My first race as a professional cyclist was the most difficult cycling race of my life. Closely following, or possibly tied, with my 2012 Ironman World Championship race. While Strade Bianche was not nearly as long as the Ironman, it was much more intense and the amount of tiredness I felt after the race was incredible, akin to the post-Ironman exhaustion, though I was able to walk normally after this race!
The course was 103 kilometers interspersed with five “white road” gravel sections, many with steep climbs up to 18%. The scenery was fantastic, winding around the Italian countryside, up and down lush fields and around grassy knolls filled with enthusiastic spectators, though there was no time to look around and appreciate the view. We started the race in San Gimignano with about 3 kilometers downhill to the actual starting line. I’m not sure if it was the cold air or my nerves, but my arms were uncontrollably shaking so much so that it was actually difficult to keep the bike in a straight line.
Once the group hit kilometer 0 the race was on. Immediately there was a climb and girls were flying up it. I was still trying to warm up and felt like I was already getting dropped! I told myself that I at least had to make it to 20 kilometers, I couldn’t get dropped now! I made it up the climb with the group and was able to hang in until a long gravel section around kilometer 60.
The race was very aggressive, at least compared to all of the races I have done in the past. You had to always be attentive, monitoring where you were in the group and watching for any brake-slamming or yelling ahead of you. There were so many near-crashes that in the end I was very thankful for my cyclocross bike-handling skills. I was riding off the road in the grass a few times, I had to use a wall along the road to keep me from falling into a ditch at one point, and I had to go faster than someone would ever consider to be safe around gravel turns in order to stay in the group or catch back up.
At around the 60km mark we entered a long gravel section with a climb where I knew people would start attacking. I was probably in the wrong position during most of the race, taking more wind than I ever should, and at this point I got caught in a crosswind ripping across from the left side of the peloton. Of course I was on the left side and once that wind hit me, combined with attacks stretching out the field, I was popped from the back of the group and watched as the splintering field rode away.
However, I was off the back in good company! Our group included Mara Abbott (former US national champion) and Lisa Brennauer (German national champion and World TT champion). I rode with this group for a few minutes but I was so nervous about making the time cut off and FINISHING the race that I ended up leaving them and riding solo for the last 30km to Sienna.
Professional cyclist turned professional triathlete living in Boulder, CO.