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World Gran Fondo Sep 2022 Trenton, Italy

Diane Schleicher | Published on 11/21/2022

I have been participating and racing the World Gran Fondo events since 2017 with the exception of 2020 and 2021 due to the impacts of the pandemic

2017 - Albi, France
2018 - Varese, Italy
2019 - Poznan, Poland
2022 - Trenton, Italy

The US qualifying events for the World Gran Fondo each year are the Cheaha Challenge (100 Mile Race) in Jacksonville, Alabama in May and the Utah-Cacha Gran Fondo (76 Mile Race) in Cacha Valley, Utah in July.

The Cheaha Challenge is a tough qualifier due to the length and elevation gains, but it’s nearby and well organized. The Cheaha Challenge has an added component which is a separate time trial qualifier. I race both with the hopes of qualifying for both events. With the Cheaha Challnge, one can decide to only race and qualify for one event, the time trial or the Gran Fondo. That is an added benefit for racers with a strong time trial background who want to race at a Worlds event or for traditional road racers who only want to race the Gran Fondo. One can pick one or the other or both. The qualifying parameters is to be in the top 20% of ones age group. In smaller fields, one has to be top three.

This year, I qualified for both the Worlds Time Trial and the Gran Fondo. It was a much tougher qualifier for me than in years past. I tested positive for Covid after having attended the Twilight Criterium in Athens with friends and family. The Cheaha Challenge this year was on May 14th and 15th which gave me little recovery time, but I qualified placing 2nd in the time trial and first in the Gran Fondo in my age bracket of 65-69. I coughed all the way up the QOM climb and had a near disastrous mechanical on the steep down hill out of the Cheaha State Park. The handle bar came loose, and I barley managed not to crash. A nearby spectator had the tool I needed to tighten everything back up, so I could complete the race.

After qualifying, I started making plans to go to Italy in September to compete. The organizers of the event required a health letter stating I was fit to compete which required an EKG. I got one in early June from my primary. The EKG showed an abnormal rhythm. I couldn’t get a cardiac appointment until late June. Once there, the cardiac physician said I still had an abnormal rhythm. She suspected I had some slight heart damage due to Covid and ordered a battery of tests and put me on a lower heart rate exercise routine. After three weeks of low heart rate exercises and expensive testing, my EKG was finally normal. I received the medical clearance letter and was back training at a higher level of intensity for Worlds. With my power meter, I could tell that I was not 100% but was steadily improving.

I booked my trip with an Italian tour company, OneMoreRide ( that specializes in European Bike tours and races. I used the company when I raced in Poznan, Poland in 2019 and rented bikes from them in Varese, Italy and Poznan. They have many services that take the stress out of preparing for a race oversees. They provide a transport option to and from the airport, they book a 4 star hotel that is very close to the start finish line of the races (less than a half mile from the race event village), they have mechanics who assemble and pack your bicycle. They organize reconnaissance rides for both the time trial course and Gran Fondo course, they provide individual aid stations for fluids and nutrition on the course. The company has a massage therapist on staff if you want to schedule a message each afternoon. One can also rent a competitive, high end bicycle for the event. The package includes breakfast and dinners. Lunch is on your own. I flew with Delta to and from Milan, Italy (Malpensa Airport). The Delta staff went above and beyond what would be expected when I broke my ribs in Varesa, Italy in 2018 and couldn’t fly home until I healed. I’ll never forget that.

Of course, I couldn’t leave for the race in Italy without one more challenge. On Tuesday, August 30th, I crashed my bicycle at the Stone Pile round about. I was riding on the round about from the direction of Turners Corner and just passed the Woody Gap entrance when a pickup truck came barreling into the round about without regards to me. I swerved to avoid the truck, caught the curb and fell over. Of course, the driver didn’t stop, but multiple drivers did and one cyclist who saw the event said he as sure I was going to be hit. I didn’t break any bones but was very sore with bruises. I was very lucky that was all.

Part One: 20 K Time Trial - Thursday, September 15th, 2022

At the UCI Time Trials the officials are very particular about the geometric parameters of the time trial set up which is different than the standard triathlon bicycle. It is best to start with a bike that has UCI certified frame. The frame should have a sticker. If one modifies the handle bars including the arm pads, the bicycle might not be compliant. The race village will have a jig to set the bicycle on to make sure the distances between the handle bars and seat are compliant including the height of the seat, etc. I don’t understand all of the geometry, but had my personal time trial bike set up a few years ago. For Worlds, I have rented my time trial bike and traveled over with my road bike. The company I rent my time trial bike from is very good at setting up the bicycle to be UCI compliant. The only issue I have had is that their bikes are that they are a tad large for me since I ride a 49cm bike. It’s hard to get into the perfect aero position required to ride your best. I am contemplating on bringing my own time trial bike next time. It is smaller and dialed in to my size.

One common mistake on time trial bike set ups that I have seen at Worlds is too long of aero bars. One rider I know had to have the bars cut back at a local bike shop before she could race. That is stressful the day before a race. Another rider I know had very large arm pads for more leverage and comfort. The large pads were not UCI compliant. Thank goodness she brought her standard pads to change out before the race.

At the start of the time trial, the officials check out the time trial bicycles one more time for compliance and also scanned each bike for illegal internal motors. The ramp this year was not too steep like in some previous years, but the course did begin and end on cobble like pavers which is disconcerting to race on with skinny time trial wheels. Also, racer from Mexico that started before me nearly fell off the ramp with a very wobbly start. I am not sure how much experience she had with start ramps. It was hard to focus with such distractions, but I was all set once I got going.

I really like participating in the time trial at Worlds for two reasons. It gets me focused on racing because there are so many distractions with being in a new exciting place with athletes from around the world. The time trial is on Thursday and the Gran Fondo is on Sunday. Getting a race under my belt helps me focus on Sunday’s race and erases any anxiety of the event at hand.

The 20 k flattish course had a teardrop layout, so there was no tight turnaround which are more common in time trials in the States. There were lots of intersection turns and roundabouts to navigate at top speed. The organizers did an excellent job with course markings and traffic control especially when you consider the race was on a weekday/workday out and back into a busy city. This year, I place 4th in the 65-69 year old women’s category. I am thinking I can improve my performance in the time trial next year if I race my own time trial bicycle. I will just need to drag two bikes oversees.

Part Two: 55 Mile Gran Fondo with 8,000 feet of Climbing (approximately 145 feet of Climbing per Mile) - Sunday, September 18th, 2022

The Gran Fondo course was very intimidating and probably the most challenging courses they have had in recent years. For preparation in August, I road out of Helen and up Hog Pen on the long side three times in a row without stopping and back to Helen. Three friends went with me and took turns riding up Hog Pen. When we got back to Helen we enjoyed some apple strudel and coffee in celebration. The ride nearly replicated the distance and elevation gain per mile as the course at Worlds in Trenton. This ride helped me mentally to know that I could actually do the climbing necessary. So much of what holds us back in cycling is in our minds not our legs. I just needed to focus on speed.

Once in Trento, One More Ride Leaders did reconnaissance rides on the course. We road three different times once included the 12 mile climb near the beginning of the race. We also practices the 9 mile technical decent that is at the end of the with multiple hairpin curves. It’s probably the most dangerous part of the race since all riders are so fatigued at this point. The Gran Fondo is a closed course to traffic, so racers had the whole road up and down. It snowed in the mountains the day before the race, but the roads were dry for the race.

At the start of the race, racers are corralled by age and gender. The men start before the women of each course length. Men ages 19 to 59 and Women 19 to 49 race the Gran Fondo course of 89 miles and 12,795 feet of climbing. Men 60 to 84 and Women 50 to 79 race the Medio Course of 55 miles and 8,000 feet of climbing.

The course rolls out of town utilizing about 10 miles of somewhat flattish roads from the time trial course before turning right through a little village with a sharp start of the first 12 mile non stop climbing up a mountain called Bondone (elevation 5,137 feet). I was passed by two women in my age group on the climb and passed three women in my age group. With the mixing of the age categories on the course, it’s hard to know exactly where you are in relationship to your direct competitors.

There is an aid station at the top of that climb which is at just over 5,000 feet above sea level. I stopped briefly to get new bottles of Infinit Nutrition Go Far Vegan formula and a thin jacket for the cold 10 mile decent. In hind sight, I wish I had only worn a vest which would have been easier to take off on the bicycle while riding. I am not the most coordinated in such circumstances. After the long decent, we raced through little mountain villages with 13% to 18% climbs. People were lining the sidewalks along the road cheering everyone one as we struggled up these short but spiky climbs. After the villages, the course doubled around the other side of the Bondone for another long climb. That’s when the leg cramps set in. I was so relieved to complete the last climb. The younger racers on the longer course had to continue further up to the top of that climb again. I did not envy the longer course. The shorter course went down the 9 mile technical decent that I had practice twice and back into the city.

Once again, I place 4th overall in my age group against a strong field of women and was just 50 seconds behind the 3rd place Slovenian rider who had placed 1st in the time trial a few days earlier.

It was a very good experience to challenge myself on such a hard course and to overcome the obstacles that came my way this year. I met so many new and old friends from all over the world. It was also great this year to see local Georgia cyclists competing at the time trial race including fellow Sorella Cycling teammate, Katie Pothier!

Italy was so lovely and the Italians would say, “Sister” when they saw my Sorella t-shirts and/or hoodie when I was out shopping in town. Such travel for racing requires a lot of logistics, but it is such a lovely experience to visit another country and be surrounded by so many accomplished athletes who share a passion for bicycle racing. Participation requires year round training to qualify and to have a good results especially when competing with retired Olympic and UCI World Champions. I really appreciate the support and encouragement that I receive from Sorella Cycling. My team mates are the best. I feel so honored to wear the USA kit and rub elbows with so many amazing athletes. Next year, Worlds are being held in Glasgow, Scotland. Hope to qualify again!