The Past and the Present
If you're planning or dreaming about cycling in Italy, my job is to make it happen for you.
"Allora, ci vediamo verso le 10?"
Gosia's Italian is better than her English, and my Polish is non-existent, so we speak second-grade Italian and understand each other 95% of the time. We call her Gosia. She knows that pronouncing Małgorzata is a big ask for most people. Today she has 5 hours of hard training on deck. The Women's World Tour Strade Bianche is her first race this year, and I have the Grand Fondo Strade Bianche. So Gosia is the perfect companion to help me achieve my goals. Although, I'm only riding 3 of her 5 hours and what fondo goals could I possibly have? I don't know what Gosia's are but I know we both want our lives to matter.
Gosia and I met on a make-shift women's team in Lucca racing the pro circuit. We didn't speak a common language at the time but understood each other through frequencies. She's an ultimate passista; if there's an opportunity, count on Gosia to seize it. Where she can't outsprint or outclimb her opponents, damn well count on her tenacity, grit, and pure determination. She wins for the team, in whatever capacity is needed.
They say the way we ride is a reflection of our values and our character.
Gosia is dependable, kind, fair, and empathetic; this is the way she races. Her empathy pushes you to be your best because it's not about doing less to win. She works hard and will make you work hard as well. That's what people need in tough times; to be heard, but also to be encouraged to find a deeper strength. Through empathy, you join in that undefinable strength.
Today she starts with the Questura, Lucca's famous moving mass of insanity. It's been going since before Gosia and I first met in July 2010. In short, it's an open road bi-weekly race with the unspoken rules such as "no car shall be an obstruction" and "consider red lights as orange." It took a brief pause from March to December 2017 for reasons you probably can imagine; a new mayor in Viareggio enforced the law. Via Aurelia, an ancient Roman road now a secondary highway and the autostrada are forbidden to cyclists, even if "Cipo" used them for motor-pacing in his glory days.
So a modified route was born, and the locals and the pros have an outlet again to burn off energy and tune up the legs for the pro circuit and the prestigious Italian grand fondo season. Or, to tune up the legs for no reason whatsoever.
I ride the last few kilometers backward to find Gosia in the break usually split at Monte Magno. She's dropped the majority of the bunch including Militare, an OF-3, who's not happy about missing this break. If you can imagine a military officer who takes his cycling seriously, you have Military Man who, like Gosia, makes you work hard.
As Gosia and I set off, so do the remnants of the Questura. They gravitate to her as bees do to flowers in bloom. Militare insists on monitoring her power and her upcoming 18-minute intervals because how can he not? This year Gosia's riding for the new women's Movistar team. She talks about getting physiological testing and other benefits she's never seen on her previous professional teams.
It's funny, but in fact, not that funny at all because Gosia is an Olympian and multiple top twenty world-championships finisher. She's a world-class rider. It can't possibly be rocket science for the women pros to earn a living wage or to have access to scientific testing and professional staff. But when you have a traditional European, male sport where women are showcased on podiums, it's Gosia with her caring yet strong fighting spirit, in fact, as the role women really play in cycling.
Matraia Colle is her first interval climb; Giro della Toscana Femminile goes up this one, so the Strava QOM has been out of reach when left to my own devices. Militare calibrates Gosia's power to his own and they get to it while I freeload in the draft. I don't kid myself that Gosia's TSS is going to quadruple mine, and this little segment is peanuts to her. But quite frankly, I've set my eye on this one for some time.
We crest the climb and Militare further embraces his role but this time as tour guide. He's proudly Lucchese; born, raised, and married here. He's decided to capitalize on the opportunity to get Gosia out of the comfort of her usual training roads and to share top guiding tips with me. He takes us through the hidden narrow roads towards the base of San Gennaro where Gosia ramps it up again. It's her last interval before she spends the fifth hour on her fixed bike.
You know, Gosia and I only rode together six weeks. I actually got "kicked-off" the team for missing a 10:30 pm curfew and not training with the team which was apparently obligatory. She looked at me then, with my bike and bag in hand and we both knew this was pure crap, but she stuck it out while I gave them the finger back. The thing is, though, she became an Olympian and I said to hell with it all.
The beauty of cycling is the freedom. It's the democracy. And it's the companionship; however this translates for people. Regardless of where you're from, what you're doing or how much money you make, the bike unites. It's what Gosia and I have regardless of our choices. We've both created a lifestyle around cycling. And that's just it, how much I enjoy simply riding with her.