Giro di Costa Smeralda – North East Sardinia
I had been hearing about this race for a few weeks beforehand from the locals but I was still shocked when I rode down to the start line and saw the enormity of the whole event. 1700 participants meant I could not even see where the start line was let alone get near it. Three pro-teams, Panaria, Selle Italia, Acqua & Sapore and all the top amateur teams from Italy were here as points were on offer for the “Prestige Series” of races which determine the best riders in the country.
Two races were to be run, one of 110km on mainly flat roads and the second was 145km with approx 20km of climbing on very stiff climbs. Both races started together and split after 80km with all riders been tracked with an electronic tag. With no grading system in Italian racing all riders have a choice of events to participate in so all the hype had finally gotten to me and I chose the easier of the two races on offer. Both races were also the first stage of the “Giro of Sardinia” which is a 6 stage, 7 day race which also counts for the Prestige series so quite a number of the heavy hitters were here.
Race conditions were good – 20 degrees, cloudy and no wind. Once the race started there was an immediate panic by those riders who had got caught in the middle or towards the rear of the bunch, all attempting to get to the front. This made the first 45 minutes of riding very dangerous as roads were also narrow and open to traffic. I noticed the U23 champion of Italy trying to make his way towards the front surrounded by 5 or 6 team- mates, with hands going in all directions. The pace for the first hour was moderate so this did allow those who had got caught at the start to get back up near the front and then the race settled down a bit.
After 40km the race was split after a serious of small hills with a front group of approx 200 which contained all the main players. There was 2 chasing groups of approx 50 each which made it back on but were immediately shelled when another hill was encountered at 50km. I was part of this group of strugglers while the front guys appeared to be still talking to each other with their hands on top of the bars.
At 60km Raimondas Rasmus (3rd in TDF & convicted drugs dealer), attacked and set the front bunch into action. Rasmus was chased by 2 riders from Panaria and then a group of 15. Rasmus held a 1`00 lead hitting the hills with 30km left over the 2 chasers and 2 minutes over the next group. This was as close as they got as he pulled away on the climbs and came a full 5 minutes ahead of the 2 chasers. There was a low key reception for winner at the line with most of the talk about his past history. There was gigantic performance by two of the lads form Cagliari coming in as part of the 15 man group sprinting for 4th place which was made up mainly of pro`s.
The shorter race was decided by a break away group of 6 ahead of two large chasing groups with the rest well dispersed. As for myself, I was classed as 76th in a field which would probably be at a level the same as B racing in Ireland. It was a tremendous experience just to be riding so close to some of the pros, even though it was not for long, and to be part of such a large field of riders. This was one race I wont be forgetting for quite a while.