When I signed up for Etape du Tour last October–and the 28-week training plan that goes along with it–I knew a few interim cycling events would need to happen, to maintain training momentum and to get me used to negotiating mass starts and crowded roads.
Reading my friend Gerry’s race report of Strade Bianche 2017 last March, with its epic black and white photos of rain-soaked, mud-encrusted riders, had stuck with me.
[insert gerry pic]
The description was 139km, 1300m elevation gain. To date, my longest ride (which included lunch, coffee, & photo stops) was 138 km, so this seemed a very doable distance. All I wanted was to prove that I could survive riding the distance without a lunch break.
But it was also the same day as the Semi-marathon de Paris, a long-dreamed-for event with a course that passes within 200m of our apartment. I had been semi-seriously doing it, figuring the training would give me great aerobic fitness for EdT. Then I learned that the odd sensation in my left groin was not another soft-tissue injury but early-stage hip arthritis. Suddenly the choice was easy: to Siena we would go (I registered my husband as well as myself)
Around 6 weeks into base training I uploaded the course GPX file into RidewithGPS: 2000m. A bit more than I bargained for (my long rides tend to be flat), but face it, the more elevation gain, the better for Etape.
In the month leading up to the race, the Beast from the East, aka Le Grand Froid descended, and I chose pain cave over HTFU. My vision of a series increasingly longer Sunday rides didn’t quite pan out.
Then I read the fine print of the racing regs and saw there was a 7 hour cut-off. 7 hours from gun-time. Eeek.
As you can see by all the green, it’s a flattish course punctuated 8 gravel segments, the eponymous strade bianche, or white roads. These are also where the climbs are, short but steep brutes. Was very grateful for my compact chainring + 11-32 cassette.
KM 24: First gravel sector
The first strada biancha was a dead-flat 2k stretch soon after the 20k mark. The most challenging aspect was steering clear of dropped bottles, gloves, and toolkit bags littering the first few hundred meters.
Layered up the yazoo.
KM 30: Here comes the sun
And off came the first of many layers throughout the day.
KM 80: These are getting really steep
Still smiling naturally at this point.
And able to enjoy the views
KM 120 - Sector 7: the brutal climb
Feeling a bit tired now.
The view that I can only appreciate now.
Karsten puts arm around my shoulders for the sake of yet another photograher, it feels like lead.
KM 138: The Final climbs
I’d seen it in photos, on TV, and just the day before, saw it in the flesh as I watched women pros climb up it in the rain. In true Strade form, there was a photographer perched right by the nastiest 15% pitch at the end.
Before the race there’d been a video in my head of me gliding effortlessly up to standing and powering up those last few meters of Santa ????, all captured in photos.
But when my front wheel hit the 10% section further down, I knew would be happy just to be able to keep the cranks turning. Meanwhile, a Belgian who we’d passed approaching Siena made his attack and spectacularly photobombed my final climb pics. Either he was really determined to not be chicked, or simply overgeared
Belgian Dude makes his move while Karsten goes into MountainGoat mode.
Aw, how cute, we’re swaying in sync!
I need to work on my Climbing Face
Ah good he’s leaving. The frame is MINE now.
Dude, just go, K?
*My face by now is completely on-brand, glowing Burnt Siena and blending in perfectly with the local architecture.
My consolation was despite being jealous that he managed a much more epic-looking climb, after I turned the corner for the last 400m flat stretch to the finish, I was gratified to see him stopped in a doorway and so I did at least cross the finish line before him.