The Assos Race

The Assos Race

The day I visited Assos, I just happened to be in town for the annual race the company sponsors. It runs from their store in Paradiso up to Ciona on the shoulder of Monte San Salvatore. So when Desiree asked if I would do the race, I had to answer yes, despite having crashed that morning. I mean, I had a 1 in 365 chance of being in town to participate and I just happened to hit the right day.

Yes was the only answer, right?

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The race was a mass-start uphill time trial, a mere 5k. And everyone there knew the course except me. I can say this much: The course went up from the very first meter.

It was a terrific affair. There was a Mercedes pace vehicle of some variety that barely even makes it to the U.S. It churned on a V8 that slept through the drive up the mountain, though we were treated briefly to its singing voice when its driver started it minutes before we launch up the climb.

IMG_6922Calling this thing badass is like calling James Joyce a storyteller. 

There were, perhaps, 70 riders. They ranged from aspiring espoirs on local teams to 50-something guys like me who looked (unlike me) as if they’d been fast since the 1970s, and maybe had been domestiques for the likes of Tony Rominger.

Two turns in and one of the young kids went so wide in a turn that he ran into the far curb and went down. No problem; 100 meters up the road he came by me as if he was still destined to win. The leaders, by this time, though, were already well out of site. The ramp that marked the edge of town was so colossally steep I found myself wishing I’d avoided alcohol since the Bush administration. It was on that pitch that a rider who had to have 15 kilos on me, maybe more, rolled by me, out of the saddle, as if he could maintain that until nightfall.

IMG_6914I could spend a year exploring this place.

People actually lined the road and cheered for us. It was the first time in my life anyone has ever shouted “Forza!” on my behalf and done it without trying to be Euro cutesy.

I figured if I wasn’t last that would be enough to satisfy me. I mean, it’s a goal I set for myself and was easy to verify, so how could I lose?

Easy, it turns out.

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Less than 200 meters from the finish, yet another guy, big enough to wear me like a backpack, caught and passed me, making a mammoth effort, one that I didn’t appreciate until I rounded a bend and saw the finish line a mere 10 meters away. Crap. Had I known, I might have held him off. And thus, I clawed defeat from satisfaction.

Riders gathered at the right of the road another 20 meters beyond the finish. For the most part riders spoke little English, but it was easy to discern the women who took first and second. I’d figured that much out as they passed me in the first kilometer.

Whoosh, whoosh.

IMG_6913Second and first, respectively, from the women’s field.

Once the sweat stopped dripping from our chins onto our bars we headed on down the road, through a tiny village and to a sports club with a bar and restaurant. There, Assos provided the competitors with a dinner of pork ribs, fries and salad. It was as good a post-race meal as I’ve had. Let me hasten to add that as a Southerner, my people think they know a thing or two about barbecuing ribs. We would do well not to get too uppity. These were some of the most moist ribs I’ve eaten.

IMG_6924I’d have eaten seconds and renounced the land of my birth.

They held podium ceremony after podium ceremony. There were juniors, espoirs, women, old guys, fast guys and more. I stayed far too long. The sun was long down when I realized if I waited for someone to drive me down I’d fall asleep before they were partied out, and I still needed to pack my bike for the next leg of my trip. Rolling through the switchbacks by the light of Lugano was a plan no one would call genius, but I was short on options.

Back at my hotel the night manager took one look at me and asked if I’d ridden the race. He chuckled even before I could nod my head.

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