Read what happened before: Day 3
The alarm went off at 7am and true to form, I snoozed it. Eventually I got out of bed at 7.40, which was a little problematic as we were meant to leave at 8am. We didn’t end up leaving the farm until 8.40, which left us precisely 5 minutes to get to the start line, about 5km away. Stu was left behind and had to ride to the start line with his race number hanging on by a thread and his jersey in his mouth.
We arrived at the start to find the race was underway. Women were meant to start at the front, but they were long gone and I started at the back. This was fine as I got to chat to my friends from the day before. We rolled slowly forward, picking up speed until we crossed the line, riding over confetti that had been fired at the actual start. And we were off!
A few kilometers in and we were all still bunched together. I was chatting to Bernie and feeling a little apprehensive. Suddenly in front of us we saw a man who had come off his bike, blood dripping from his face, his bike propped up by the side and his worried friends standing around. Paramedics were already in attendance, which reassured me a lot as I rode over a wet patch on the ground. Hang on, that’s not water… that’s blood. From his face.
I avoided slipping on the pool of blood and rode on. I heard a dreadful racket behind me. Metal scraped metal in a way that sounded like it was doing the bike quite a lot of damage. I turned to give the culprit a disapproving look, only to see that the culprit was Stu. “It’s my bottom bracket! It’s fucked” he told me, cheerfully. I could only really laugh. We posed for some photographers and sped on our way.
Ascending was tough but fine and I wasn’t as slow as I thought I might be, but I got dropped on the descents as I am scared of descending, post-accident. I’d been told that these were “rolling hills” but 15% is not what I’d call a rolling hill! I trundled on, forever alone, overtaking on hills and humming to myself. I got chatting to a man called Andy (what a nice solid traditional Italian name!). We played ‘guess the gradient’ for a while, as I was convinced that we were on the flat, whereas his garmin said we were on a 2% incline, and had a nice chat. I told him about the adventures of the day before, and he told me that two of his group had had accidents yesterday – one was in a hospital in Trento with a broken collarbone and the other had torn a massive hole in their hand. Luckily a member of the group was a doctor and had stitched the hand back together and they were riding today.
Going into some woods, some boy racer decided that it was a good time to try to overtake, almost causing a crash, and I came across one of my friends from the day before. I heard him before I saw him as he had ridiculously deep carbon wheels and his bike made a “wooom wooom wooom” noise. He was a lovely man but much faster than me so we didn’t get to chat for long.
After a brief refuelling stop (cake!) I set off, alone once more. I kind of wished I had my ipod with me. There were some big ups and some big downs, but then I rounded a corner and saw the most ridiculous hill. From all around there were cries of “fuck OFF”, “no way!” and “I’m turning back!” in various different languages. At first it was tough. Then it was tougher. A man shouted “you’re nearly there!” and a wave of relief rushed over me… followed by a wave of anger, as we weren’t nearly there at all!! I stopped at the top and took some painkillers as my back was pretty sore, then limped to another food stop. Andy showed up again and we grimaced at each other.
I clipped back in and carried on. There were loudspeakers in the trees, announcing in four languages that the route was splitting: the longer route (120km) to the left, the shorter (80km) route to the right. There were signposts and arrows and people signalling which way to go. I’d always said I’d do the shorter route, though I’d secretly been toying with the idea of the longer route. When it came to it there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation: I was going for the shorter route.
I got chatting to an american guy, who kept drafting me. An italian roadie was out too and he was pretty fond of drafting me too. This was fine (not really) until inevitably my hand went numb and I had to ride with it outstretched, looking like I was doing some strange interpretive dance.
By now I was starting to feel a little bit tired, and a bit sick of beautiful picturesque italian villages. There was another food stop, and two extremely jovial italian men force fed me bits of melon. I told them that I didn’t speak italian but I don’t think they believed me as they kept speaking to me. Eventually I figured out that they were telling me that the finish was only 5km away! I told one of the men that I loved him then decided I’d better leave before he took me seriously and set off, forever alone once again.
I started to recognise things, and managed a cheery wave at an elderly man shouting “brava!” at me. The cheer dissolved as a coach nearly swiped me off the road, and I had to jump into a ditch, still clipped in to my pedals. I emerged, covered in chain oil and general dirt from the ditch, and got back on the bike.
Although I’d been told that the end wasn’t far off, I didn’t completely believe it until I saw a sign saying 3km to go. I really recognised the route now as it was part of the way from our farm into town. I passed the 2km sign. Then the 1km sign. A car pulled out in front of me, nearly scuppering my race 800 metres from the finish line. I turned a corner and there was the finish… up hill? I was pretty sure it hadn’t been uphill earlier. Never mind – pedal pedal pedal and then cheers from the crowd near the line, and as I crossed the line, more cheers and someone shouting my name! It was Elle, camera in hand, cheering me! I grinned, sat back on my saddle and took my (poor, numb) hands of the handlebars.
Just back from the line there were people handing out medals and flowers – I was given both as I’d finished within the time for the sportive. The man handing out the flowers had no teeth and was quite insistent on wanting to kiss me. I spotted Bernie and after handing back my chip timer, we went to find Elle, and had a conversation like this.
Me: Bernie, I’m surprised that you did the shorter route, you said you were going to do the long route!
Bernie: I did do the long route! I absolutely smashed it!
Me: Wow, it’s 120km and you’re back already! What time did you do it in?
Bernie: 2 hours 25. It was great, I found a big group of Italian roadies and hung onto the back of them.
Me: Gosh. That’s amazing. I feel pretty slow now.
Elle: Bernie, you can’t have done the long route!
Bernie: I did!
Elle: But Bernie, here comes the winner of the long route now!
And sure enough, over the line came the winners of the long route, with a time of 3 hours 20 minutes.
Elle and I took up residence on the railings by the finish line, and kept our eyes open for the rest of the riders. She thought that Alistair would do a good time and we kept an anxious eye out for him – finally we saw his team jersey and he came over the line. Hollie and Katy followed, and joined us for cheering. The crowds had really thinned out so I was trying to cheer anyone who looked either tired or particular attractive.
We were all starting to feel hungry, and decided to decamp to a cafe and wait for Stu and Al, the last remaining riders of our group. “Pizza Darling”, a fairly unfriendly but completely functional pizzeria, fit the bill and was conveniently located around the corner. We ordered beer and pizza, and as if on cue, Stu and Al turned up. The pizzas disappeared very quickly and the beer seemed to evaporate.
Once we had suitably stuffed our faces, we went to the square to find our times. I’d done it in 2 hours 56 minutes, which I thought was probably alright. We then started riding home, via the supermarket and on to the gelateria. I think the only reason I ride bikes is so that I can eat lots!
That evening we lounged about, drinking prosecco and eating pasta. I made a valiant attempt to consume an entire bag of biscotti, and later managed to get myself stuck on some flypaper.
Read what happens next: Day 5