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Mike's story: Randonnée di Napoli

BaseCamp athlete Mike Adsit shares his experience at the 2024 Randonnée di Napoli in Italy.

As I do every season, I checked in at the beginning of the year with a friend from Arezzo, Italy, whom I met many years ago on a randonnee north of Rome and with whom I have stayed in contact over the years. I have joined his club for some sort of cycling event almost every year since then. Ale sent me a list of events he was planning for the year. The 190Km Randonnee di Napoli last Sunday fit nearly perfectly with my own preparations and planning for 2024 in almost every respect, except for one…. RdN was being held on Gravel Challenge weekend. I had a choice to make.

Being held in Napoli and Campania, in Italy, which from personal experience I knew had challenging road surfaces, but that’s another story, I thought that perhaps I could do the Randonnee and get in a near gravel like experience but compressed into one long day in the saddle. The route started in Napoli, continued to Sorrento, jumped over to the Amalfi coast, went over the Valico di Chiunzi mountain pass to encircle Mount Vesuvius (the volcano that erupted 2000 years ago and engulfed Pompeii in volcanic ash ultimately resulting in some of the best areas in the world for growing tomatoes like those used in the best Neopolitan pizzas) to return to Napoli. I couldn't resist the call for the long needed weekend getaway that I promised my wife months ago.

The Amalfi Coast road, which was a main feature of RdN is one of the most beautiful roads I have ridden, anywhere. It’s easier to ride than to drive, which I did the day before. It’s carved into a cliff with the sea on the right, slightly downhill most of the way, plenty of sharp turns and oncoming traffic. If you miss a turn it’s a precipitous fall into the drink. Gorgious and exhilarating. I understand that has starred in memorable chase scenes of several classic movies.

In order to get to the road leading to Amalfi, however we had to ride out of Naples and through crowded touristy streets near Sorrento. Napoli is cursed with possibly the worst "paved" roads in Europe, maybe in the entire world. Pavee paving is ubiquitous around Napoli. My body is still chattering, three days later. If riding pavee counts as a legitimate alternative to gravel, I deserve full credit for the gravel challenge!

I rode the first part of the Randonnee with my Italian friends from Arezzo. We started at 7:00am and made nice time through the first two stops for “Ristoro” and to have our control cards stamped.

Shortly after the second control stop near Sorrento, at about 60Km in to the ride, the course route was closed off because of an automobile race along the same route as the randonnee. I had fallen back several hundred meters behind my friends and lost site of them. I did not get the message that because of the road closure, Randonnee was diverted on to a parallel road across the remainder of the Sorrento peninsula to the Amalfi coast. Because my Garmin had chosen the "best" day of the year to act up (I kept getting a notice that there was an error calculating the route) I was worried that I might run out of battery charge by the end of the day because of excessive repeated route calculation errors.

I simply thought that my best chances to complete the event would be to get back to the original course ASAP, which I did. I proceeded downhill for several kilometers, past the race cars (mini Formula 1 style) getting set up for their race. All was great until the police stopped me several Kilometers down the hill, making their intensions abundantly that I was not to pass by using plenty of internationally understood Italian hand motions bordering on obscene gestures. The road was closed and there was no choice but to ride back up the hill and continue via the detour route. By that time made it back up the hill I was riding by myself and contemplating whether I should bail from the 200 Km route and join the 100km route to Solerno, from where I could return to the start in Napoli by train. Race on. My race quickly became me against my Garmin battery. I had no idea whether or not it would last until the end of the event. Let’s just say that I was concerned whether the route was sufficiently well marked for me to make it back safely should my Garmin ran out of battery.

Along the Amalfi Coast road, when not concentrating on avoiding oncoming traffic or missing a turn that would send me over the cliff and into the Med, I decided that if I made it to the ristoro stop in Maiori before 13:30, I should have sufficient time in the bag to complete the full route well before the cut off. And so it came to pass.

At Maiori we turned left and headed uphill for the main climb of the day, Valico di Chiuzi, which was about 12km long. Overall it was not horribly steep and I was able to ride up the hill at a reasonable tempo and felt comfortable. Go Team Base Camp!

The nice part of any ride uphill usually means a fun downhill. The Valico di Chiuzi climb was no exception as it overlooked the fertile and built-up plane at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, which was seen in the distance for much of our ride back, until we reached the more urban environs closer to Napoli.

As the road leveled off, I hooked up with two other riders, whom I wished would ride a bit faster and who spent more time than I would have liked engorning themselves at the "slow food" ristoro at rest stops. We were treated to a healthy plate of pasta and tomato sauce served at a folk festival, and then 25 Km later to savory Swiss chard pie, or something more meaty for the non vegetarians, at a local salami shop that’s been in operation for over 150 years.

As we left the salami shop it was already clear that darkness was quickly approaching. There met up with a club riding together, and I decided that my best option to return home safely was to tag on to their tails, as the guys I had been riding with previously wanted to continue shmoozing over apparently the best salami outside Naples, and a couple more shots of limoncello.

Before leaving the salumeria (salami shop) I turned on the lights embedded in reflectors that I wore pinned to my socks and jersey, swapped out my red taillight for one with fresh batteries and turned on my headlamp. No compromising on visibility.

As we approached Napoli and could practically smell the finish, darkness fell. The return route took us back through the municipal center of Napoli. The roads were no better than the pavee we rode on in the morning when leaving Naples. Fortunately, there were occasional bike paths, however for much of the ride it was simply a bunch of middle aged cyclists with dimming running lights, who should have been old enough and wise enough to have had more sense but for their misperceived notion of needing to race to make it back before the time cut. Our group went to battle in the dark traffic filled streets of Napoli against impatient Italian drivers intent on driving nowhere fast.

Had it not been for my being latched onto a cycling club team (aptly called VulTours, named for the Vulture regional park, about 2 hours outside Naples) I most certainly would have sensibly called my wife to avoid the risk of cycling alone through a bustling Italian city in the dark. Fortunately, despite our group idiocy, we all came through unscathed. Nevertheless, for me cortisol levels were off the charts.

As I was riding through the dark and heavily trafficked streets of Napoli, I kept comparing my experience trying to thread the needle between cars I could barely see in the tightly packed traffic to that of Luke Skywalker. I got in the zone, followed my instincts and the line of the rider in front of me, and prayed that my bike handling skills were good enough. I survived.

The Force must have been with me.

I want to take this final opportunity in my 2024 Base Camp to thank our coaches, especially Tim Cusick, Jim Pomeroy, Menachem Brodie, Namrita Brooke and Tina Hart, for organizing anoother outstanding winter program and enabling me to reach an important interim objective on Sunday. I am well on my way to meeting my season's goal. I cannot say that my FTP increased dramatically, but haven't we learned that we are much more than our FTP? What I can say with confidence is that that my skill, endurance, strength and confidence as a rider definitely all increased without bounds this winter and as a result I was able to complete the 2024 winter Base Camp with a tough and incredibly fun event, and memories that will last a lifetime.


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