This will be the first of probably a fair few "nostalgia" posts, given that the tight restrictions here in Italy will be for a while yet. Some posts will be of glory, some of misfortune, and some for entertainment purposes...
The Italian 24hr Championships (The Serenissima 24hr) Veneto, Italy. 2012.
The hottest, hardest and most brutal race i've ever done.
Hard to describe the race any other way. Even before the race started it was obvious it was going to be a race of pure attrition and endurance. And insanity... Luckily those are my strong points! The race was held in a town called Barbarano Vicentino, which is situated about 60km west of Venice. It's a beautiful little town right in the middle of wine country and shuts down for the mountain bike race, with the whole town coming out making it a real festive atmosphere. Big crowds, cheering, music... A true Italian race.
The night before I had dinner with one of my main rivals (who is also a good friend) Matteo Melis. We spoke about how we thought the race would be, other riders, etc. We always had a great mutual respect and got along quite well. Although we often battled each other on the bike, we also wished each other "in boca al lupo" (good luck) for every race.
So it was the middle of summer with temperatures of around 40 degrees. Then there was a heat wave on top of that... Combined with the fact the race course winds through wine vineyards that seemed to trap heat and create a furnace-like, thick feeling. Not to mention it was the National Champs, which in Italy is akin to the world champs.
The course was about 7kms in length with 200+m of elevation. Steep, power climbs and non technical. Easily my favourite 24hr course. I was racing for team Scott-New Limits at the time and was well supported at races with equipment and personnel.
The race kicked off at around midday and even on the start line we were dripping in sweat. Thoughts of tactics were out the window as it was obvious that we were racing against ourselves and the elements... So I started the race in my usual way - fast and attacking every climb. Not exactly what was called for but I always found pacing so boring. By night time I was wrecked and grinding away.
Even during the dark hours the temperature was high 30's. I'd spend a lap drenched in water with my jersey zipped up then a lap with my jersey open.
At around midnight I was in 3rd, with 1st and 2nd basically the same lap or one ahead. No respite into the early hours of the morning and when sun up came, everyone was again waiting for the "inferno" to return.
On the Sunday and into the final 6hrs of the race, it was pure carnage. Riders were collapsing and being pulled off their bikes by the support crews. The top three didn't change as we continued to chase each other around the vineyards. I was making ground on the front two but very slowly. Also in the heat it's so difficult to eat so keeping up energy levels was hard.
With two hours to go, I decided to give it one last surge. One last all out effort. Matteo was in 2nd place and I managed to pass him without having to attack. He was clearly on his last legs. In first was Rudolf Springer from Austria. Another longtime rival of mine. When I caught him, it was just before a short, punchy climb. Perfect to get a "run up" at him just as we hit it; the point being so he wouldn't be able to follow my wheel... And it managed to work. I kept the pace on until the finish of the race but at that stage I was struggling to focus.
I ended up with 428km and 10 000+m of elevation, 20km ahead of Matteo and Valter Di Cesare in 3rd. Springer actually collapsed and couldn't continue, finishing in 4th.
In the weeks after this race I had constant headaches and was so flat. At the time I had done a few 24hr seasons and was quite conditioned to the demands but this race hurt me quite a bit. But at the same time it was so enjoyable. The fight and struggle is what's always drawn me to endurance events.
Until next time...