Recanati is only 7 or 8 km away from Loreto, home to Hotel San Francesco, our lodging, but it might as well have been 15 miles because of the deep valley that lay between the two towns. Thus, we put our bikes back on the Andiamo vans and drove to the ride start early Sunday morning. Fondo Leopardiana started at the comfortable Italian time of 8:45 AM, but they wanted us there 45 minutes early to take our assigned place at the front of 650 other riders.
We unloaded a km below Piazza Leopardi and rode our bikes to the “Centro,” where they ushered us through back alleys to get to Gruppo 1. We smiled, kibbutzed among ourselves and speculated as to how long a neutral start might last and whether we should just get out of the way.
There was no ceremony or speeches—a voice sounded over a public address system promptly at 8:45 AM and said what we took to be Italian for “Welcome to Fondo Leopardiana! Go!” and we proceeded to pedal straight ahead. The melee that followed will be imprinted in our memory until we die. Remember: we are on narrow cobblestone streets in an old, old city on a steep hill. The way down requires several 90 degree turns.
Riders instantly began dashing around us, left and right, through gaps that didn’t appear to exist. Shouts of “Oh! Oh!”, which must be Italian for “Slow!” or “Whoa!” echoed up the peloton as the group suddenly had to brake through tight downhill corners. Riders cut at 45 degrees across riding lines and one guy over-cooked a hairpin and flew a foot in front of my wheel. Italians were cussing Italians everywhere. Todd hugged a building on the right side of the road for safety—just as a bike torpedoed by between him and the building. We still can’t figure how everyone got down to the valley below without a major crash. This was exactly the “local color” we came to experience—no American race would allow this start for liability concerns—and we’ll talk about it for years to come.
But we did all make it to the valley and we headed to the Adriatic. My speed was holding at 55 kph (34 mph) and I wasn’t in the front bunch. The pack was fueled by adrenaline, a 1 degree downward slope and the fear of being left for dead. We crossed the 8 mi. to the Adriatic in a blink, headed up the coast a couple of miles, then turned inland again. My front wheel began clicking loudly and I had to stop to adjust it. Curtains for me! Markham and Charles were in the front group, hanging.
The rest of my ride was fantastic and I couldn’t quit smiling. My Boyz were hopelessly split up among various groups. Most of us had decided to do the Medio Fondo (52 mi.) once we found out it was a race. 52 mi. at high speed would be a sufficient day’s work. Rick, Todd and Jim were committed to the Gran at 82 miles.
In the end, my results didn’t tell the story of my excellent ride. My legs never felt better. The speed was exhilarating. At about mile 12, my front wheel began clicking again and I realized my skewer wasn’t tight (we rode with timing devices attached with the front skewer, and I hadn’t tightened the skewer sufficiently) and had to stop again. I kept re-catching the group that left me, then leap-frogging up to the next group. My mountain-trained legs were driving me past everyone on the hills, although, again, I wasn’t with the front groups.
Around mile 25, we began a mile long climb up to a small town, and a km below the town center a guy was waving a flag at an intersection and shouting in Italian. 3 of the 4 riders ahead kept climbing straight ahead, 1 turned. Hmm, ‘rest stop to the right’ I thought, and I followed the threesome straight, passed them, arrived at the town centro and saw no Fondo signs. I turned to the 3 riders behind me and asked, “Fondo?” They shook their heads and pointed back down the hill. Oops! I rode down the hill but apparently took a different road because there was no sign of Fondo riders or flagmen. So I rode back up the hill into the main piazza where I found some old men gathered. “Fondo?” I asked. They shrugged, didn’t know. “Recanati?” I tried, whereupon one gentleman gave me an animated explanation and repeatedly pointed me down a road to the other side of town.
I gave it a try, and a km or so later found myself back on the Fondo route, although there weren’t any more groups to be seen. 2 km further I came across a beautifully-kitted young man with Carolina-blue shoe covers and a high-end bike (OK, EVERY ITALIAN at the Fondo was dressed in a great kit and had a sleek bike!) walking his bike along the road. He had just had his second flat and was out of tubes. I stopped, gave him my spare tube, and waited while he changed his tire so I could show him how to use my CO2 inflator. He was upset by his bad luck, but it still pisses me off that he didn’t even thank me!
A few riders passed me while I was stopped and I methodically reeled them back in. My legs felt great and I couldn’t quit smiling. I stopped for a few pictures, then wound it up for another fast stretch, pulling a couple guys along. I danced passed 5 or 6 more riders on the 2 km climb back into Recanati, then outsprinted a fellow at the finish line. What a great ride! I finished 229th out of 252 in the Medio Fondo and celebrated. Ha ha!!!
Back at the piazza, everybody had a story to tell. Markham finished 6th in the “Supergentleman” category (56 and older) and had hung with the front group most of the way. Charles had been caught between groups in no man’s land and had ridden half the race by himself. Reb had 3 flats, and he, Howie and Bill came in way late.
We had lunch and buzzed with stories and waited for our Gran Fondo buddies, who returned around 1:15 PM after a hard and fast ride. The Race Director came by and told us we were expected at the award ceremony at 2 PM because the mayor wanted to give us a special prize.
We hung around until 2, when we were summoned to the awards hall. First the individual winners were honored, then came the team section. We were called up front, where we stood, honored and a bit embarrassed, for 10 minutes while the MC went on in Italian about something or other. It couldn’t have been our strong riding! The spectators were patient and polite, but I couldn’t stop thinking that we didn’t deserve the attention and they might well be thinking, “Why always so great the Americans?!”. The mayor presented us with a special trophy, Fondo Leopardiana backpacks, and knit collared shirts.
We thanked Recanati for its graciousness and promised to tell everyone in the States to visit. Please, visit Recanati and the province of Marche. The people are wonderful and the scenery and history is unbelievable!
Afterwards we got on our bikes for one last, bittersweet ride back to our hotel—up a steep hill, of course–in Loreto.
Distance: 58 mi.
Vert: 4,000 ft