May 11, 2016/ Guest
This is a guest post from German rider Johannes Markofsky, describing his 2016 Race Across Italy finish on a Cruzbike Vendetta V20. He signed off saying, “I wrote a little bit. Please remember I only learned English at school and that was a damned long ago. Meanwhile, the regeneration is almost complete, only two fingers are still without feeling from the cold!” Enjoy his beautiful, humorous description of a very cold, wet ultra race. His is a well-earned finish.
Participating in RAAM has fascinated me for years.
When the riding season is over in the fall and it’s stormy outside and snowing, I surf the Internet and collect information. While looking for RAAM qualification opportunities, I found information about the Race Across Italy. The pictures on the internet showing the snowy mountains of Abruzzo, picturesque mountain villages, and bright sun, encouraged me to register for the 2016 race. A calculation of the altitude and race length with my performance range appeared to be feasible. Since 2001, I’ve ridden a recumbent bike because of a herniated disc (back injury). Since then, I’ve tried to compensate a little for my missing physical fitness through efficient bike technology. I always research in forums and on the internet for sophisticated technical solutions to bring more of my power to the road. For many years, I’ve been frustrated by the noise of chain idler pulleys, eternally long drive chains, inactive upper body and lack of performance on mountains.
On the Internet I found Cruzbike.com and quickly realized with this technology, I had to try to finish the Race Across Italy 2016.
Without further ado I ordered myself a Vendetta V20 frame set in the winter of 2015 and assembled my dream bike during the long December nights. January 2015 was very mild in South Germany, and thus I could already try out some hundred kilometer rides on my new Vendetta. In general, the Cruzbike Vendetta rides very solid, because the steering triangle prevents any flutter of the front wheel. The challenge is hitting a chuckhole in the road at high speeds, when the lying bike turns into a flying bike. It feels substantially more efficient going uphill because one can put more power into the front with the upper body supporting the footwork, rather than hanging around limply as it does on other recumbents. To ride a Vendetta it’s like tackling a bull by the horns and not like a hamster rolling through the landscape. My expectations for the Vendetta V20 had come completely true.
Once I was comfortable on the bike, I went to Rimini in Northern Italy to train for a few days in February. I found that I got many flat tires with my 23 mm-wide tires and decided I that I must change to 28 mm-wide tires. On Thursday 14th of April, 2016 I had my Vendetta in the final racing edition with all necessary equipment and took a short test ride. Unfortunately, a car didn’t see me in a traffic rotary and crashed into me. The frame broke and other parts were damaged beyond repair. Thanks to wonderfully quick service from Cruzbike, I had a new frame in 3 days and, with a few night shifts, had my Vendetta once again ready to race. On the train journey to Italy I tried to make up for the missing sleep. From the train, I could already enjoy the snowy mountain tops of Abruzzo and see the beautiful sunny weather waiting for me.
Abruzzo, sun and snow capped mountains from the train window.
In beaming sun and early summer temperatures, the day before the race, I again assembled my Vendetta, which I had completely disassembled for the train journey. I cycled along the Adriatic to the race check in, bike check, and briefing and got my start documents. A special moment before the race was a wonderful Italian dinner with all participants, crew and organizers. Not everybody could resist the seduction of the wine, the result of which may have been a missing opponent or two in the race which began the next day.
Assembling my V20 in the sun.
Around 8 a.m. the morning of the start, I pedaled the first few kilometers to the starting line in the marvelous morning sun. Little did I know that was just about the last I would see of sun or mild temperatures. I was the only recumbent in the race. Once all race participants had arrived and were ready to start, the rain began. I pulled out out my rainwear and put it on before the start. The Self-Supported category started first and I was the fourth rider off of the start ramp. The rest of the racers, with support vehicles and crews started about 20 to 50 minutes later. So for the next 2-3 hours, I was overtaken over and over again by the stronger participants with support cars. I thought that was pretty exciting, as the creme de la creme of ultra cycling rolled past me.
On the race launch pad, ready to start.
I started slowly, not sure how much power I’d be able to bring over the distance of the race. I also stopped for a visit with McDonald in L’Aquila for bit of fuel. After approximately 180 kilometers, I slid bit by bit to the bottom of the field. Dry clothes waiting at the first time station gave me the motivation to hold out and keep pedaling.
Shortly after Artena, during the night, I missed a pothole in a road and the front tire suddenly lost all of its air. With a flat tire, I lost balance and fell on the road. I got up and rolled the bike to the next lantern and changed the tube in the darkness. It felt like it took an eternity to get everything functioning again. The left brake lever gearshift had broken off in the fall, but I found I could still shift with the stump that remained.
Sometime later, I noticed that I’d lost my glasses along the way. I don’t know whether it happened during the fall or at a break in the time station, but from then on the race wasn’t quite as “sharp” anymore.
At about 3.30 a.m., I reach the second time station and the Tyrrhenian Sea. I had about three and a half hours before the time cut off, so I decided to sleep a little. I found a dry little place under a pine tree, wrapped myself in aluminum survival foil and slept until the morning light. After a light breakfast, I got back on the bike and powered into the pedals. I had to give 30 minutes to fixing another tube and the Sunday morning traffic in Italy made passing through cities slow. I was getting close to the time cutoff and knew most of the climbing was still before me. The road became more and more mountainous. At the ascent to the 1,600+ meter Passo Godi, the weather changed around every curve – from sun to hail. Racer 33’s crew gave me a pizza and a coke, which helped my motivation considerably. The mechanic from Racer 33’s crew also helped me adjust my mechanical disc brakes which were starting to wear down with the frequent braking the rough roads and narrow curves demanded on the descents.
Racer 33’s mechanic adjusting my brakes.
I reached Time Station 3 in the dusk. Quickly I slipped into dry clothes, but pulled my wet things around me to protect me against the cold, polar air. I put on my reflective vest, reflective helmet cover and got on the bike again. Ice-cold flowing rain soaked me on one of the last big climbs of Popoli in the direction of Navelli. Exhausted, I lost control of my bike again and again, so I decided to have a little Sunday walk and go a few steps on foot. A truck driving past offered me a lift shortly after midnight. I could barely resist the temptation to accept the ride and give up.
On the way to L`Aquila the vicious cold that had consumed my feet, crept into my hands. On the climb of Arischa up to the 1300 meter high Capannelle Summit, I was able to warm up myself by climbing. On the Summit height the first sun rays and snow showers awaited me. Good thing my brake levers were made from carbon. I started thinking my hands might have frozen to aluminum brake levers.
Meanwhile I realized is that I was very close to the time cutoff so I did what I had to do. Even still, I had to descend slowly because I could not risk another flat tire, I didn’t have the supplies or time to fix yet another. Curve after curve, I rode down in the direction of the sea and enjoyed the feeling of snow fall changing to rain. My feet were indiscernible ice cold meat masses and I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. I had many kilometers to go, and very little time remaining to finish them.
At 8:50 p.m., 8 minutes before the time cutoff, I reached the finish line in Silvi Marina overjoyed and had a Finisher’s Medal placed around my neck. Because more than half of the racer did not finish, I placed fifth in the self-supported category and 24th overall. All I could think of were three wishes – a shower, dry clothes and sleep. After a few congratulations and conversations with other cyclists and race organizers, I realized my three wishes. The sleep was heavenly.
After I awoke, in the evening sun, I disassembled my Cruzbike and packed it back into the transport box. At a seaside restaurant with panoramic views, I enjoyed the sunset and traditional Italian food.
The next day I rode the train contentedly back to good old Germany, enjoying the nicest sunshine for the journey home.
Well earned meal on the train ride home.