As the final part of my summer holidays, last weekend it was Rad-am-Ring time again.
This year I had been training way more than last year, riding a bicycle almost every afternoon after work, looking for suitable hills to climb (and losing a few kilos in the process). I even bought a used Bianchi bicycle, so I could have a bike at Carla's place and a bike at my place, ready to use whenever I got a chance to. (I found out, later, that the Bianchi I bought, for a bargain price, was quite similar to one of those used by Marco Pantani in the late '90s).
We spent a few days by the sea, in southern France, going by motorbike, so we had to suspend training. The only thing bicycle-oriented I could do was to buy a couple of french bicycle magazines, in place of the usual gossip magazines one reads on the beach (well, not exactly "in place": I bought some gossip magazines too: how can you survive, nowadays, without knowing about the latest Lady Gaga party?) And I learned a lot. Did you know that state-of-the-art bicycles must be made of carbon fiber? Probably yes, but did you know that the fibers must be properly oriented? If they aren't, your bicycle in not "dynamic" enough (I always thought that for a bicycle to be "dynamic" one should climb upon it and pedal ...).
And did you know that a simple piece of, well, carbon fiber that is just supposed to hold the handlebar in place can cost hundreds of Euros? And did you know that bicycles used by riders of this year's Tour de France can cost up to 11 thousand Euros (and will most probably be on the market next year for such a price)? I could buy a 600 cc. supersports motorbike, for that money ...
And there's a lot more I learned. There's electronic instruments that can measure your speed, distance covered, altitude climb and gradient (I thought there was only two measures of gradients: the ones I can climb, and the ones I can't). And you can connect such instruments to a Bluetooth cardio frequency meter (which will beep savagely immediatey before you die of an heart attack). Of course, they cost a few hundreds Euros...
But the top gun seems to be some new power measurement tools, that you install on your pedals and, wirelessly, transmit signals to a display that tells you how many Watts of power you are generating (plus, of course, your speed, distance covered, altitude climb, gradient and heart attacks). But those are cutting edge technology, and they still cost a few thousand Euros ...
So I felt a little obsolete, loading my alluminium KTM bike, and Carla's alluminium SAB bike on the van, for a trip to the hills of Tuscany, where we went for a nice ride of about 90 km (that we hardly survived) in preparation of Rad-am-Ring. Back home, we had another ride of about the same distance, but on steeper and higher mountains, the high point of which was when we had to brake to avoid a big snake crossing the road ahead of us (we avoided him, but I'm afraid he did not survive a car coming in the opposite direction ...).
Then it was time to pack and go. On the way home from our last ride, I started to hear an irregular clicking noise from my chain and gear shift, and it felt like it was loosing gear momentarily, so, as soon as we were in Germany I went looking for a bike mechanic, for a check. I found a workshop in Cochem. Strangely enough, it was a Post Office, a tailor, a bike rental and a mechanic all in the same shop. But the mechanic was to be there only between 1 o'clock and 2, so we had to wait. Being so precious, I expected him to be some sort of a surgeon of bicycles, perhaps working in different "hospitals" every day, but, when he arrived and I realized that he did not know how to operate a very common Shimano gear shift, I really started to worry.
It was only then, that I noticed that in the shop there was not a single race-type bike. Unfortunately, I could not avoid him fumbling with some screws on my front and rear gear shift, before he decided that he could not find the problem, and I could rescue my bicycle away from him. Last chance was to ask for help to the guys at Breuer Bike Shop in Adenau, who are usually in charge of technical service for the 24h race.
We went there, but they were already moving all their stuff to the Nurburgring and the regular shop was closed. So we moved up there, and, while waiting for both the mechanics and opening of the registration desk, we took a chance to visit the new, huge facilities for the first time.
This year, all the registration, technical assistance, shops, catering and all other stuff of Rad-am-Ring had been moved from the usual location in the GP Track pits, to the new "Ring Boulevard", behind the new tribune.
The place is quite impressive, and luxurious, and comfortable, but I must say that access to it from the track is not specially straightforward (it is not intended to be accessed from the track) and, for the purposes of Rad-am-Ring, that is not very practical, in case you need assistance to your bicycle, or you want to get some food. Furthermore, the program stated that the "Boulevard" was going to be closed after 10 PM, while in previous years you could always find some assistance (and food, and coffee) in the pits.
While waiting, I did not dare to try this "challenge path", but I saw it was quite popular with kids and families (specially families who wanted to get rid of their kids ...).
The mechanic finally arrived. We had a hard time tring to figure out where the clicking noise was coming from, until we finally saw that one of the links in my chain was breaking off. The mechanic said he wouldn't be wise to replace the complete chain without replacing the gears too, so he did just install one of those connection links and sent me off. I wonder if he would have done the same if I showed up with one of those properly oriented carbon fiber machines ...
Happy to have done something effective for my problem, it was finally registration time:
We received all our papers and race numbers and transponders and we went back to a good dinner and sleep.
The next day, we had to show up to get our camping place. The idea was also to attend the rider's briefing, as we did every year before, but, unfortunately, timing did not allow for that. I hate to miss the briefing, because I'm sure there's always some important, last-minute information which is given, there. Well, it's in German, but at least I can pretend I understand ...
Due to the huge success of the event, this year the organization had to arrange for a lot of extra camping places, and to do so, giving every rider the possibility to ride in front of his camping place, they simply had to make the course longer. So, while last years we only had to ride half of the Mercedes Arena, then back through the paddock towards the Nordschleife, this year we had to do ALL of the so-called Sprint Strecke, then, instead of entering the Nordschleife, we had to turn right into the paddocks, go all the way to the end of the pits, turn left into the pitlane (backwards) and finally reach T13 and the Nordschleife. Unfortunately, that accounted for an extra 4-5 kilometers per lap, including an extra climb from the low part of the Sprint Strecke to the Schikane, which frankly I could have done without ...
The area occupied was so large that the organization even arranged for a shuttle bus to move people to and from the paddock area.
Our place was at the gantry, right before the return corner of the Sprint Strecke.
And we were surrounded by people who had all their carbon fibers properly oriented ...
Departure time was approaching, and we did our last preparation, before lining up with a few thousands of other riders on the main straight.
Last year I did 7 laps, and Carla did 6. The idea, of course, was to improve on that, but the extra kms per lap were against it. And Carla started complaining that she was not in good shape, not trained enough, getting older, and all that kind of excuses ...
However, when the start gun was fired, we wished one another good luck and off we went.
The good luck was not to last very long: on the descent to Hatzenbach, I tried to shift to my big front gear, and the chain fell immediately. That was the great result of the job of the "surgeon" in Cochem. I had to stop, loose all my momentum and put the chain back in place. Later on the lap, I tried to be careful with my shifting, but on Metzgersfeld the chain failed again. So I wasn't in a good mood when, after Ex-Muhle and Bergwerk, the serious climb started.
From one year to the next, I never remember how hard the climb up Kesselchen, and then to Hohe Acht actually is. And I cannot find the right place, down here in the Alps near my place, to really "model" it. From the half of "km 11" to the top of "km 13" it's a real torture. Then it gives you a sort of a break, before getting even harder all the way to Hohe Acht.
However, on my first lap, I went all the way up without stopping.
Back to the van, I tried to use a screwdriver on my gear shift, to try and fix the damage done by the guy in Cochem, with some success (the chain did not fall again). Then I went for another lap, and Carla followed. Then I went for yet another lap, and Carla chickened out ... She joined in again for a nightime lap (very spectacular and very pleasant, in the cool temperature). Then, around midnight, we went to sleep, setting the alarm clock for 6 AM. At half past 6, I went for lap number 5. And Carla went back to sleep.
I was quite surprised (and proud) that an all of my laps I could go all the way up Kesselchen and the Karussel without stopping, and I stopped only at the last kerb before Hohe Acht. And I made it a point, after a little rest, to get on the bicycle again and pedal the rest of the way (to a well deserved banana, and a glass of ice tea). I was also proud of my speed down Fuchsrohre (up to 87.5 km/h: I even passed one of the service cars), and specially in Brunnchen (up to 75 km/h: I'm sure there's cars slower than that). In Wehrseifen, I'm probably quicker on a bicycle than on my motorbike.
After agreeing with Carla that we were to start our final lap at 11:15, I went for my sixth lap. Alone again.
So, in the end, I did the same number of laps of last year (7), but on a longer course (a total of 180 km, according to my speedometer), and finished 309th of the male individuals.
Carla did (just) 4, and finished 21st of the female individuals. But that must be because she did not have her carbon fibers correctly oriented ...
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