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22-11-2023 | Luc Nouwen | 1 Comment

Nirvana GF Antalya: broken bars, broken dreams

From November 16 to 19, the Nirvana Gran Fondo unfolded in Antalya, Turkey, featuring four races: a flat 20 km time trial, a medio fondo covering 66 km with 250 meters of elevation, a gran fondo spanning 98 km with 550 meters of elevation, and a paracycling race on the same course as the medio.

Photo: the back number, always recognizable by the UCI design.

The medio and gran fondo serve as qualifying races for the UCI World Championships, where the top three and up to the 25% best in each age category secure qualification. Approximately 1,500 participants from 36 countries registered, as stated by the organizers. My personal aim was to qualify for both the time trial and road race, allowing me to make reservations for Denmark next year. The World Cup is scheduled for Aalborg from August 28 to September 1, 2024. Spoiler: I unfortunately returned from the journey empty-handed.

Focus on the Time Trial

For the time trial, no expense was spared. Traveling solo meant bringing only one bike. I replaced the handlebars with aero handlebars featuring reclining supports. Additionally, I brought my closed wheel to Turkey and experimented with taking bicarbonate several times. Swallowing a slew of pills is unpleasant, but it seemed to aid in sustaining maximum effort. Assigned race number 245, and nothing could go wrong: May 24 is my wife's birth date! She, who thought she wouldn't be there.

D-day. The day before, I believed I had scouted the course, assuming the start was at the Nirvana Hotel. Although my bike computer sputtered a bit, that contraption can't be smarter than me, can it? I stayed 2.5 kilometers from the presumed starting point. Arriving there, I noticed suspiciously little activity. A kind staff member pointed out that the starting point was 8 kilometers away. The warm-up was thus assured.

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The legs felt strong. In a time trial, true certainty only sets in a few kilometers into the race. The individual without a nationality in front of me nearly tumbled off the starting podium and missed his start time. On the contrary, my start was flawless. I managed to control myself to avoid immediate breathlessness. Soon, I overtook two competitors of my age group. My speed hovered around 40 kilometers per hour. Battling against the wind, the speed dropped to around 36 kilometers per hour as the turning point approached. From there on, it was with the wind. The cadence remained steady, and the speed fluctuated between 42 and 46 kilometers per hour. Despite achieving an average speed just under 42 and setting a new power record, I finished fourth among the ten participants—eight seconds shy of qualifying for the World Cup. At 64.5 years, I must compete in the 60-64 category to have a shot at qualifying for the World Championship in the 65-69 category this year, where I would have secured second place with my time. A bitter pill to swallow.


Nevertheless, I decided to turn the page and seek redemption in the road race, specifically the medio fondo. In my age category, there were 27 registered participants, and securing a position in the top seven seemed feasible. The road race began at the hotel, leading to a chaotic start with the planned division into age categories quickly unraveling. The only thing that seemed to go smoothly was letting the women start at the forefront. With over 400 participants of all ages, it was understandably crowded. Qualification for the World Cup in this distance was exclusive to women aged 50 and above and men aged 60 and above. The younger riders who opted out of the 98 kilometers naturally played a strategic role in the race's dynamics.

Photo: The peloton kicks off after a somewhat chaotic start procedure. © UCI Nirvana Gran Fondo

Positioned midway through the pack at the start, I managed to advance to the first fifty during the initial neutralized kilometers. The weather transitioned from a pleasant 20-plus degrees to a chilly 13 degrees with a wind force of 6. Surprisingly, no one dared to face the wind in the first 20 kilometers. However, a significant crash shattered the peloton just behind me. The momentum continued towards the first challenging incline. Gripping the handlebars by the brake levers for a moment and pedaling, oops; it no longer offered any resistance! My beautiful, expensive aero handlebar was evidently cracked or broken; only the handlebar tape kept it intact. With 40 kilometers remaining, uncertainty loomed. Once back in the saddle and recovered from the shock, the strongest riders surged ahead.

Photo: The damned aero handlebars, with breakage.

The ensuing 40 kilometers proved to be challenging and somewhat precarious. Every turn required cautious maneuvering, and each time, I lost valuable meters that standing on the pedals couldn't compensate for. Battling a 6 Beaufort headwind demanded substantial effort to reclaim lost ground. For miles, I hung 50 to 100 meters behind the second group until it gradually vanished from sight. Just a few kilometers from the finish, I found myself in a third group, spotting one more competitor of my age. Perhaps we would sprint for seventh place later; however, I had no idea how many competitors were ahead or behind me.

In the sprint, I bested two more competitors (including the Italian who thwarted my third-place finish in the time trial and had strategically hidden in the third group). Hours later (the post-finish information could certainly be improved), it turned out to be a sprint for ninth place; two others finished approximately fifty seconds ahead of us.

I gave it my all, but the wind proved formidable, and the only rewards were two finisher medals and a broken handlebar!

Mixed feelings

Antalya is a highly touristy city. Not my cup of tea! The initial days offered enjoyable weather after the abundant rain in Belgium. The delectable food left a lasting impression, and the Turkish mega inflation made shopping exceptionally affordable for Western Europeans. While the organization was reasonably efficient, areas such as racepack collection, the starting procedure, and result information dissemination could be enhanced. The necessity of a deafening sound system during the podium ceremony remains unclear.

Photograph: Post-race discussions with compatriot Karel.

The time trial course was outstanding. However, the medio fondo traversed narrow and winding roads with substantial gravel. I witnessed three crashes ahead of me due to the gravel on the road, with some admittedly overestimating themselves when taking turns. Nonetheless, it was a trip never to forget!

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Rob Thierig 

  22 Nov, 2023     4 months ago     Reply

Dat stuur Luc, wat een pech, en wat een geluk dat het niet helemaal afgebroken is.

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