We thankfully did not have to start quite as early as it sometimes is on these amateur events. The Gran Fondo Marco Pantani race started at 7.30 and we took off from Aprica with some dubious clouds around. It was not particularly cold and I decided to skip every arm- and leg-warmer as well as any wind- or rain-jacket. We would first head down the valley to catch a little warmer weather and then it would be uphill in high tempo all the way to the Gavia pass. If it was still cold then at Gavia, the downhill descent from there would be the worst on the trip, but I was in luck.
I had like 600 riders in front of me at the start and it took over half-way down the road to Édolo (699m) before I could cycle in my own speed. I even had to stop at one place early on because of roadwork that narrowed the road. However, then I went in a (to me) surprisingly furious tempo all the way to Ponte di Legno in order to catch up with the better riders in front. I know I would be strong until then and from there I could only go in my own tempo anyway and would not have a chance to hang on to the best riders up the Gavia pass. There were still hundreds in front of me on the way up and I was not able to guess how many there were, nor did I much care.
The climb up to Ponte di Legno (1258m) is easy on a very wide road. From Ponte di Legno up the pass road to the famous Passo di Gavia (2621m) the road is quite steep and very narrow at times (up to 16%). I remembered the road as steeper still from going down that way on my first tour of the Alps in 2000. The road was asphalted in 1986, though it had been used while unsurfaced in the Giro d’Italia already back in 1960.
It went somewhat easy up to the Gavia pass height (also a bit surprising to me) and we climbed through a 300m long tunnel (that I did not remember from 2000), but they had put up a big light at the entrance so we could see a little in the otherwise unlit tunnel. I knew there would be a lot of time to recover until the next climb would start, so full speed ahead. At the pass I got some water and maybe something to eat and then plunged head-long down the valley to Bórmio (1217m) in a bit too optimistic speed I soon realised as I had to make use of my security margin at a place with several hundred meters of unshielded drop down the valleyside at one place. I realised I simply could not keep quite the speed of the others, but tried to make up for it as I came down toward the village where I caught up with a big gang that I comfortably rided with down the valley to Mazzo in a rather high speed.
Unfortunately one guy smashed up with a sign and refuge in the middle of the road when exiting on the main road again around Grosio (but there were people there to take care of him).
Filled my water bottle at the start of the Mortirolo climb in Mazzo and then it was each for himself up the terrible mountain. I thought it was a bit fun even though hard and now it was definetely hot outside. It actually went easier the further up the climb I got and I think it was a bit more evenly steep higher up, which is always easier.
I was passed by by many in the beginning, but toward the end I was the one passing by people. I only stopped shortly at the top (just after the pass height (Pas de la Foppa/Passo della Foppa (1855m)) at the crossroad) to refill my water-bottle and maybe took something to eat. Then I was cycling almost alone over Passo del Mortirolo (1896m) toward Passo di Guspessa (1824m). I helped two guys keep a good speed until that pass, where they passed me by and left me behind (thanks a lot! ;-)).
I was again cycling a bit behind these and some others to Passo del Picco (1870m) and around Monte Padrio (1867m) to Trivigno (1780m). From here it was the somewhat dangerous road down to Aprica (it had some very bad cracks in it at just the wrong places) and I was happy to be on my own. Still I was dangerously close to smashing up with a car down here (where I felt I could go faster in the steepest section), but all went well. I raced into Aprica (1173m), and with a heavy heart decided that I had promised myself to do the long circuit and had to go on a back road through the village and then down the Passo di Aprica road for a long time.
I tried to tell myself that this last pass would not be as hard and long as the other two. Even if the last was correct, that it was not such a long climb as the others, it turned out to be a very hard climb indeed to Passo S. Cristina (1400m). I started out in high speed thinking that way I would get half-way up through the recovered power from the previous downhill ride and that then the road might be less difficult. This was certainly not true, however. It was seemingly never-ending and ever-steep with long straight stretches between each turn up the mountainside in thick forest.
I was trying to catch up with another cyclist and did so, but then had to fall behind again as I was very drained of power now. It was a real struggle to get up the last stretch to the pass (located some hundred metres before meeting the Trivigno-Aprica road again). I decided to stay to drink a little water even if it was only downhill now, in order to make sure I was clear in my mind enough not to do anything stupid on the descent. I probably lost some places that way, but it was not like I would be winning the event anyway, so … .
I finished number 184 out of 446 finishing the long circuit. One always wonder how come so many people go for the shorter versions in the end, but it may be that if you are far behind that it does not seem like a great idea to let the organisers wait for you to complete the long circuit. (My friend Ola was among the very last to do the long circuit and he was unlucky to have extreme rain on the last pass, which in part explained why he was that far behind.) Emanuele Negrini, who won the race was almost two hours faster than me and would have had no problem hanging on to any Tour de France or Giro d’Italia rider (at least if they did not use illegal substances, which happens even on these races though). Some people who do not have a great chance of winning the big ordinary competitions turn up at events like this to get the money offered for the winners. But it is nice being able to compete with the best (even if you have no chance). Typically it was only 34 riders that were more than an hour faster than me. The bulk of the people riding these Gran Fondos are a bit more like me – ambitious amateurs.
We had a good dinner (probably pizza again for me) together with Fredrik Granlund, another guy doing the race from our hometown in Gothenburg, Sweden.