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Friedrichshafen to Fonzaso: 18 Hours, 3 Countries, 1 Ride

What do you do after riding 470km through three countries in one 17.5-hour pull? Eat vegan pizza in an Italian parking lot at midnight, apparently. Well, I guess that you crack a bottle of champagne with Andrea Peron, too. At least this is what sticks out when I look back at my best/worst day on a bike.

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Back in August, I chose a different way to get home from EuroBike, one that included a
17.5-hour bike ride with 4,277 meters of climbing from Friedrichshafen, Germany to Fonzaso, Italy. Now, given the tradeshow timeframe, I had some notable industry types accompanying me, including Mavic Brand Ambassador, Mike Cotty, UK Sportful Rep, Paul Whitfield, and the Global Brand Manager for Sportful and Castelli, Steve Smith. In addition to this, we had a two-car support team of Deb Malin, Team Cotty photographer, and Daniel Loots of Sportful.

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Now, even with a summer of both UCI and NRC racing in my legs, I still had friends who doubted such an endeavor. They either thought I was completely mental, or that I couldn’t possibly be referring to a ride that would be attempted in one day. Part of me was too proud to turn down an epic bike ride, but where the skeptics got it right was in the preparation.

How exactly do you prepare for 470km with 4,277 meters of climbing in one day? You can’t, at least not in the traditional sense. Of course, you have the weeks of huge hours with racing sprinkled in on the weekends, but this was the predictable part. What the training guides don’t tell you is how your mind will act during a ride like this. What do you tell yourself after you’ve surpassed your longest ever ride, or when you take the wrong road a handful of times, or even when it starts raining in the middle of a dark foreign country? The commonality that we found in preparation was learning how to reach our lowest lows and then ride through them. Through our cumulative experiences on the bike, we knew that when it gets bad, you’re always able to keep going. However, the bad that we planned for never came. There were no flats, no mechanicals, and no bonking. The first part of this could be accredited to providence, but the latter was the result of continually eating throughout the ride. If I have a tip to extend to you from all this, it’s just that—eat.

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We ended up averaging 27kp/h for 17.5 hours. For 470km, our odds were stacked in our favor. We never skipped a meal, we used the correct tires (Continental Gatorskins), and we had two GPS trackers leapfrogging us to victory. This blessing was largely based on planning, but it also includes a crazy amount of luck, which a bike racer has little expectations for when out on the road.

So what was the best part? Well, it’s funny how closely pain and victory tend to intertwine. The last three hours of our trip were in the dark and the rain, and they plagued my left knee with tendonitis. I wore three jackets, my lamp went out, and I shook vigorously the entire time. Believe me, though, every inch of that journey was amazing, from the peaks in Switzerland to the valleys in Italy, but stepping off my bike into a dark Sportful headquarters parking lot was the best moment of my life. Awaiting our finish was the entire Sportful/Castelli family, equipped for celebrating in standard Italian bike fan fashion—I’m talking about champagne and food, of course. They were all ready to hit you with what they’d been thinking for the past day, “How was it,” “Well, you’re alive and happy, so I guess it wasn’t that hard.” And surprisingly, I don’t think back on it being all that hard.

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I found that if you take a risk, push your limit, and come out unscathed on the other end, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. I’ve raced the Tour of Gila and the Cascade Classic, but I still found myself intimidated by the thought of epic foreign landscapes. And after jumping into the unknown, I’m left seeking out similar rides here at home. So, I guess the lesson is that we can all benefit from pushing it a little harder if we want to truly build lasting memories that we can look back upon fondly. Either way, I solidified that there’s no replacement for the beauty in suffering on the bike.

Photos By: Deborah Malin