Lombardia could arguably be considered as the epicentre of amateur cycle racing worldwide, and if you happened to be a sprinter there was nothing more in the world you could wish for. Here the roads were paved in gold, the sun shone all season long, and week after week 100 plus bike riders would be on the start line beside me, yes the land of milk and honey.
Last season I had raced, but after signing for Ceramica Lemer for the 2009 season, I didn’t race, I really raced. Ceramica Lemer was based in Buscate, home of the legendary Giuseppe Saronni, the 1982 World professional road champion, but other than this fact, Buscate seemed to have little else going for it.
From March through to October I would spend every Sunday driving across Milan to race on this side of the city, here the racing was far more intense and the fields were far larger than I had been used to last season, where I had raced closer to our home in Crema.
Living here in Italy, my heritage laid claim to the Italian blood that flowed through my veins, but it seemed that there could be no claim to Lombardian sprinters blood. Fast twitch fibers it seemed were not part of my genetic make up, and this made Lombardia a very very difficult place to race.
My Italian language skills were coming together as slowly as my sprint, however I quickly learned a few vital words, Fuga; there never was one, Volata; there always was one, and Gregario; I would quickly become one.
Fuga; The Breakaway.
The only chance I had in this sprinters paradise was to get into a breakaway and hope that break away would succeed. That required a 100 percent effort, not only by me, but also by my break away companions. Too many times the breakaway would fail through a frustrating lack of co operation within the group, or worse we would be caught within kilometers of the finish, 5km to go in Galliate, 1km from the line in Liscate and finally in Corbetta we succeeded, however my better judgement was clouded by my enthusiasm and I crossed the line 7th.
Volata; The Sprint.
Lombardia must be the home of the sprinter, here they are fast, they are fearless and they are very good. Given that all the crack teams have at least one crack sprinter, it is in the interests of most teams to chase down the fuga so the finale would end in a volata. Francesco Gionfredo, former World Champion and hell sprinter, Frank was good, very good and when it came to the volata he was king, come August he had notched up 11 wins and 9 second places.
Gregario; or as the French say Domestique.
The gregario is the guy that goes to the front of the race and rides as hard as he can to bring back the fuga, so it ends in another bloody Volata.
Frank was our Capo and it was my job to make sure if I wasn't in the fuga, there sure as hell wasn't one come a kilometer to go leading into the volata. Only then my work as a gregario was done for the day.
Sunday's in Italia, what a brilliant time of the week, and whats more if we still had the legs after racing on a Sunday we could race again on Monday.
Despite the fact at 47 I was unlikely to ever become a sprinter, Italia was one hell of a place to live and race.