We travelled out to Trento via Milan on 19th September. There was a team relay on that day, but I didn't try to fit this into the schedule. My first race was the time trial on the morning of Friday 20th. The route was certainly a challenging one, a 4km alpine descent, undulating valley road and a 2km climb back to the ridge before a final subtle uphill drag to the finish. The race organisers described it as a TT for specialists, but it certainly wasn't a typical GB dual carriageway TT. With 30s start intervals, it was inevitable that I would see other riders. After my previous experience of TTing abroad, I was fearful that I would be shown up, and a poor start without getting clipped in before I set off didn't help to calm the nerves. But having the two girls who started 60s and 90s before me in sight before the top of the first climb gave me more confidence. I had made a tactical decision to race on my climbing wheels rather than my TT wheels to give me a feeling of security on the fast descent, and this helped too. On the flatter part of the course by Lago di Cavedine I caught my 60s girl, and had my 90s girl in sight. I made the next catch on the lower slopes of the climb, but was also caught by the girl who had started 90s behind me - yikes! The temptation to dig in and sit on her wheel was huge as we were on the climb, but as soon as I did it, I realised that I could not, and dropped back. I kept pushing hard all the way to the finish, completing the course in 44mins, and feeling pleased with my performance. Watching the others arriving at the finish, I realised that I had likely beaten all but 2 or 3 of the other girls in my class. Unfortunately, problems with the results software, combined with a lot of riders not wearing their transponders meant that results were not available for hours after we all finished. We took a punt on not attending the prizegiving that evening, which was a good decision, as I finished a very proud 4th (although not finding out for definite until 24hrs after I had finished!).
The big race for me was the road race on the Sunday. Now, this isn't your typical British multi-loop road race on a flattish course with possibly a short hill coming up to the finish line. The road race is billed as a Gran Fondo - similar to a sportive in nature, with the added fun of a mass start, and even better, closed roads. And of course, Gran Fondo means hills, BIG hills. This route took in 3000m of ascent in 112km, with the final climb of Monte Bondone being 21km long and 6.8% average gradient.
I was in the first group off, and we dawdled along the road until the rest of the girls caught us up, then the hammer went down up the first short climb. None of the other girls were really doing anything that scared me on that climb and I kept pace with the leaders well. By the time we were heading back south down the valley, groups were catching from behind all the time, creating what must have been a peloton of close to 1000 riders – it must have been some sight, and only a little terrifying. It was also a real challenge to keep an eye on where your competitors were – thank goodness for different coloured numbers. I was amazed that there were no crashes at sharp corners and roundabouts, and soon enough we arrived at the bottom of the second climb (of about 10km) up to Lago di Cei. I had worked hard to keep a good position in the huge peloton coming down the valley, and I may have paid for this on the climb, as several pink numbers cycled past and away from me. I just kept telling myself not to panic, that the peloton would regroup heading back up the valley, and Monte Bondone was the real test.
We found some of the other Brits at the finish, which was welcoming, and I also managed to have a bit of a chat with the girl who had finished 2nd, who had also finished 3rd at the Marmotte earlier in the year.
This was a great end to a season that has had me grinning from ear to ear at times, crying my eyes out at others, cursing my own bad luck and the poor quality of other riders who cause crashes, and most importantly, laughing SO much with my brilliant team mates. Thanks GB Cycles, Steve Wright, Chris (my husband), Garry Palmer (my coach) and my teamies (and guests). Roll on 2014 - a season for Gran Fondos!