It is 4am on the Sunday morning – the day of the 2016 Nove Colli Granfondo! Time for an early breakfast. The breakfast room is quiet, either riders being respectful of non cyclists still sleeping or they are feeling nervous or excited of the day ahead. Now we mount the bikes, there are around 40 riders from the hotel I am staying in riding, so we ride to the start together. Suddenly we spot a bar open, full of cyclists taking an expresso! Many of the group stop but myself and 2 others continue. Suddenly riders start appearing from roads from right and left all rushing to the start line. We are blue grid numbers 2500-5000, soon we see the signs pointing to our grid start, very easy to follow and well organised.
Starting Time at the Nove Colli
I am around 10 rows back from the front row, the early departure was worthwhile. We are the 3rd start grid so will be off 6 minutes after the first group. What I noticed was the loud music; no hush hush people are still sleeping! I look behind at the mass of riders lining up behind us and I also noticed that a road bridge was full of spectators – its 5.30am!
Now the Italian host gets onto the speakers and start to whip up the riders, I hear some English; a welcome to cyclists from around the world. I look at my watch, 5 minutes to go, I can see riders starting to get edgy. I get a feeling of anticipation in my stomach, I think this is going to be fast! Suddenly I hear the count down from 10, 9, 8 …. then an enormous bang which makes me duck! It is only the start gun going off… the first group is on its way.
The same happens for group 2, and they are off. I grip the bars and get into a position to start quickly, the barriers in front of our group of 2500 riders is removed and already riders spring off. I quickly start and move around a few riders then suddenly everyone hits the breaks, hey it is not the start yet but the sprint to the start line! The countdown beings 10 , 8 , 7 .. bang and we are off.
Fast Start To My Nove Colli Experience
I guess I am 50 from the start, riders all over the road, riders coming fast from behind on the right and left, this is going to be a battle to keep position near to the front! Gaps appear and I jump through; use a bit of an elbow. Suddenly there is a lot of Italian being shouted and hands up in the air. I look up, OK we are hitting a roundabout and going right at 25mph, now we are out of town on a wide-open road. I look down to the Garmin, it reads 28mph, but this is easy; I am being sucked along! I keep sitting upright to spot roundabouts bends above riders in front.
Suddenly some shouting again and hands up, already 5 miles in and we are screaming up to riders on the group in front that started 3 minutes before us! They are in the middle of the road and our group splits in two to pass. Round the next roundabout and a quick acceleration, I look down at the Garmin 32mph …… (that thought I cannot put into print). I had pre-written the climbs points, elevations and climb lengths and stuck this to my stem. I knew the first climb was at 17.6 miles and already we were approaching 17. I need to move up a little, now probably 100 riders in front of me, luckily a roundabout approached and I could see the route was going left. I move to left side of the group and the bunch split both sides, I had taken the short way round and moved up maybe 75 places, now it was a fast left turn and round starting to climb.
The First Climb
This was now so fast now as expected, I was climbing well within myself but knew this was a 5 mile ascent. The first 3 miles maybe weaved left and right at maybe 6-7% and some flat sections. Now it started to kick a little through a town, hey, this is the top already! I had climbed with the group and now into the descent. However, where I was freewheeling, eating and recovering, there were riders sprinting downhill; hitting bends at what I would say were crazy speeds.
Now it was straight into climb 2, this one was a little harder. I remember thinking, still 100 miles to go, now is the time to back off and not try to stay with others and climb at a pace that is not going to destroy the legs. I would pay for it later if I was not careful. I was also aware that climb 4 was difficult and steep. So I backed off a little and rode up at a sensible pace. Down and back up straight away onto climb 3, this one was not so long and honestly, I do not remember it so much. I think climb 4 was playing on my mind. A quick descent and onto climb 4.
I had been told that it was steep at the bottom and steeper at the top! This climb was 3.4 miles long and had sections of 10%, then I saw a sign 1km 18% , here goes round the corner and it became a real grind as some riders came to a halt. I was now having steer around slower riders and keep some momentum up. The climb was full of spectators and barriers at the side of the road. I could hear a commentator on a loud speaker up above and to my left. The top must be getting close, a steep bend to the left and there it was, the top was in view. I used every ounce of strength I had to turn the pedals over – slightly over geared I think!
A quick fill up of water bottles as I had now covered roughly half distance, I added in my energy powder and electrolyte tablet. A quick down of a banana and a bite of an energy bar and back on the bike; maybe 4-5 minutes stoppage max. But this pit stop was not at the summit which was a surprise. There was still a gentle climb of a mile or so before a quick descent.
Climb 5 went quick, it was only 1.8 miles in length and then into climb 6. It was now getting hot as midday approached, I was told afterwards 30C! This climb I started to feel uncomfortable, it was hot and my mind started playing tricks on me. Could I get over 3 more climbs after this? Should I give up? Was everyone else struggling or was it just me? This is a mental challenge as well as a physical one.
Pulling Myself Together
I pulled into the shade of a tree and stopped. I got off and took some of my drink, and within 2 minutes I had pulled myself together and was back on bike. There was a feed station ahead, this next climb was long at 5.6 miles. I stopped again, had a cup of flat coke and set off again. I headed into a small town and a water fountain came into view; many riders were stopping for water, so I pulled over, and filled up a bottle and then poured half over the back of the neck. I drunk the other half quickly and filled up again .
Off on the bike climbing again, maybe 2 minutes stop time. But suddenly I had more strength, my mind was more positive and the summit was in view. I now knew I had 3 climbs left; 5.6, 2.5 and 2.5 miles each. I had a feeling that if I got up the next climb of 5.6 miles I would be OK. That was soon accomplished and climb 8 was easily. It was shorter but also less steep and a faster climb. I had a quick descent and into a valley road. I could see from my summary on the stem that this was valley road of maybe 8 miles before climb 9. I had got isolated from riders in front and could not close the gap. I looked down at my garmin, it read 20mph, I thought, OK this is fine, I would not lose too much time, just keep that speed up and do not bust a gut to go faster.
Trying To Find Riders To Tag Onto
Then maybe a mile in and I heard a rider coming past, it was a line out but going maybe 5 mph faster, looking back over shoulder I could see the last rider. I was out of the saddle to try and get on the back but no, the speed difference was too much. This also happened again in about another 2 miles, then a mile later a 3rd group, this one is not moving so fast but rather than wait for the last rider I accelerated and slotted into the line, done it, 3 mph faster now and less effort to keep up speed!
The Last Climb Not Come!
Soon onto climb 9 and I was feeling good, I could see that although this climb had the same length as climb 8, it had 60m more elevation so I was expecting it to be steeper. It was a real kick for the last mile or so, which I guess was at 10%. Now I was over the top all downhill to the finish but into a head wind so I positioned myself behind a few big Italians and hung on down the descent (cornering at speed is not my thing). Soon the group was getting larger, maybe 20 riders now and the speed was back up to 25-28mph. I was expecting it to kick off soon with riders trying to jump away but no, it was quick and steady into the finish which had several right and left turns at speed before the finish line came into view.
It’s All Over and Never Again…Or Is It?
I had made it 8 hours 14 minutes for 127 miles, which included 42 miles of climbing. I came 1830th and 161st in my age group, which isn’t bad for days work. It’s funny as at that point it was never again. I’ve done it and not interested in doing it again. However, a day later, I was thinking “hey that was pretty fun and a true experience when it is on again?”. Now let’s get planning for next year!
If you want a challenge then why not tackle the 2017 Nove Colli? You can see out Nove Colli tour page for more information.