Victories that haven’t been expected taste the sweetest. There is no denying that pressure makes me sometimes choke. Thus, races are tackled very much process oriented, meaning I don’t pay as much attention to the outcome, hence results. They will come automatically, if you give your utmost within your power.
This race stood pretty high in the ranking on my ‘most-desired’ list. And slowly but surely, the fatigue after 30 grueling marathons and stage races this season, have been creeping in.
The day greeted us with welcoming sunshine and the forecast called for as high as 32-33 degree Celsius. That’s music to my ears, and plays into my hands. I can sustain high temperatures much easier, what’s more after this season’s gloomy weather-epidemic I’m happy with spiking heats, regardless how high.
My incredible fondness for the race is to be chalked up to the exciting competitive field. The race is well known for a tremendous large Italian armada of racers they mostly occupy the first ranks. This year besides being promoted as UEC Masters Marathon Championship, it is also a part of the UCI Marathon World series. I signed up for the open category after not applying for a UCI license this year.
8am and we are off to a hectic start, all pushing a high cadence in the kilometre up to the initial knee-breaker 28 grade steep paved climb – basically the playground to make up positions, and to enter first into the narrow path where overtaking is next-to impossible.
My sluggishly elevating HR made me wonder whether 6 days of recuperation after the last stage race was sufficient to be fresh and up to the task. But I don’t want to listen to the ‘flesh’ [which screams at me to back off] as long as the spirits are so high and longing for more and more.
I was quick to make out my opponents, and I thought could ride into the top 15. That is namely the realm I thought I could slip in. Yes, high, and probably unrealistic ambitions, but I had such a firm state of mind and was so confident, it could be my day to end up very high, by my standard.
Remarkably, the teams that want to be a factor in the race, brought their whole ‘gregario’ stuff, and I had really got the notion that there were one, two captains on the team and the rest is working for them. Great ‘theatre’ to watch this well-oiled machine, mind you, not so great being in the mix of this battle. I have fallen victim to this gambling, and have to state, that it’s not always sporting and fair the way some of them conduct themselves just to keep their captain out trouble. All the same, I kept concentrating on my game plane and didn’t let it get to me.
Feed zones were well distributed, including all tech support and area for support crews, for UCI teams as well as those who meant business. Much to my regret I put myself automatically into a drawback for not having an entourage team by me. That’s OK, however, I can handle that. It is just more complex if the race is nervous and hectic like this. Bottles were handed out by fly, food not at all. And obviously none of us is ‘foolish’ enough to stop for a split second, knowing the speed-wagon won’t wait for your fueling needs.
I just kept hoping I won’t be affected that much due to my nasty retroactive hypoglycemia-stuff, which is so unpredictable by me.
Funnily, you can certainly figure out those roadies that are pushing the envelope on rather flattish transition paved sections and then blow up big time once we hit a little bit challenging singletracks. Now, those attacks came in this stage of the race big time, and they managed to put me in the red zone when I was hanging on for my dear life.
I hoped to see them later struggling to keep pace after having burned so much matches that early.
The race dynamic got more serious once we hit the long standing gravely uphills so remarkable for alpine terrain.
And then it happened, I managed to drop my chain in a tricky downhill and while trying to get that back on the big chainring, I bent one chainlink. When we hit the valley floor I saw my chances, to be a factor in the race, plummeting. The chain sprung back and forth. I have got to make up my mind to go for one of 2 options: cease the race and ask for remedy at the next feedstation, or take chances and ride on until the breaking point. I intuitively opted for the latter, as my desire to accomplish My Day was so high.
Obviously I had to be very prudent in pushing gears and shifting as I could only use a certain range of gears. My opponents sensed my troubling moments, so I assume they would like to think, my mechanical gets more serious and I have to wrap up the race altogether.
While struggling with my chain I lost one crucial group and a gap of 400m was created. Sadly none in my group was willing to form an echelon and it’s been only me pulling big turns on the front.
My hesitant mind kept reminding me “Hold on!” versus my body asking for “Let me go, let me go”! If I was mindful I waited for the ultimate crest up to Schockl, where I meant to attack and squeeze myself out either way. At least I had to wait till the penultimate uphill. I did, however up the ante, in pure intuitive manner. Didn’t look back, just elevated the tempo and waited for the reaction. No noises behind me, the gap was there. That’s been my game plane anyway, to play it out of intuition and not calculating as much
I thought, if I’m able to keep that to the last uphill of truth, I would be able to create a fatter time margin for good measure.
From that point on I was just in my bubble, and myself being there and hurting a great deal. It felt well though as my legs responded greatly, and I was certain I can sustain this intensity for the approximate rest of 1.5 hour. In case, they catch me, it’s them to take the due victory. There were just 2 apprehensions boggled my mind on and off: does my chain take the beating? And what about my fuel stores I was about to run out entirely. Right, the latter bothered me, frankly, much deeper, as I in this frantic race I neglected to refuel the tank in due time. I constantly thought “Oh Lord, just grant me this triumph I’m craving after so badly” helped tangibly, as always. Thus, I did just this, and trusted for a successful outcome.
The last burden, the Schockl pass, in fact the highest point of the route showcases the best bit of the race and there is, besides the rhythm-friendly uphill, something awesome about it. It’s a simple blueprint — you are confronted with some of the most gorgeous views you get to see in the area, and then you descend it partially at break neck, partially at hiking pace. Schockl is relentless to those that aren’t playing by its rules. Yes, as odd as may sound, this decent requires a certain rhythm too, and if you enter it for the very first time, you better follow someone being savvy at down-hilling in general or Schoeckl-descent-savvy in particular.
It is way taxing and the corners are way too unpredictable. In case you over-shoot one you will be lost. Hence it never is a good thing to tackle the downhill cross-eyed after the stressing uphill. Easier said than done, though, as once I reached the peak, I was fairly light headed, partly due to fallen blood sugar level as well as agonizing exhaustion while cresting. I grabbed the last smallish piece of banana, which by the way, amounted up to the total energy intake of 2 bananas and one single day for the entirely intense race period of 5hour 29min. Naturally, I was constantly sucking on my bottle filled with totally diluted iso-drink [some 2%], but still, it was far cry to be suffice.
As good luck would have it, I was in great flow in the rock-garden-like downhill, where track experience paid off. I also managed to join forces with Paolo Rossola, the famous Italian coach, also known as Paola Pezzo’s [2x XC Olympic winner] husband. I dropped him 2 times in the subsequent uphills, however he was able to catch up and lead me in the treacherous downhill. This man rocks, and I leveraged his riding skill to gain more time on my opponents.
Its incredulous, how far I was able to push my body to do more, despite being on the verge of collapse from exhaustion and lack of ‘firewood’. Mind you, knowing, the win is to be grabbed and I’m so close to nail it down, gave me unknown boost.
It’s done – crossing the finish line is unreal and illusive. I was speechless and running out of words of praise, even though God knows how grateful I am for this.
I took a laid-back attitude right after I had concluded my 25th marathon/race this season, and kept stating: Anything else follows this amount of achievements this year, is just a bonus”
So, basically, I would have been superbly happy with ‘just’ finished-races as well. Therefore, I categorize this win as my personal overachievement.