With a combined 50,000 miles of travel between us at the dinner table our patron host Eros Poli announces “Just one rule this week: ‘If you drop, you die!'”
A nervous chortle is coughed up from a few in the group, then attention is drawn to my t-shirt which has the same quote emblazoned with appropriate citation by none other than Eros Poli. The previously high strung nerves are immediately put to ease.
As far as the number of Olympic, world, and national titles is concerned, plus the mere number of professional races, our group of nine has assembled a greater than average pool of talent for this event. It is literally only in arriving to Anglet, France the start town to the seven day Haute Route Pyrenees, snaking its way from west to east over the sky scraping mountains, that we understand how gnarly this race is.
“Okay then what about Grinta?” Tim asks pointing now to Eros’ shirt.
“Ahh yes, rule number two: Grinta!”
Between every person or two around the table there’s a race bible open, where the sporadic flipping of pages reveals another set of mountain passes to cover. I point out that this is far crazier than any stage race, grand tour, or masochistic event director’s brain child could ever be. “We’re literally doing six consecutive mountain stages of the Tour with a freaking 18 kilometer hill climb time trial in the middle. This isn’t bike racing. This is absurd.” Gritting through this week will require an immeasurable level of grinta.
Now eight days later, I’m not sure if it’s the body or mind that has an inherent ability to erase bad memories. And look, woe is us. We of course didn’t have to do this event. We didn’t have to finish every day. We could ride just to the first or second feed zone and hop in the inGamba follow car, immediately comforted with warm food, clean clothes, and entertaining Portuguese commentary from Xico. Sure that would take us it if the general classification or individual stage wins but that’s not what it’s always about nor why we’re here in the first place. Especially because something happens if a number pinned to your back the second you cross the threshold from neutral roll out to racing towards a finish line. You go full gas.
“Full gas.” Eros raises three fingers. “The third rule is all week we only go full gas!” Appropriate, in hindsight, because that’s exactly what we did. This week hurt. Nearly 40 hours, 60,000 feet of climbing, and 570 miles of hurt dished out. Jet-lag didn’t help our cause nor did the start times never later than 7:30am. As a proud veteran of perhaps a dozen inGamba trips, both as a racer seeking training in Chianti or now basking in the more gluttonous side of riding (translation: more Castelli di Ama and tiramisu; fewer 4:1 protein to carbohydrate recovery drinks and intervals) I wouldn’t chalk this up as a normal trip.
Except that it was. Suffering is suffering, so whether it’s on the final pitch towards Lecchi or the last stretch of the Tourmalet, everyone who pedals a bike knows what it is to push through pain. We forewent the evening event feed and dined inGamba family style at local bistros. Some of the group already had shared memories and others created them on the bike which we echoed each night at the dinner table. We ate steak tartare and squid ink risotto (okay, that was only me), perfectly simple French baguettes, and Raul’s on-bike pasta bars. This was definitely inGamba, just the foolishly overachieving side.