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08-04-2024 | Luc Nouwen

Cyprus Gran Fondo: Third time's the charm

The Cyprus Gran Fondo occurred from March 29 to 31. This was my third participation; I competed in the medio fondo due to my age. The event featured a time trial and two demanding mountain stages over three days. Alternatively, the first day offered a road race for those less inclined towards time trials.

Cyprus Time Trial

Quest for the Worlds

Aiming for the UCI Gran Fondo ITT World Championships, I had previously placed fourth in Antalya and Coimbra. With under ten competitors in my age category each time, reaching the podium was essential for qualification. In Cyprus, with eleven entrants, the goal remained the same. The 28-kilometer Cyprus time trial included a challenging climb before the turnaround. Competing against world champion Sylvan Adams and past winner Ulf Spang, achieving top three was daunting.

With ideal weather at 25 degrees, Sylvan and Ulf started before me. My strategy was straightforward: if no one overtook me and I kept close to Ulf, the podium was possible. After three recon runs, I knew the course well. My plan involved fast pacing, maintaining high wattages, and not easing up in the first kilometer. Gradually, I closed in on Ulf, who started 30 seconds earlier. I navigated the hills efficiently, saving enough energy for a strong finish.

My choice of a close wheel over Ulf's regular ones paid off, especially on the downhill return to the finish. I managed to overtake and leave Ulf behind. The final kilometer was a struggle, culminating in a steep short climb. The leaderboard showed two Israeli flags ahead of me and two Swedish behind. Third attempt, a success! I secured my World Cup qualification.

Cyprus Gran Fondo

Post-time trial recovery

The day after such a time trial is always uncertain in terms of physical response. To my surprise, during the warm-up, I felt fresh and strong. The day's challenge was nine ascents, totaling roughly 1500 meters over 70 kilometers, following a 20 km neutral start. I kept up with a small lead group during the first 6-kilometer climb but had to ease off 500 meters from the top. Unable to rejoin them on the descent, I struggled to find my rhythm on the next climb. Isolated, I watched four age group competitors pull ahead.

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During the third climb, I noticed Canadian Alan Favell ahead and Johannes Akkerman, a Dutch native living in Sweden, behind me. Alan wasn't at his best, while Johannes approached. Together, we navigated climbs four and five effectively. On the sixth ascent, a gran fondo group overtook us. Johannes advanced, but I couldn't match his pace. Soon, he too slowed down, but I lacked the strength to close the gap. In the descent and flat section leading to the seventh climb, I joined another gran fondo group. Their brisk pace helped us catch Johannes and others. The group fragmented on a descent, but I managed to stay with them, enduring the seventh climb. With Johannes trailing, a podium finish seemed possible. Ahead, I spotted Gil, third in the race. At the eighth climb's base, we caught him.

Gil tucked in behind me, both of us aware this climb could decide the stage. After the steepest part, I realized Gil wasn't with me anymore—he later mentioned cramps. My strategy of staying in pursuit had worked; I secured third place again, behind the unassailable world champion and the superior climber Ulf.

The podium of the Cyprus Gran Fondo

A tough final day

Sunday's course was tailor-made for climbers and risk-takers, featuring a 5 km ascent with steep parts and a narrow, twisty descent. My legs were still responsive. Before the main climb, we had already covered 1000 meters over 30 km, a clear indicator of the challenge ahead. On the climb, I maintained my own rhythm. Surprisingly, the world champion struggled, allowing me to climb with Gil and Johannes, keeping Ulf in sight.

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Distances: 134km/1592m+, 79km/861m+.

In the descent, I led to minimize risks. However, this meant I bore the brunt of the workload on flatter sections and smaller climbs. As a Flemish commentator might say, "he lets others eat off his plate while neglecting to eat and drink himself." Approaching the final 12-kilometer climb, I was last in the lead group, poised to contest the win. Suddenly, my energy vanished, and I helplessly watched the group pull away. I tried to stay calm, but didn't manage to take the gel that might have helped. The gap widened. With 3 kilometers left, I heard Hebrew behind me. Sylvan and a fellow countryman overtook me. Attempting to latch onto their pace, I quickly realized it was futile.

Drained, I ended the third day in fifth. No third podium finish, but I earned three medals, the last as a finisher. It was a humbling lesson in experience for a 64-year-old. But tomorrow, I turn 65 and start anew!

A heartfelt thanks to Mike, Eleni, and their team for an excellently organized event, free of unnecessary frills!

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