An Epic Fail on Being Epic
As so many of these stories begin — “there I was…” delusions of grandeur in hand and planning all week to make an epic Sunday of indoor riding. No Zwift, no zoom, only the maddening whir of the inner workings of the Elite Drivo as I would try to simulate the place that I was supposed to be.
It was April 4th, and if all had gone to plan, I would have just been getting off a plane in Rome, ready to make the three-hour trek North to Montepulciano to participate in the second running of GFNY Italia in the region of Toscana and over three sectors of the fabled white roads or “strade bianche” that taught me in 2019 how to become a drops rider, glide over potholes, and descend like a wanna-be pro.
Let’s get one thing straight. I am not complaining. Not by a long shot. With so many sick and dying, or in financial difficulty, or on the front lines of the pandemic — the true heroes of this saga — I have a lot to be grateful for. Much more than I will ever deserve.
But with the race postponed as part of the prioritization of health, and with New York on Pause, and rightfully so, I was feeling a gesture, a nod, a salute to those who had put the race together, a salute to my dear friend Tom — trapped in Toscana as we speak — and a salute to all of my cycling buddies and teammates who had done the race last year. We and our families enjoyed each others company, we enjoyed the Tuscan scenery, we enjoyed the food, the people, the Palio, and we enjoyed the race.
So there I sat, in the saddle, with the race loaded, and half of Season 1 of The Wire to keep me company as I started the journey, virtually, from Torrita di Siena back to its sister city of Montepulciano. Surely, as Sundays on the trainer go, it would be epic.
I made sure to load the course, and the Prime playlist the night before. I had a late night on the trainer, so everything needed to be set. I was committed to an early rise.
7 AM Coffee
7:30 AM start pedaling
10 minute break each hour
1:05 deadline for completion — ensuring me a moving time that was one minute faster than my moving time on the course in 2019.
Best laid plans. 7, turned to 8. 8 turned to 9. 9 turned to 10, and somehow 10 turned to 10:45. I began receiving notifications about other people “completing their rides” for the day. But for whatever reason, I had yet to get out of bed. “SHIT — I should be descending that hairy, twisty, descent, after the big climb, before the only flat straight-away on the course, that leads me into Sector 2 of the strade bianche by now!” What the hell man?!
The epic jar had smashed to the floor, and all of the epic was running out like a thick sugary liquid that stained the carpet so badly that returning to the yesteryear of scarred hardwood floors was the only solution. I decided that productivity was the only thing that would save me. So I volunteered for some grocery shopping and went about it. A solid Sunday brunch, a half dozen cups of drip coffee, a full moka pot and I was finally ready to responsibly make my way through the grocery rituals that I had yet to experience since returning from Uruguay and holding myself in an extended self-quarantine.
By 3PM the grocery duties were over and it was time to stop procrastinating and get on the damn bike. Kit on, bottles filled, course loaded, The Wire running, windows opened, and clipped in. It was time.
I remote started the software that I run on my home machine and began to pedal. I was heading up a stiff grade immediately, no doubt the incline that I didn’t experience starting in the front corral last year, and then it was the massive descent from the foot of Montepulciano to Torrita di Siena. Simulating the neutral start over to the official starting line in Torrita, I was doing my best to take chances on the descent that I would never take in real life. Pedaling hard, turning up the watts down a 17% grade as best I could, but forgetting that ever little rise in the pavement that you don’t feel on the road, feels like you are climbing a small mountainous driveway length volcano on the trainer. Finally it was up the small climb that led to the outskirts of Torrita di Siena, the back side of what we all lovingly referred to last year as “the climb before the climb”. Or was it, “the climb before the climb before the climb?” no matter. Soon enough, I could feel the sharp uptick into Torrita di Siena. Through the narrow corridors of the town gates, the sharp right onto the smooth cobbles that took us past the Mayor’s office and through the square where the Palio was held. I had experienced this little climb three times last year. Twice on a bike, and once on foot the day of the Palio. The donkey I had bet on, #8, who had disappointed me and all of Stazione might have still been finishing the race from last year for all I know. That stupid ass (literally), races like the ass that bet on him!
So memorable to think about this amazing place as I was passing through it as a mere digital stick on a course profile. It was a this point that I noticed something funny on the screen. The timer for the software was counting down the intervals from the workout I did the day before. Yet I was feeling every bit of the terrain. I even had an estimated time of arrival, and as I reached the top of the first long climb and started down toward the first sector of strade bianche, I was being given an ETA by the software. Unfortunately for me, as I climbed the ETA kept increasing. It felt like, and seemed like, I was literally pedaling backwards. Finally headed sharply downhill, past the cafe that we had stopped at during the camp, (photo below), I could sense from the profile I was making the sharp right onto sector 1.
I began the glide. I realize that for all the grace and speed I may be displaying at this very moment, that what I was doing, while it may end up representing an epic effort of torturing yourself in a small room with a trainer, and maybe getting fitter, was nothing more. As I began to realize this, and to formulate in my head how I might put it into words, fate stepped in and ended it. Somehow the software got the interval workout from last night, and the course confused. The programmed interval workout of 60 minutes ended right there at 60 minutes. It was finished and uploading while I was still pedaling. Fini! That’s all folks! I hit the play button to start it again. It took me back to the beginning.
A few instant messenger jokes later to the gang, and then a few messages back about the happenings outside of my little pain cave, and the reality and perspective of what was important began to seep back in. Some lessons learned.
- The time on the trainer while productive for training, is just that, productive for training. It doesn’t provide the intangibles that make cycling the presence it is in my life. Grateful as I am to be able to train, Non è la stessa cosa! (It’s not the same thing).
- The reason that folks are doing things with video conferencing and whatever else is not for training, it’s for connection — that’s the important part. And I should have done that.
- Time spent on the trainer could have been time connecting with a friend, by phone, by text, whatever.
- The bike will be there when we get back.
- You can keep me out of Tuscany, but you can’t keep Tuscany out of me.
Lessons aside, it was a great reminder of the great time had at GFNY Italia in 2019. I can’t believe it’s a year ago already. My sincerest hope is to make the postponement date, but at the very least make it back to Europe for GFNY Alpes Vaujany. Either way, will stay in touch with those that matter, help where I can help, and be ready for the rubber to hit the road when it’s time.