Event Review

Gran Fondo Eddy Merckx 2013 REVIEW

by Andy Dawson


Date: 9th June 2013
Distances: 83km/140km
Climbing: 2,879m total (including a single 1,100m climb on the long course)
Entry fee: 32.95 Euros
Start: Rivalta de Brentino Belluno
Feedstops: 5
Catering: Post event pasta party
Timed: Winning Time chip attached to front wheel skewer, 3rd climb had its own start and finish timing mats
Signs: Plenty before turns, plus warning signs for technical descents, rough roads and then a countdown of each km from 5km to the finish.
Roads:  Very smooth
Goody bag: Cap, overshoes, socks, samples, WD40 can

The Ride:

A civilised 8.30 depart meant it was easy to turn up, and being Italy it was already warm. The start was on the main road (closed for the morning) in Rivalta, a small town nestled amongst huge mountains in North-East Italy (near Lake Garda).  The usual loudspeaker announcements helped locate the startline.

Cipollini womens team
Cipollini Women's Team

Cyclists were organised into "gates" according to their number. The Mario Chipollini Womens' Squad at the front, other celebrities and invited riders immediately behind (numbers 1 to 100), then riders who had booked very early (100 to 500), then the next lot that registered a bit later (500 to 1000) and so on. I was in the last 2000+ group because I'd booked late.

Each gate was then set off in turn with a healthy pause between. It meant that the last lot set off maybe 20 minutes after the official 8.30 start. First part was a 10 to 15km blast along smooth, flat roads in a huge bunch. The Italians instinctively ride together so you get into a pack and reach 35km/h+ speeds without even trying.

start grid
Start Grids

view from back of grid
View From The Back Of The Grid

Then we hit the first climb which was an easy spin out of the valley gaining 100m or so.  One energetic cyclist broke into song as we ascended. Soon we were back in slightly more strung out groups continuing to go super fast. Military cadets stationed at road junctions stopped all cars so there was no let up. This was good as I was aware of the 80km cut-off point. If you didn't get to it before 12.30pm you wouldn't be allowed to go on the long course.

The second climb started in a small town and went up to Mazzurega.  1.7km long with gradient ranging between 4 to 10% and about 300m gained.First food stop came after that.  Bottled water was handed out from the roadside soigneur-style so you had the option to keep rolling. I stopped for bananas, Nutella sandwiches, dried apricots and jam tarts. As usual for an Italian sportive there were no gels or energy bars.

climb starts
The Second Climb Ramps Up

May be 5km or more of flat riding through a valley brought us to the 3rd climb.  This was much more of a challenge, and timed too, with 600m to be gained over 10km with gradients from 8 to 12%. We were climbing back over the high mountains we had seen in the distance at the start. The descent involved multiple hairpins and required concentration to assess each one as you approached it at top speed. Men with flags were stationed before the really tight ones.  The more they waved their flags, the tighter the bend.

One hairpin was carved out of the cliff face so they had propped up a set of gym crash mats against the rock wall. A short ride through the valley brought our now small group to the course split a whole 30 minutes before the long course was due to shut. They all went on the short course and I alone set out towards the main challenge of the day. This climb was tough. It's from Avio to San Valentino (a 1,316m mountain) with over 1,100m to be gained, and hors categorie. There were a few 5% respites but mainly it was between 8 and 12% for 16km. It was unrelenting and involved climbing through towering peaks. Towards the end I was looking down on impossibly small towns in the valley below. 20 minutes before the top it started to rain hard with thunder and lightning. One food stop was packing up as I arrived (still within the time limit). They didn't seem to think that the stragglers on the mountain were the most in need of sustenance.

Food Stops
Food Stops

Hail greeted me at the summit so there was no chance to savour the achievement of the biggest climb of my life.  I desperately started to descend in the hope that the storm was just on the mountain top.Now the hairpins were flooded and impaired vision due to hail stones meant this was not a happy time.  Having climbed for 16km the descent was a similar distance and when I eventually got to pedal again I found my legs has seized up.

The hail, thunder and lightning all reduced once I'd dropped enough.  The heavy rain continued.  Eventually I reached the valley which was a little less cold and then set about riding as hard as I could to get in before the official close at 4pm.  This meant a good 20km in heavy rain.  All the Army Cadets manning road junctions were now taking cover under trees or in bus shelters. Finally arrived and crossed the timing mat with 20 minutes to spare.  The post-ride risotto and free beer went down a treat despite involuntary shivering.

final climb
Start Of Final Climb

Overall, a typically brilliantly organised Italian event with a finely tuned course that offered progressively harder challenges in spectacular scenery.  The weather for the majority of the day was great but the afternoon storm did have an impact on my experience. It's one of those rides that will become a memorable story, and a benchmark for suffering.

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 8 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 10 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 10 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 9 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 10 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 10 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 9 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 10 out of 10
Overall Rating 95.6%

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