As I take a deep breath to compose myself a steal one final look away from the countdown timer. Under a setting sun, a tree lined avenue filled with pink balloons and crowds of excited people, the opening 200m awaits. I glance back to the clock – 10 seconds to go. Moments later, adrenaline surging, I powered down the start ramp, slotted into the team time trial train – I’d begun.
I take a moment to look over my right shoulder. The sun is beating down on a glistening sea, the promenade is lined with cheering children, cycling fans and holiday makers. As I look ahead I see the finishing line nearing, pink balloons flying and with one final push I lift me tired body from the saddle and freewheel over the line. Relief and happiness hit me – I’d made it.
The first and last moments of my debut Giro de Rosa will be special memories but the 10 days and over a 1000km of racing from Grado to Napoli that separate them provide countless tales too.
The stages themselves could each warrant a race report but the daily constants of a fast pace, suffering, and the heat (as well the post-race dinner of chicken and pasta or pasta and chicken!) remain a common theme.
Day 2 would be marred by an ill timed crash, a broken radio, a confused bike change and ultimately see me riding the remaining 40km of the stage alone as I attempted to regain contact with the race.
Day 3 and 4 would be the reality check of the speed of world tour racing. The first hour of day 3 would see an average speed approaching 45kmph and leave me clinging to the rear of the peloton and in a constant battle to move up. Likewise the sudden acceleration in speed the following day as Boels split the field would again leave me fighting to stay in wheels and serve another lesson in the importance of positioning.
Day 5 would be the test of the travilator. For me the individual TT was going well, as I’d caught my minute girl and had the second in sight. That was until the final km and the 30% climb. As the road ramped up I clicked my shifter to only realise there were no more gears… As my speed slowed, the ominous beep of my pioneer auto pause chimed and I reverted to a ‘weave and heave’ method to haul myself up to the finish. The last kilometer incidentally taking me 6.5 minutes to complete!
Day 6 would be relatively uneventful but a reminder as to the ‘hidden climbs’ and deception of a Giro roadbook. The WiFi-less, air conditioning-less hotel would also live up to Giro reputation that evening!
Days 7 and 8 (the long road stages) would be a blur of pain and suffering as the 140km mountainous stages took their toll. I would try in vain to position myself well for the climbs but invariably I would find myself too far back. As my strength waned I’d find myself drifting back into the grupettos and simply focusing on just finishing.
Day 9 was the lesson in how far you can push yourself. After 3 days of stomach issues and riding on empty (quite literally!) there was a debate as to whether I should start. Lining up I seriously wondered how I would even being able to pedal but with a determination and stubbornness to finish I survived again.
Day 10 and the finale would be fast once more and for me a countdown of the kilometres. As they ticked by I continued to dig deep and actually rode to my best stage position of the race (54th). Perhaps I’d finally managed to get the knack of positioning myself well for climbs – it had only taken 10 days!
My first giro didn’t provide any results and under normal circumstances I’d be disappointed with my 112th on GC and particularly with my climbing. However, after everything that has plagued this year just making the finish line on the Amalfi coast was an achievement. I’ve learnt a lot both about myself and world tour racing which I hope will only make me stronger in the future.
As always a big thank you to the Dave Rayner Fund who have continually supported me and enabled me to make my comeback. Thank you!
A final word to send my best wishes and thoughts to Claudia Cretti who unfortunately crashed on day 7 suffering serious head injuries. Forza Claudia!