I did my 2nd gran fondo yesterday. A great experience. The starts are scary though! The standard of the riders and the back-up is so high. There are team cars, motorbikes with spares, soigneurs handing out bottles and food to their riders (but noone else!) etc. The one yesterday had 3,000 people in it, about a 1,500 did the shorter course with me – 104km, with 1250m climbing instead of 165km with 2500m climbing – but you all set off together and “split” about 20km in.

The 1st 20km was unreal – 50kmph, brake to stop, up to 50kmph, brake, and so on. I was redlining in the first few kms – my garmin said I was doing 42kmph up a 4% gradient which never seemed to end. Having fought my way to near the front, I was popped off the back of the 1st group at about 10km before the “real” climbing had even begun! Still, found my rhythm in a group of about 20 or so riders who’d either also been spat out the back or who’d started further back in the chaos. Terrific stuff going up the mountains – TV camera bikes, police bikes, even a helicopter swarming above me (they are quite annoying actually), felt very PRO.

I got 3rd in my little group in the sprint to the line, 73rd overall and 16th in my age group. Averaged 37kmph for the 104km course, which had some damn hard climbing in it. Pretty pleased. The winners of the long course (165km, nearly 3000m climbing) were awesome – definitely PRO level, averaging over 40kmph. Ridiculous. I finished in time to take a snap of the two of them coming over the line together.

While waiting at the start, I saw one of the best bikes you’ll ever see – the new Look frame in mondrian paint scheme (remember the La Vie Claire block coloured scheme of the 80s?), super record, bora wheels …. Needless to say, he sniffed a bit at my “touring bike”. Some real exotica here for bike lovers – caught a time trial the Marche TT Champs in a local village. Everyone was kitted out to the max, Pinarello TT machines, campag discs… The course was 25km, relatively flat. Winner averaged 52kph. Ouch.

The riding generally here is superb, Le Marche has some great roads, hills, mountains, little towns. It’s much less touristy than Tuscany or Umbria. Loads of cyclists everywhere. It’s a great place.

Rome next, then the Pyrenees.