After thirteen years of existence, the Gran Fondo Campagnolo has a stunning new course. Much of the previous route ran through the province of Trento (in the autonomous Trentino-Alto Adige region), where a number of towns made it quite clear that the race was not welcome, imposing restrictions which created so many obstacles for the organizers, the Pedale Feltrino cycling club, that the event risked being cancelled on more than one occasion. The last straw was cast in 2007, when someone scattered tacks on a section of road near Castel Tesino, literally driving home the point! But who needs the Trentino? The lion’s share of the Dolomites–70% to be exact–are in the province of Belluno in our own region, the Veneto. The new course is magnificent, and in keeping with the legendary reputation of the event, extraordinarily difficult. Gone are the climbs of Castel Tesino and the Manghen Pass (which aren’t even in the Dolomites), replaced by the fascinating Mis Valley and Forcella Franche, followed by the Passi Duran, Staulanza, Valles, and (as in the past) Rolle, and of course, Passo Croce d’Aune, where the Campagnolo legend was born. It’s worthy of being a queen stage of the Giro d’Italia.
Competitors on the medium course now tackle the 15% ramps of the Passo Cereda instead of the climb to Le Ej, and there is no longer a short course. That last particular was my undoing. After a busy winter spend in workaholic mode, a NJ spring plagued by cold, wet weather, and a rainy May and June in Italy, I found myself on the starting line without enough climbing miles in my legs to take on such a challenge. I was curious to see what I could do, and my goal was just to give it my best shot. I felt quite good, all things considered, but when I reached the Passo Cereda, I simply lacked the horsepower. When I have the requisite strength and endurance, I seek out difficult, challenging climbs, and attack them with grinta (fighting spirit) and gusto. But in this case I had to accept reality: it made no sense for me to try to continue. I’ve ridden the event every year since 1997, and no matter what my condition, no matter how much I suffered, have always been able to finish at least the short course. But this was different: all the determination and force of will in the world can’t make up for muscles that just aren’t strong enough. I came to a stop and signaled the broom wagon that I wanted to climb aboard.
It was cold and gray at the top of the pass, so I changed my mind about riding down and stayed in the van until the feed zone in Mezzano. From there I enjoyed the ride down the beautiful Val Cismon, turning towards Feltre when I reached Fonzaso. At the pasta party I found my Ozzie buddy Yvette, who’d been my houseguest the previous night, and thus enjoyed my lunch in cheerful company.
I did not feel at all discouraged or disappointed: I knew that I had simply asked more of myself than I was capable of giving. But I know that next year, with the right preparation, I’ll once again finish this captivating race.
(Note: In 2009 it will become the Gran Fondo Sportful).Epilogue: as of 2012, I haven’t done it yet. Another climb, Forcella Aurine, was added as well.