What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Previews: This Weekend’s L’Eroica

There’s a place in the centre of Italy, precisely in the south of the Tuscany region called Crete. Have you ever seen those pictures inviting you to Tuscany for a full immersion vacation in places reminding of the old good times? Lonely country houses on the top of the hills and a row of cypresses bringing up the rear. This is exactly the Crete region. A land without trees. Just hills and cypresses. And roads. White and dusty.

It’s the land where the time never flows. Everything looks exactly how it was hundreds of years ago. It’s the land of the deep dishes full of soups: beans and cabbage cleverly mixed. The land of the brown bread. The land of the white roads. Strade Bianche.

“Last year I was caught just about the finish” – his voice now is low and quiet. “I love the Eroica, as I love to attack.” His voice is brilliant and excited. “Two years ago I’ve beaten against a deer, so last year I decided to attack before the first sector of dirt road.” – on the other end of the line is Diego Caccia talking. One of the bravest of the bunch. “I attack because I like to do that and because it’s a need. I have not a good sprint and so my chances drop significantly: so the attack it’s my weapon” – he explains.

“I was well positioned at the beginning of the first sector of dirt road. It slightly comes down and there are two switchbacks” – he laugh while he remembers the bizarre accident that occurred two years ago – “I was in the first thirty, and I was thinking to hold that position, when I suddenly saw… nothing more” – It really happened that two roe deer, a pup and the mother invaded the bunch – “I was in the dust, down below on the ground, surrounded by my own blood. Tebaldi, my coach, was trying to quiet me. The mechanic was so shocked that he preferred to remain seated inside the car. I was taken to the hospital where the doctors took more than five hours to adjust my nose. It’s been the most painful incident I had.”

When Caccia talks about this race calls her “Eroica”. The formal name of the RCS competition is “Strade Bianche” but he gives the same name of the Fondo organized since years on the same roads, to remind the good old times where, every year, hundreds of people use the same old bikes the pioneers of this sport used back then.

“There’s really something Heroic in this race. You can love it or hate it. As it happens for the Roubaix. But, for sure, it’s different from all the others. It’s heroic to ride to the limit in descents paved by dust and stones. It’s heroic the scenario. The roads, the people on those roads; since the departure you can find supporters wearing ridiculous moustaches and old fashion jerseys.”

There are eight sectors of white roads. The first five are the longer. There’s not a meter of flat but you can’t really talk about climbs. It’s hard also to imagine a route full of changes and without clear key points. The attack could take place everywhere. And it’s also hard to choose what is worst between climbs and descents. Climbs are hard, descents are terribly dangerous.

“Last year I decided to stay in front and I attacked before the first sector” – “Over there you can save a lot because you can mistake a bend without jeopardizing your position. In the middle of the bunch you risk the bones because everyone risks to the limit to maintain the position. The selection is tremendous since the first sectors have a lot of hills, because on the climbs you’ve to stay ahead.” – “If you stay behind you always make double job. You always find a problem, someone stopping in front of you, a fall, a puncture”. “This is a race you can make the difference everywhere and it’s hard for the bunch to keep the right time to the break” – He rode last edition well ahead. He was there, going to win since the last, hard, white road climb, with a couple of dreams more in the head, but no more legs to support them. – “That day I was mounting the 39×28 and I found it hard. There are climbs with dizzy slopes” – Caccia is accustomed to ride a break – “My first big race in the Pro was the Giro di Lombardia in the 2006. My coach Volpi was phoning me every evening since a couple of weeks before, ordering me to prepare an attack. When I met him in the hotel elevator the evening before I just said – Tomorrow I’m going to attack – and nothing more. That race I was in the early breakaway with Totschnig and we made it till the Ghisallo. I can remember how tough the climb up to the Ghisallo was, but I finally finish the race. It was a Lombardia, not a common race, I had to finish it!”

After four years with Barloworld he joined the ISD during the winter. “It’s a very good team. We are a group. It’s familiar but very professional. This team combines a domestic atmosphere with modern and professional methods. We are voted to attack, but well focused on Visconti’s race. Visconti is our leader with great legs in this moment and Saturday I will try to attack to prepare his final.”

So me and Caccia appointed for a meeting on one of the white road sectors on Saturday. “If I will see one of the Pez guys I will know it’s you! I have good legs, I feel good at this time also if I prefer the hot weather” Caccia is Full of surprises and when I ask some race pictures he shows a great view of the bunch.

“Sometimes I would like to have a camera inside the group. Bike races it’s hard world but sometimes so fun. You’ve to imagine a group of people splitting the soul for a couple of hours since the early break lives. You should listen to the comments then. Sometimes I find myself laughing for what happens.” – It’s something to believe, and I imagine someone else telling about the time when Caccia met a roe on his way!

“Last year I was caught just about the finish” – his voice now is low and quite – “The group has got a sort of calculator that gives exact indication how to extinguish the breaks. But I always hope that, a day, this calculator mistakes. That will be my day. That will be the day I will play my cards”

“Being in the breakaway it’s a poker game. You’ve to be patient. Don’t show all your cards to early and not too late.” – “The first think is the feeding: you’ve always to care about the reservoir. Feed it in time. Drink correctly, not too much, not too little. The partners are also challengers; you need them but they will become a problem soon. You’ve to not excite too easily and not to depress also. You’ve to understand who’s probably stronger of you and who’s weaker. You have also your bluff.”

“Those roads have something special” – he’s already riding over there. You feel from his words, from the voice. A row of cypresses, a white, dirty road, a bike to ride on. There’s a house on the top of that hill. It stays there since hundreds year and the same road was left as that time. Now the bikes are jewels and the bunch is colourful, but the hearts of those young guys have the same rhythm of the pioneers.

The cypresses know this story. They stand in a row and seem to reflect on something serious. The smoke from the fireplace invades the hills and the soup fills the deep dishes. The time here doesn’t flow. Crazy race, fast for nothing. There’s a life to spend to really understand it.

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