More coverage of the Rally di Romagna from the experienced Robert Matusek, read his report from Stages 1-4 here.
Palazuollo – Riolo Terme
This is the genuine picture of the Tuscany/Emilia Romagna, just like in the guide books: picturesque, divine countryside, lovely tracks, tranquil places and the much coveted sunshine. Although, the latter was long time coming but by midday, we got it abundantly. Also the route choice was wisely routed, with much less hiking.
We had drizzle at the start, and again the first 10km have been attacked in cross country manner. The pace was relentless, in order to eliminate as much riders as feasible.
I had to take a 10sec pit stop shortly for a chain lubing [as so often during the week]. But then I found my rhythm and was able to deal with the elements, and partially water soaked tracks, much easier. I rode with my immediate competitors a while, however I decided to up the tempo, and keep it as long as a healthy distance is created. This cushion was needed, first for the GC, second because of their gifted downhill skills, where I was handicapped due to my vision.
I’m convinced that the majority of the field was affected by the inconsistent track surface, eternally changing ups and downs and all those negative factors that sucked ones morale and spirits. I for one, being utterly positive, did better, and my mere focus was only on gaining time and having fun [up to a point] in the process.
What followed was a Garden of Eden of single tracks one must totally relish. That made me beami and had me push harder, even though much of the day has been ridden on my own, at times passing some riders ahead of me. Water points have been moved again, and were few and far between.
We faced the last horribly steep and long slick-rock climbing that made me rip off my shoes, and it was a turning point of the stage.
When I reached the peak I saw two guys at the bottom behind me [some 2min difference] calling out my name and undoubtedly all set to catch me. Oh no, Thomas Steger, Agnoletti and Bresciani were at my heels. All the effort has gone down the tube. 15km to go, and I had to up the ante. I went deep and took way more risk I would normally take. But I didn’t want to let it happen. I meant to keep my placing, and make up ground.
The following downhill saw me flying, and the conclusive uphill I was in the hurt locker. When I entered Riolo Terme and had 3 km to ride I knew I sealed the day.
For the first time, the arrival and the subsequent refreshment was something really to be savoured. 12th in the GC and 8th in my category meant that I had met my target.
Comfy hotel, delicious food, pleasant massage – all the ingredients to spoil us, and those that are imperative to do well in a stage race. The last 2 stages won’t be a walk in the park, but that is OK, as the forecast calls for uninterrupted sunshine, hot temperatures and hopefully dried up terrain.
Stage 6th Riolo Terme – Riolo Terme
The general question wasn’t who has the power to do more but who is less dead. As the final length of the‘tappa’was still undecided, we were just guessing something between 80-90km. Basically it didn’t bother me if it is even 150km, but you just need to know so that some pacing and measured power application can be made.
And off we go! This called for a very intense riding because tomorrow’s ITT of 20km doesn’t give a big realm of improvement in the GC. If you want to move up, that was the day to do your best. The legs were good enough, regardless of the accumulating fatigue. Most essentially, though, if the mind is still fresh and spirits are high, that iss half the battle.
The first 10km was a race of attrition, even though on unchallenging jeep-roads and some pothole-littered tarmac, the never ending ups and downs did enough damage; hence the field had been decimated. I was blessed enough being in the second group and to be able to keep up with them. Sure, I hoped all along that the fierce, full pace will level off somehow and I can take a breather, reshuffle, and finally, if there is something still in my tank, up the ante towards the end of the stage.
The group of favourites was very cohesive; none were successful with their on and off attacks, as those surges were responded to immediately. We needed more challenging terrain, technical downhills or massively steep uphills to diminish the group. Lastly, four of us went, just by elevating the pace. I wasn’t sure whether I should endure this higher speed, and then pay dearly at the end. But I took my chances.
I lost some precious seconds at the water point, so the following downhill called for taking more hazards if I was about to close the gap to those three. That proved to be fatal as I went, for the first time, over the handlebars, and hit my head hard in the process. Nothing disastrous, however, minus some bruises, bloody knees elbows and palm. In brief, I was caught by two higher placed riders from the second group behind, and it took me a while to get to my normal position. I tried again and dropped them. That motivated me immensely, though the surrounding scenery was a much bigger motivator.
I might be biased a bit [yes, I truly love this Country, and never get satiated with its eternal gorgeousness]. It always enables me to exploit all my power, to give more, to exhaust myself more than anywhere else.
The hot day played into my cards [I can deal with the heat pretty well]. The only bothering thing that concerned all racers was the lack of water. We found the first announced water point 10km behind the stated point; the second [and last] one was at km 63. I was at the mercy of some tifosi, and locals. I asked kindly for‘acqua’ and they were kind enough [they are always unbelievable supportive!] to hand it over. As for the food, basically, I carried my 3 gels, and if there was some banana at the water point, I took it. Otherwise there is no way to deliver a decent performance on cakes, cheese, etc. that were to be had on feed stations.
The last part of the stage was nothing but agonizing. Much of the time on my own either way, only at Km 71 I was caught by Italian Christian Fabbri [4th in the GC] who had a hard time as well. It seemed like some 8km to go [according to my Garmin], mainly downhill on jeep-roads. I checked with him whether that was the ‘ultima dicesa’.
I was assured; yes it’s the ultimate downhill. Whoohoo – give it all in your power. And I meant it. Obviously Christian Fabbri is a charismatic downhiller; I hoped to keep up with him. Lo and behold, after 5km, I gained some 500m. Admittedly, in doing so; I took perils and was at times on the verge of crashing badly.
80km done, well no sign of the finale, neither Riolo Terme, nor any other sign of civilization. Quite the opposite, I was once again right out in the sticks. The narrow, off-camber beleaguered single track begun to rise, more and more, steeper and steeper. The speed dropped significantly. It became a task of riding to nowhere. Christian caught up and didn’t how many Km to go, where we are, etc. Given my intensity, thus far and my calculation [80km] this didn’tt bode well for a good outcome. I mean, if I’m told we got to ride 200km, no big deal, I just need to know. And suffering from clinical [exercise induced] hypoglycemia, it’s not funny at all. I could crash in any given second, without big forewarnings.
The path took us deep into the mountain, and I assumed the worst: uphill [instead announced downhill] finish with an unknown length. Kudos to Christian for comforting me“Ultimo chilometro…” well he said this at least on 3 occasions, however we both knew that been merely a self-bullshitting, in the hope that the pain lessens.
This situation was really irritating, and this anger kept me smashing big gears. 10 uphill kms gone, some 8-10kph average, when finally, somewhere on the top if the hill we spotted a tent with time taking sensors. The guy gave us a hand gesture, we were finished – which I, frankly didn’t believe. Only after seeing some‘dead bodies’ [the first top 7] around I was assured, yes the torture took was over. I was cross-eyed and light headed, had blurry vision, and my blood-sugar sank down to 2.1. Those 7 poor‘soldiers’that finished ahead of me were about to be re-animated and none of us was really talkative and up for a nice chat.
Finally the resentment has gone and the rejoice about the great achievement replaced all those draining sentiments. After I regained my vision, we headed downhill into the civilization, to the original spa town of the finish, Riolo Terme. That has been another 15km on undulating terrain and my fellow, Silvio [2nd GC] was so down, that I almost had to watch and take care of him, just to prevent him from any crash due to exhaustion.
The sunshine, massage, lovely company, relaxed hotel and all those niceties made amends for the brutality of the day. Most of all though, my achievement that had me move up to 11th in the GC and 7th in my category kept me cheerful until I fall asleep somewhere at midnight.
Stage 7th Ravenna – Cervia Individual Time Trial
“Ultima tappa, ultima prove…” Ready for the rumble? Oh yes, bring it on.
We woke up to charming sunshine, an elevated mood, high spirits – mind you, dead legs. For most of the rider, it didn’t matter at all. The time gaps were not so significant. There was no such thing as one being able to make up this time gap. Above all, only those rare contenders having a chance to move up in the rankings felt like going all out. Well, sign me up – I knew the odds were that I could improve my position. But I also knew I must be willing to cannibalise myself to accomplish it.
The Grande Piazza of Ravenna embraced us in full blossom. A Police escort took us through all those tiny historically relevant places and streets. Tons of onlookers cheered us on, and finally we stopped for a while to provide a show. Broadcasters all around, hunting for interviews, in fact the small city celebrated us and we had truly a great time – Goosebumps all over. That was an amazingly nice touch and an honourable crescendo to the whole event. We headed to a remote place for the start, basically next to the Adriatic see. The tension was growing with every second count down.
The strategy was to catch the guy ahead of me [2 min gaps] and to team up with him for the rest of the march. I have a bad relationship with ITT, but so be it, that is the last pain cave session and the show is over.
Off I went, and much to my astonishment the legs responded pretty well, so I kept hoping that my plan is within reach. The surrounding scene was mind-boggling; an ancient pine forest and 60 % of the route led us via an avenue of pine – just gorgeous, most of all it helps to distract you from the discomfort. After 20min I caught up, and immediately overtook him. After I while I signalled that it is his turn which he completely ignored. Neither my second hand gesture nor anything else yielded his cooperation. So I dragged him until the very last 200m where he outpaced me and took 2 sec. Chapeau,“Gentleman”.
A massive elation overcame me – plainly indescribable. Needless to say, the vibe, atmosphere in the finish area was a slice of heaven. Gone are all those bitter moments and struggling. Euphoria and excitement were all over the place.
The bottom line meant for me 10th place in the GC and 6th place in my category [under 40], however the highest accolades go to the absolute winner in man’s category:
1. Joao Marinho [POR}
2. Silvio Wieltsching [AUT]
3. Tiago Silva [POR]
As well as in the women’s category:
1. Ivonne Kraft [GER}
2. Ada Xinx [POR]
3. Michela Ton [ITA]
Next to all of my expectations had been exceeded. What really took me aback was the social aspect. So many amicable and personable like-minded folks that are eternally assisting and have always a cheerful word for you.
The divine rural area – that’s exactly how I saw Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. The locals and support crew, just a big wow.
The route per se had my jaw drop constantly. Only after quite a while did we realize the obsession and passion of the organizer for enduro style trails. And I truly believe this concept worked out impressively. Certainly it is not a one-size-fits-all type of route. But the general echo has been positive and as far as I go, I savoured those thrilling sections.
Thanks for sharing and reading my wrap up
Until next race, Beskidy Trophy stage race, coming up next week.