Gran Fondo Roma: Climbs, Cobblestones & the Colosseum

Riding past the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument during the Roma Gran Fondo

The weather forecast for Sunday was to be free of rain and only overcast with some areas of sunshine, however as my head hit the pillow, I could still hear the steady stream of rain falling.

I awoke well before the alarm. I couldn’t hear any rain and I hadn’t checked outside, so was hoping for the best as I slowly started to prepare for another new ride.

Down 4 flights of marble stairs, the socks and shoes went on at the door and I was out into the still, dark morning. Across the street the bar was open. I walked the bike across and had my first espresso for the day and a crema filled corneto. With my Italian breakfast complete, I rolled down the empty cobblestone streets. After I while I made a right turn and was alone as I entered Piazza Navona.
What a beautiful experience, to silently roll through such an amazing Piazza and not have to share it with anyone.

The start line and grid is on Via dei Fori Imperiali which is the road that leads back from the Colosseum to the Piazza Venezia, and my favourite building in Rome, the Altare della Patria, which is a monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.

As I drew closer to the start line, there were more riders coming together, and I was in the last grid of five grids, with another 2000 people. I take up a position and am soon surrounded, as more riders joined the grid, in an interesting buzz of languages and conversations.

Before long the first wave of riders were under way. It moved very quickly, and in no time I was rolling. The first few k’s were incredible as we rode a big loop around the centre of Rome on closed roads. With everyone in their event jersey, there was a long swirl of green and fluro yellow snaking around the streets. This part of the ride was over in an instant but the images will be etched in my memory forever.

We crossed over our first timing mat and the ceremonial part of the ride was over, and the hard part began.

The first 30k was a blur of undulating roads and turns as we headed out of the city. I don’t know where the time goes but I looked up, and to my right, noticed a lake, which we hugged for a bit before we started our first climb for the day.  As we went up, there picturesque views poking through the trees, back down to the lake and the little towns that surrounded it.

Amazing, that we were so close to Rome but felt so far from a world centre.
This theme continued for the next 60k.

With 1700m of climbing in a 120km ride, we spent a lot of time going up.

The diversity of landscapes, scenery and weather was fantastic.  From cloudy cool mist in the hills to the windy warm conditions in the valleys and on the flats,  to taking cobblestoned roads with sections up to 18% as they summit into little towns, only to descend a little and start it all again.

The first rest stop came and I treated myself to a little prosciutto roll and nutella cake. I refilled the water bottle and was on my way again.

The blur is back again. I hadn’t really looked at the course map, so was not completely sure of where I was.  All I knew was that I seemed to be going up, a lot. We passed some old men on the side of the road who I think were foraging for porcini mushrooms (which are in season), many police officers who held the traffic back and others with flags ensuring that we were aware of potential issues, and we rolled though long tunnels without our lights, in complete darkness, with only the small reflections from helmets and bikes of other riders informing of their position.

The mind games kicked in. Is the next rest stop soon?
Is it at the top of this hill?
Is it at the end of this climb?
I could hear the voice on the microphone getting louder but it was at the end of another short but very sharp climb on the cobbles.
80 down, 40 to go.

Another respite stop at this point meant it was time for some more nutella cake.

With most of the climbing done, we had some great descending to get to “flat lands”, however the lower we went, the stronger the winds became.

We made our way from Monte Compatri and passed though other little hamlets and vineyards, with the strong smell of the recent grape crush and other agriculture operations, on our way to the historical centre.

Fatigue had hit, and it had become a fine balancing act of not pushing too hard that I break.

It was a relief when the signs started to kick in 20, 15, 10, 7, 5.
The 1 k banner hit and so did a final 1000 metres of cobbles going up hill.
Wow, the effort required to keep the same pass is incredible. I inevitably slowed and as I reached the top, I rolled through the finish on a tiny walled laneway without any fanfare.

The ride is over and I joined a steady stream of riders headng back to the village. I find Nancy and we set off on our next adventure.

The search for a great pizza and a very cold beer.

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