NOTE: I’m posting this for Ed Husted who has internet problems where he lives in Italy. Hey, Italy is known for wine and scenery, not it’s IT business.
Several attempts to write an entertaining and enjoyable report of the 24 Hours of Palladio have failed so I will write a truthful and less than enthralling story.
Okay, I may have to relay some of the strangest things I have ever seen or experienced at any race, but remember these are Italians who believe that cycling is more like air than a hobby. The race ended rather well for me, a cappuccino and a dolce (a tasty slice of chocolate cake) eight minutes before the official end of the race then the ride across the finish line to see the winning teams all riding across the line together. A strange sight to see as the eight man teams seemed to be celebrated far more than the Solo riders, male and female both. Maybe I am a bit prejudiced as I race solo, but strange to me nonetheless.
Well, I should provide a little more information on my participation in the race. Trying to access the 24cup.com website the night before the race turned up a crashed site with no information, but I was sure the race began at two o’clock. Just to verify I did some other searches the next morning and found the unofficial website and realized the start time was in fact ten o’clock. So I was behind schedule from the start, which seems to be how I run when it comes to bike races. In spite of my lateness in leaving I arrived to register and get my start numbers with just a bit more than an hour to spare. Change clothes, put water bottles on the bike, stick my front wheel on the bike and off to the start line.
For some reason the Italians have one thing in common with the American 24 hour race scene, a Le Mans start. I hate those things, running to get your bike seems wrong and it never spreads out the field, it just makes me a little irritated. So trotting to the bike was the best I could manage, and as I was certain getting involved in the crazy start of race antics would be foolish, I made sure to be one of the last off the start. A good idea in theory, but as I had no idea of the course layout or the exceptionally bad bike handling of my competitors, being last proved to be very bothersome. Needing to pass forty or fifty crazy caffeinated Italians in Lycra was nearly impossible. Of course I knew I had 23:57 still to go so bumping and fighting for position in the first three minutes seemed foolish. Deciding that slow and steady was the best option, I just laid as low as I could without getting involved in the “race”.
Early on it became more than clear that the feeling of the race was not brotherly and there was nearly no camaraderie, just cut-throat racing, especially those on eight man teams. These people never said a word as they passed, one would hear huffing and puffing and then some lunatic would choose to pass on the shortest line possible, even if that meant nearly dying. I witnessed two members of competing teams, mind you about two hours into the race, fight for the best line down to the start finish area and then collide. One nearly fell ten to fifteen feet off the edge of the trail, and the other literally bounced off a retaining wall causing him to need help from the medics. It was two hours into the race. I wanted to yell, “22 more hours, guys”, but resisted. The second really strange incident happened to me. Needing to walk up a section of trail, I would always ensure I was not anywhere near the best line for the climb, but this didn’t seem to occur to number 25 (name unknown) who yelled at me for walking, four hours into the race. Okay, I was walking, okay I was off line, okay it was four hours into the race, okay he yelled but it was four hours into the race and if the two or three seconds it took him to yell at me caused him to lose the race, I apologize, but he dropped out not much later. I guess I must have ruined his whole flow (lots of sarcasm).
So I had twenty more hours to go, most of which went by without any incidents or much conversation from my competitors, which I did not find too unusual. Most of the conversation was one way, me saying, “good job” “va bene” and “molto grande”, often times returned with a loud EEEEHHHHEEHHH which I took as leave me alone. Naturally, I kept up with the encouragement and was eventually talking to several of the racers. Most spoke only Italian to me, so I am assuming the returned words were also encouragement, but I have been mistaken before. Three of the racers, the eventual winner and his pace man, along with a tandem, okay two riders but considered one person, would talk to me with random fragments of English and me returning in the bits of Italian I knew. It was pretty funny and I am sure that if an outsider had been recording the conversations they would have made no sense at all, but at the time it was a pretty nice.
As races go this one had problems, not just the lack of a support crew, or any time checks or any help at all during the race, but the biggest problem was the 5k course. That would be 3.2 miles in American. So as for also battling with the fatigued and mental blocks of wishing to sleep and just stop, I had to keep coming right past my car every fifteen to twenty minutes. It was a tempting place to sleep, eat and get in my car and drive home. Every time I needed to eat, I could sleep, and a couple of times I did. I slept about four hours total and am pretty sure that I lost a top ten finish due to the sleep. If I had not slept I may not have had a decent attitude late in the race, so I think it may have been a catch 22. Sleep is the enemy at a 24-hour race, but not sleeping and still not winning is just not smart.
Naturally I am not smart but I did finish and I hope I left the impression that I had a good time. At the end of the race, as I normally do, I tried to thank all the volunteers who had helped, the paramedics, the course marshals, and the good people who put on the race. I say I tried as I really could only say stuff like thanks a lot and I had a good time, which I am sure most did not understand. I just hope it came across as friendly. But this race was good for a couple of things. I realize I cannot do eight 24-hour races that have 3 mile courses, and I rode 65 more miles than I had planned on riding. I rode 300k or 185 miles and 6600 meters or 21000 feet of climbing, which has made me pretty happy. I will do the next two races, because I have committed to help promote the European Single Speed Championship, which is being put on by a great group of guys in Cremona, Italy, and I have registered for both. I will reevaluate after those two races and weigh the overall series points I have versus the enjoyment I am getting from the races, but with 3 mile long courses, how much fun would you have? Hopefully the next race I do will be more entertaining, but if not, be assured I will make something up that will entertain. Ed
Some other observations from the race are I really need to ride more on the mountain bike. I ride five or six days a week, on the road most days, but really noticed that the climbing in a big gear is not the same as riding the SS uphill for 24 hours. Nothing is, but I think I need to get a little more saddle time in off road. Hopefully up at Riva del Garda, as they have big climbs and some world-class single track. In spite of the lack of overt friendliness of my fellow racers, it seemed that at the end of the race nearly every solo racer had a positive comment, normally something like Bravi or Brava, both of which I take as a good job. I guess, with a couple of days between the race and writing this, has changed some of my perspective of my fellow races. A couple of the guys and gals racing in their first 24 solo race pushed harder than I would ever have even tried. A few of the racers were so far down in the overall standings it would have been wiser to have just packed it in, but they did not. Much respect to them, and I hope one day to be able to suffer as much as they did. Lastly, I just don’t get the eight man racing team concept and the admiration that it seemed to inspire in all the racers, solo, duo and four man teams alike. It seemed as though everyone would dive out of the way for the eight man team riders, maybe I don’t recognize the people racing. Perhaps they are real life pros just out for fun, but the rudeness they displayed towards the rest of us on the course made me think, it does matter how you win. I personally would not be proud of any win I had if my teammates had acted as these people did. Then again I am American so maybe I don’t have the same perspective on racing as my fellow racers….but it does matter how you win. Next month, April 19th-20th I think will be my next race 24-hour race, I hope for a better result, at least 50-75 more kilometers and a friendlier atmosphere. Thanks for reading this and I hope you are all doing well.
And for the postscript the official site claims a 5k course the unofficial site claims a 4k course, so I don’t know which is true. I like to believe the 5k version as it makes me feel better. Both sites list elevation gain at 110 meters per lap and officially I did 62 laps. All is well that ends with me at home safe, and I am.