Gran Fondo Campagnolo 2002

Following Mike's reconnaissance mission to the Gran Fondo in 2001, the Club sent a crack squad in 2002...

A motley but dedicated team of Ythan Cyclists - Charlie Allan, Dave Allan, Mike Harper and Andy Turner - represented the club at this year's Gran Fondo race in Feltre, Italy. The trip was organised by club champion Mike Harper. He is the man to see if you fancy it for next year.

But read this report from the Glasgow Herald by Charlie Allan (whose nom de plume is The Farmer), before you make too firm a commitment.

Charlie Allan before riding the Gran FondoIn the little Italian town of Feltre in the Dolomite mountains the main street was a colourful sight last Sunday. Although it was only seven o'clock in the morning an expectant crowd lined the streets. The attraction was four thousand bronzed young men and a few women. Each had a bike costing between one and ten thousand pounds. There was not enough fat on the lot of them to fry an egg.

These were the starters in the Gran Fondo Campagnolo, a cycle race over 126 miles and up four mountains to heights of over eight thousand feet.

The Farmer was there. And he was not where he should have been, high up on the 13th Century city walls looking down or in his bedroom watching it on television. He was at number eight hundred and twenty three in the queue waiting for the starting gun.

This was a major step up in class for the retired Farmer who turned to cycling eight years ago in an attempt to improve his blood circulation. It was so poor then that a toe on his right foot turned black and threatened to fall off. In the end only the tip rotted and a big scab was the only loss but it had been a warning "get that heart pumping".

It had been a memorable day when the Farmer - not yet retired - turned up for the Ythan Cycle Club's fortnightly ten mile Time Trial. He noticed that even in Ellon the cyclists wore those ridiculous tight shorts his father used to call "advertising trousers". They had no need for bicycle clips. The Farmer thought those dropped handlebars would be gey hard on the back after a hard day at the hyow..

The Farmer was last that day by almost half a mile, but he had ambition. He would buy the right gear and he would practice. He took his bike out early in the mornings when not many people were around to see and he would ask anyone he did see if they had seen any of his cattle out on the road.

Cycling is a treadmill of ambition. You improve but it is pointless. As soon as you achieve one ambition it is replaced by another.

On that first evening it was to finish the time trial before the timekeeper had gone home. He took a few seconds less than forty minutes. "Not bad," I hear you say.

The next ambition was to be near enough the others that no one would say, "What's that auld mannie doing getting in the way of that race"? And then the sights were raised to beating somebody. That was achieved in six weeks.

By the end of the first year the Farmer had bought the advertising trousers and the dropped handlebars. Early in the second year he bought a third hand Italian Bike and broke the thirty minute barrier. The ambition was now to finish in the top half of the Ythan 10 mile TT.

No toes fell off. In fact the Farmer's feet now had so much blood they were roasting all the time and he couldn't sleep.

Charlie after completing the rideThen he started racing all over Scotland. He won his first cash prize; £7 as Booby. The ambitions had to be reworked….to be not last in an open race, to beat someone, to be in the top half of an open race.

The Farmer has still to win a real prize but all other goals have been met.

The Gran Fondo was another step, a step too far.

I blame Fiona. I told her grumpily that Mike was taking Andy and Dave to the Gran Fondo. She could see I was envious and said impatiently, "Why don't you go?"

Well I ken noo.

It was bit like that first Day at the Club. Andy told me it is important to have the right top, the right sunglasses and shaved legs so you look good. I had got a pair of industrial glasses and a travelling bag to carry my bike. It wasn't smart like the others' but there was no need for them to call it "Charlie's Binliners".

Nothing you can do in Scotland can prepare you for a race like this. Led by the one hundred aspiring professionals at the front, a cheer set us off to race the eight miles to the foot of the first climb.

That only averages one in seventeen, but it goes on and on and up and up for thirteen miles. They said there was unlimited food and drink along the way but they didn't say you had to get to the top of the first hill to get any. That hill took over two hours, by which the time all the energy drinks had gone. Six glasses of foul water did nothing to the Farmer's thirst. Three bananas provided no noticeable energy.

The Farmer couldn't get his feet to stay in his fancy new (Speedplay) pedals. Two hours later, at over seven thousand feet but with five miles still to go to the top of the biggest hill the Farmer was looking and feeling more like an old mannie than the young professional cyclist he fancied himself.

There is a fancy bus called "the broom wagon" which follows the cyclists round and gives the casualties a run home. "You Ok?" they said. "Aye, I always look like this," said the gallant Farmer. "Get in," they said and that was it. Riding into town in the broom wagon was not like the dream of coasting off the last hill and riding through the cobbled streets to the cheers of the adoring crowds.

Mike managed with lots to spare in just over nine hours, and then went out for a run. Andy was not far behind and Dave made the 12 hour limit with more than half an hour to spare.

Maybe my failure had something to do with anno domine. Maybe if I got pair of those £100 sunglasses… maybe if I shaved my legs…

Charlie Allan

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