I find myself overtaking quite a few riders without much effort: are they taking it slow or am I speeding up too much? I pass by twists and turns of the road feeling confident and with my tires glued to the ground. I pass by many riders who are fixing their flat tires on the side of the roads, I hope I do not have the same inconvenience.
At the bottom of the hill an ambulance is giving help to a rider who slipped on the wet train tracks crossing the street. The Race staff is warning us “slow down!” I slow down to “walking speed” and I cross the railroad. The injured girl looks pissed off, she is probably envisioning next year race already.
From this point onwards, I only have to climb up 2 to 3 Kilometers hills, very easy and not steep at all. I pass by small towns with curious kids looking at us from the sides of the streets. The streets have no cars, and many people may have left for the day, to leave space for the organization and the riders. It feels like riders Paradise. Everything revolves around the race.
I come to the crossing point of the “167Km route” I could choose to follow that path and end the race at 167KM, since the participants are given the choice of three lengths. I am here to DO IT ALL, so I keep riding. And follow the longer routes.
After 100KM I stop just to take a leak but I feel great, my cardio is telling me I am under a minor effort and my legs feel they have more in them. I eat some fruits and a cheese sandwich. I fill the two bottles, one with water and one with the mysterious and not so pleasant drink they offer us, at the end of the route I will no longer stand the smell of that energy drink. I pick up a few energy bars and some gel, but my homemade bars are still the best! I walk around a few bikes and get back on mine, waiting for me near a tree.
The scenery turns amazing, we are in the heart of the Sierra de Tramontana, an area which since 2011 has entered the UNESCO World Heritage. The deep blue sea, the rocks, the small villages dotting the hills covered in Olive Trees, winding roads connecting the little houses. It vaguely reminds me of the Cinque Terre, but here it is wilder and the sea is darker.
The sun is coming out of the clouds, I take off one of the jackets.I pass by other “characters” including a guy I name the “Rapha Man”, with a perfect Rapha outfit and the brand logo printed in white characters on his short-bib. I will encounter him a few times during the route. Sometimes I overtake him, sometimes he does.
The climb that leads to the next feeding point is way steeper than the others, it gets up to 12% steepness and after 150KM some riders are starting to feel tiredness, and so do my legs. I switch to 34×29 and I keep riding uphill at my standard pace, keeping an eye to the heart-monitor to make sure I never go over 150bpm. After 5 very tough kilometers I reach the 150Km rest-stop thinking I have already reached a higher vertical than the Diavolo in Versilia, my last granfondo.
I start off again convinced to have finished all the uphill segments, but actually there are 5 more steep kilometers to climb. I go for it and on the descent I search for a “train” that can drive me to the 200Km mark. I find one but the riders around me look like athletes from a magazine: perfect muscles and super-pro apparels, I see Rapha-man amongst them. I start to suffer, they speed like hell (when I get to the end my Strava app shows me that on this segment I kept 40KMph as average speed!). I start feeling that their pace is too much for me, but there is nobody behind me “shall I keep pushing or shall I ride solo?”. A lateral wind is bothering me. I lag behind and feel the isolation of the situation. 15 kilometers to the next stop, I fear I will lose spirit if I have to go all alone for such a long flat stretch.
Some riders at the side of the road fix their flat tires. I think that if I get a flat tire I give up, my head is giving up. I feel slow, as if I had to drag a parachute behind me. Everytime I have a glance at the Suunto only few meters have passed. Perhaps I should have just slowed down waiting for some proper train to drag me forward.
At the 190Km rest-stop I am weak and hungry. I cannot believe I did try to follow that crazy train, I should have known it was not my thing! While resting and drinking and getting a 5 minute rest I can feel the energy getting back to my head and my legs. I eat a frozen ham sandwich and drink a cold coke, some drops of rain are starting to fall: it is time to get back in the saddle.