Generally, the word stereotype conjures up negative images. Fair enough, but on the flip side, there are those happy stereotypes - like the Italian grandmother for instance (or German, American, whatever) - here, eat more, you're all skin and bones - have some more sugary deliciousness. It's the stereotype we all love to roll our eyes to, but on Sunday, it was the stereotype that saved the day.
Looking back, it's hard to imagine that we were thinking about cutting the 130 kilometer Percorso Medio of the Granfondo Pinarello short. It's not too tough, nor is it too long. It's a pretty reasonable distance with a few climbs totaling something like 1300 meters of climbing (4300 feet). The route includes some Veneto classics - the climb to Santa Maria della Vittoria atop the long lump of the Montello, followed by the demanding Mostaccin. The two tough early climbs are followed by an excursion into an earthly Eden - the prosecco heaven around Valdobbiadene. While that area is great, it's also small, so it's not long before you're out of those hills and onto a flat run south for another trip up the Montello. After the Montello, it's just a bit more back to Treviso. In short - it's a great route with a little bit of everything for everybody.
If that's not enough, there's the big boy course, which weighs in at 200+ kilometers and around 3000 meters of climbing. The long course takes the above and adds one very significant climb to the list: Monte Grappa. There are nine different ways up Monte Grappa, and the Salto della Capra (literally: the jump of the goat) is the second hardest with 9 vicious kilometers that average 11.1%. Ouch. Upon finishing that beast, there's still almost an entire circuit of the Grappa massif remaining before reconnecting with the shorter route near Valdobbiadene.
The big loop was enticing. It beckoned. Wait, bad idea. I like to encourage Ashley and her budding passion for the sport, not batter it into pieces - so we stuck to the medio. That's fair, right?
Not that the relative easiness of the route (compared to the Capra) matters much when you're feeling like hell, which is what happened. We woke up late, missed breakfast, and after a hard ride the previous morning, Ashley was on a bad day and just not feeling it - even with the scores of thousands of riders sharing the suffering in the early morning warmth, even with an always entertaining encounter with Filippo Pozzato, even with Pinarello's new Dogma 2. That's saying something. Forget about the veritable movie reel of entertaining characters, forget about a route from heaven, forget about all of that - the Dogma 2 is a bike that wants riding and wants hard riding. It gobbles tight curves, switchbacks, hills, mountains, bumps, anything - and produces perfection. If ever there was a bike that whispered sweet nothings in one's ear - this is it.
Sometimes, however, even that's not enough. Sometimes, only a motorbike or a long bath will fix a bad day. Bike of dreams or not, it couldn't save this sinking ship. We were contemplating cutting it short and heading back to Treviso for a peaceful afternoon in a cafe. It just wasn't happening.
Then we stopped at the first rest station at 50 kilometers in. The feast laid out before us was akin to Thanksgiving for two breakfast-less riders. Sandwiches, pastries, cola, Gatorade, sandwiches, pastries, and pastries. It was heaven in caloric form.
We sat down, Ashley commenced to eating (as did I of course), but only got through a sandwich before easing off a bit. That's when our surrogate grandmother smelled blood in the water.
She saw the slumped shoulders, the weary look in the eyes, the skinny arms - there was only one thing to do: feed.
She came over the first time and began the irrepressible chain of events.
"Would you like some of this pastry? It's very good. You should have some."
Ashley does her part to play along (though she didn't know it at the time): "No, no, thank you, it's ok, I'm fine!"
Not even blinking - grandmother's no the routine - no one ever says yes on the first try: "Really, you should try some.
Ashley shrugs and reaches out for her assigned pastry, "Ok."
Bite, chew, chew, bite, chew, chew. Gone.
That was good.
Still, our grandmother was not content. She returned with more offerings. Ashley protested in vain, but moments later, she was holding more calories in her hand and happily eating.
It happened one more time before we left, and like any good visit to grandmother's for breakfast or lunch or dinner - we left happy, content, and full.
That full feeling isn't necessarily the best for a bike ride, but it was a world different than the empty feeling in stomach and legs that led to preliminary calculations on how to get this bike ride over quick snap.
And so the slog became a ride, which became a great day on the road. We rolled through Valdobbiadene in the shadow of the great Monte Cesen, through the braided hair of the endless prosecco vineyards, and finally, Treviso.
We finished, Ashley checked off another big ride, and just as we thought we were done, we ran smack into another stereotype: Italian cities are mazes.
It's true: that's just a basic fact of life in Italy. They're so fantastically labyrinthine, they even baffle modern man's best tools designed to thwart them: the GPS. Round and round we rode - and why not?
Like everything that seems dire, irritating, and painful, it ended not too long after it started, but hey, what could we honestly complain about? The Dogma 2 is everything I could have ever dreamed of, the Veneto is a perfect place to ride bikes, the sky was blue, we shared the day with thousands of other bike mad people from around the world… I'd call that a good day.
Is it too early to sign up for next year?