, a few guys bumped elbows here and there and apologized to each other or made a joke about it by popping their elbows out and looking side-to-side like a gorilla ready to rumble. One guy who was in front of me held out his arm with his hand turned backward to me as if to say “clear this space”, he then took a quick check behind him to see that me and the other riders understood and proceeded to blow his nose into the dead space behind him.

I managed to hang on to the lead group for the last lap and was thinking, I’d be really happy if this race just ended after the third lap without having to climb the 10 kilometers up the Croce D’Aune. I had already been redlined for an hour and a half and was thrilled to have hung on to the lead group. But climb we must.

As soon as we hit the base of the climb the field splintered, I was about mid-pack when we hit the climb and just set out at a high tempo – a handful of guys jumped at the bottom of the climb. “It’s a long climb, there’s no way they can keep that pace” I thought, well I was about 90% wrong, I never saw most of those guys again. However, in the early part of the climb, I was able to begin picking off a few riders either alone on in clumps. Then things sort of stabilized. I couldn’t tell who was in which class, all I knew was that those of us who were 47 and under had 2 digit numbers and those over 47 had three digit numbers. It didn’t really matter though, I was racing in Italy and that was an end in itself.

As we climbed there were about 4 of us in a clump, that skinny #3 from the registration line, a guy with a frame and jersey that looked Eastern European (Croatia isn’t that far away) – the lettering on his jersey and frame had P’s and O’s and what looked like upside down K’s and a bunch of consonants without vowels to interrupt their flow. We were picking off riders but not many, finally, this little group split as skinny #3 and me rolled away – we took turns leading each other and then we rolled up to his teammate, even skinnier #2 – 2 and 3 had a brief exchange and then 3 and I rolled on. Somehow, we started talking with each other between breaths, I asked him “quanti chilometri a il fin – how many kilometers to the finish?” He thought 3 or 4 – we both let out an “UGH”, then we rounded two more switchbacks and he said “Americano – ultimo chilimetro” as he pointed to a sign on the side of the road. “Grazie” I said as I upped the pace a bit – he sat on my wheel for a while, but by 500 meters to go he was gapped. It felt a bit odd as we were sort of temporary “amici – friends” but hey this was a race. I saw the 300m, 200m and 100m signs but could not see the finishing arch. “Uh oh”, I thought, “what if the finish is not just around the corner – I’m burning my last match here”, fortunately, I rounded the last switchback to see the 50 m sign and the long awaited finishing arch. As I approached the finish line and official called out “numero Quattro – Buda Napolio” on the PA.

After a brief cooldown, David took my number off my jersey to return it to the officials in exchange for getting my license back. It turns out the official who had my license was the natural beauty from registration – that David, he’s no fool.

After maybe half an hour or so, the results were taped to the wall of the caffe, bar, ristortante at the top of the Croce D’Aune not far from the monument to Tullio Campagnolo. They only list the top 10 in each category, if you’re not in the top 10, you don’t know where you finished. Alex finished 8th in the Gentlemen category, he’s 52 and an incredible climber, I’m sure he would have been top 5 if he didn’t get pinched off on the loops back in town. I also finished 8th in the Veterani category which I’m incredibly pleased with. This really felt like a hard circuit race and then a hard hillclimb race rolled into one.

We waited around for the awards ceremony, there were plenty of “Sportful” bags filled with various items ranging from Sportful products to groceries, there were huge bottles of what looked like either apple cider or moonshine grappa and other items in the back of the hatchback that served as the lead vehicle (complete with the open roof from which, during the race, an official waving a traffic paddle of some sort stood looking and sounding very, well, official).

They were calling out the results counting down from tenth place to first, they started with the younger categories and after they called out the rider’s place, race number and name, the riders would walk down to the officials and collect his prizes. They got to the Veterani Category and said “8th place – Buda Napolino – numero quattro”, I took a few hesitant steps forward as I realized that the riders in 10th and 9th place hadn’t collected their booty. “Well they must have left” I thought, so I walked down to the awards presenters in full view of all. I said “Bud Napolio, numero Quattro, otto” They said what I thought was – “we’re on 7th right now, your award is next.” So I stood there like an idiot, while they called 7th, 6th, 5th, etc. I figuratively had my hand out waiting for my bag of goodies when Pat called out to me and waved for me to come over. I left my idiot spotlight next to the presenters to head over to Pat – Pat told me “they are only awarding prizes to the top 7, but they are recognizing the top 10.” Oh that’s what they said – duh!

In the end, I am really pleased with the race and the whole experience. Regardless of the result, it was definitely a “peak experience.” Finishing in the top 10 on such a challenging course, in Northern Italy - the epicenter of competitive cycling was just the icing on the cake.

It was a happy ride back to the Hotel/Bar/Ristorante Monte Grappa for yet another delicious Italian lunch and shared bottle of red wine followed by a sweet, delicious nap.


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