In my preview blog where I explained what my plans are for the summer are to be (if you’ve missed that one it’s HERE), I said that I’d be tackling some outstanding events across Europe. The first of these is an event that I’d competed in 2 years ago, I loved it that much that the 2000 or so kilometers across the top part of Europe I knew was going to be worth it.
The event in question was the Castelli 24 Hour. Held in the typical picturesque town of Feltre in the Dolomites. About 2 hours north west of Venice (depending how fast you drive of course).
24 hours blasting around the town centre that they close down and turned into cycling party central. No where in Europe…actually the world, over the weekend of June 8/9th would there have been a better place to be racing your bike as an amateur.
100 teams of 12 riders tackle the 24 hour race. This sounds easy, 2 hours each, not a problem, but when you factor in that the Italians like to race hard, the 1.8km circuits (which is a toughie) and throw in a few professionals and ex- world champions, you know it’s no walk in the park.
A massive alarm bell that signaled that the race wasn’t going to be slow was the fact that they had a Ferrari as a lead car. Italians eh!
So on with the racing, each rider usually went out and smashed themselves for between 15 to 30 minuets, racing as if their life depended on it. Crowds screaming all the way around the circuit, the atmosphere was amazing.
When you’d cooked your legs and wanted not to see double anymore you had to signal to your team mate, who was stationed in the pits. Signalling 2 more laps and I’m heading to the team marque for the 7th espresso of the day. The pits had a rider from all 100 teams usually waiting like a warrior ready for battle. At times you’d look down the line at the cyclist concentrating on if their team mate was coming in and spot a familiar face that usually you wouldn’t be in the bunch with. Ex pros like world and Olympic champion Paolo Bettini, or current pros such as Matteo Tosatto and Manuele Boaro of SaxoBank, Alessando Ballan of BMC plus a whole host of other Italian pros from numerous Continental and Pro Tour teams.
On one of my stints on the circuit I found myself in a group of 6 riders, 4 of them being professional. So I had to take the opportunity to attack them on the hill. Yeah sure I was dragged back (easily) but I can now say I’ve stuck it to a few pros. I’ll just gloss over the bit where I ended up hanging on the back breathing out my derriere.
The racings only the half of it. The other half is the parties that are going on in each of the teams fancy marquees. Bands playing while others are getting massages, crazy Italians in crazy costumes egging their friends on, and copious amounts of beer flowing.
On top off all the partying, were guys recovering from being out on the circuit. At times it looked like a war zone, people bent double over their bikes trying to get their lungs to work in time with the rest of their body. Others taking it super serious and turning their legs over on the rollers, waiting for their next time out. It was a constant hub of activity.
The race never eased off from the 10pm Friday night when the Ferrari lead the peloton out until the closing stages. The final 2 hours were manic, you’d expect riders to be fading but everyone seemed to be digging deeper and deeper, all aiming to climb up the leader board.
For my first event in Europe this year I couldn’t have asked for a better event to be part of. The organization was fabulous, the crowds were mental and the people were just superb. It’s going to have to take something to top this. And I may have found just that event, the Gran Fondo Sportful. Held on the 17th June I’ll be lining up yet again in Feltre, not to race around the streets this time but to tackle what is known as one of the hardest Gran Fondos in the world. 215km through the stunning Dolomites with 5300m of climbing. I may just have to dig a 28 cassette out!