Day 8 – Fondo Leopardiana

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.

The Bike Boyz, leading out Fondo Leopardiana

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.

These kind men saved me. They pointed the way to Recanati.

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.

My last tube and CO2 cartridge? It still pisses me off that he didn’t thank me!

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!

Back up to Recanati. Recanati’s famous tower is on the hill in the distance.


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!!!

Abuzz with race stories.

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.



Todd and Rick rode a hard, fast Gran Fondo, completing 82 mi. and 5,500 ft. in 4:30 hrs.

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.




Race Director Agostino Nina gave us VIP treatment all the way. We didn’t earn it, so please, visit Recanati and Marche!


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.

Rick and Todd studying the results board. Some would see our numbers as sobering–Markham’s 103rd place was our top finish–but we were euphoric with our results.

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.

We were honored but a bit embarrassed to be singled out for a special team award. Italians have treated us with warmth and generosity throughout our trip.

Distance:  58 mi.

Vert:  4,000 ft


Day 8 – Fondo Leopardiana — 2 Comments

  1. That sounds like the perfect ending to the trip. Rebecca was reminded of a foot race she and her friends participated in Northern Italy. They finished almost dead last but were given all sorts of prizes and gifts for being “gli americani.” Hope you have a good trip home.

  2. Jack I’ve just read through the blog and your race report. Nicely done, and thanks for doing it.

    My race was exhilarating too. The start was sort of horrifying to me, though, I have to say. It was so dangerous! There were many sudden decelerations in the huge pack. So, I was, sensibly (I thought), keeping some distance from the bike in front of me. All the Italians seemed to take that as an invitation to pass me, and by the bottom of the hill I suspect I was close to the very back of the pack. From there it was a matter of trying to work my way back forward. Rick and Todd were with me, and we made some progress. I think we passed you and some of the rest of our group at the water stop shortly before the long and short routes diverged. So it appears you had more guts in the starting chaos than I did.

    Todd and Rick took the long route fork, I went for the short. After a few more miles I caught up with Rich, who had been up in the very front with Markham for some time at the beginning. He was the last teammate I would see until the finish.

    At around km 65, which is 20 km from the finish, we came to a biggish hill. I headed on up at my pace and no one followed, which seemed weird to me. No other groups were visible ahead. I elected to forge on anyway. I rode for 15 km by myself, picking off a few ones and twos of riders. I kept looking for the pack I had left behind, and finally with 5 km to go they reappeared. I held up to wait for them for a moment, just to be fresh, then fell in around 3rd wheel. Very shortly the big uphill to the finish began, and once again I rode away from the whole group. Eventually one lone rider bridged up to me and we rode together for a couple of minutes, but he was out of gas and I accelerated again to leave him behind and ride across the finish alone.

    This all felt quite heroic at the time – the long solo breakaway, the breakaway win solo win on the uphill finish. It really would have been, too, except for the 139 riders that were out of sight ahead of me!


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