Italian Ice Fleche Report: The Spirit is Willing, But the Fleche is Weak

The “Italian Ice” fleche team of Chip Adams, Bob Casciato, Greg Conderacci and Clint Provenza left Middletown, Va. looking like this:

Chip, Greg, Clint, Bob

and finished in Quakertown, Pa. looking like this:

All Finished

In between, they went from sun and fun to dark, cold and wet, and that’s before the police got involved. Greg has written up the team’s adventure and it’s a must read for anybody who has left that heavy rain jacket in the car.

The Italian Ice Capades:
The Spirit Is Willing, But the Fleche Is Wet
by Greg Conderacci

April 29, 2008

The saga of Team Italian Ice and the April 26-27 Eastern Pennsylvania Fleche actually begins on April 25. On that day, Clint Provenza, our strongest member, rides the 140-plus miles from his home near Annapolis, Md. to the ride start in Middletown, Va. Our lazier members, Bob Casciato, Chip Adams and Greg Conderacci, drive.

Feeling a little guilty, Adams and Conderacci ride out to meet Clint about a dozen miles from the finish – and confront our first adventure. The low water bridge across the Shenandoah River is under water. Chip plows across the bridge, up to his bottom bracket in water, ignoring Greg’s pleas to turn back. OK, so tomorrow we start with wet shoes.

Chip, Greg, Clint, BobChip, Greg, Clint, Bob

Saturday dawns bright and clear and our ride scout and navigator Chip adds another benefit to his great route – a visit from his parents who cheerfully pick up our bags from the hotel and send us on our way with waves and hugs at 7 a.m. The Rando Rules specify that a fleche must be at least 240 miles and, just for fun, Chip has added an extra 35 miles. After all, we don’t want to be bored.

You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, and Chip has placed what should be a safe bet on that: we’re heading east to Quakertown, Pa. with the Prevailing Westerlies at our backs – we hope.

Through Golden FieldsThrough Golden Fields

It is a spectacularly beautiful day and we motor along, four cocky PBP finishers, resplendent in our French jerseys, snapping pictures of each other and casually stopping to gorge ourselves at breakfast and lunch. After all, a fleche is supposed to be relaxed, right?

Randonneurs Unite!Randonneurs Unite!

All morning long, no real wind, but as it comes up, it seems to be blowing from the east. Oh, well, no big deal, we think, as we roll into Gettysburg with 125 miles under our belts and almost 5,000 feet of climbing. It’s only 4 p.m. We are making great time and we barely feel the temperatures which hover in the high 80s.

Classic PA Covered BridgeClassic PA Covered Bridge

But as we turn east, the temperatures drop, the headwind stiffens and the hills become relentless. We press on, jaws set, eyes squinting, legs churning. We arrive at Fawn Grove, Pa., just as the light fails us. We are at 175 miles and it is 8 p.m. We have 11 hours to ride just 100 miles. Piece of cake.

Dinner StopLast Time in Dry Clothes

With temperatures in the 60s and the heaviest climbing ahead of us, Conderacci, as usual, over-dresses and is ridiculed by his mates. But as we cross the mighty Susquehanna, the skies open and the temperature plunges into the 40s. Everyone digs for rain gear in the drenching downpour and we all think the same thing: this could be one dark, nasty century.

Over the next 25 miles, the complexion of the ride changes dramatically. Can you say “hypothermia,” boys and girls? We pull into an all-night 7-11 and take stock of our situation. We are all shaking uncontrollably, especially Clint who does not have the advantage of the body fat the rest of us carry. Conderacci heads off to a coin-op laundry in a vain effort to dry his clothes. Everybody else chugs hot soup, hoping to restore internal body temperatures. Nothing much helps.

Warming UpWarming Up

As we ride into the bitter black night, our average speed falls like a stone. Since none of us believe in fenders, we can’t draft without getting an icy shower. Fast descents on slippery roads are out of the question. The wind is slashing through our wet clothes and every descent is like taking a dip off the Titanic. We pray for climbs and are grateful for the shred of warmth they offer. Fortunately, there are plenty of them: we will climb more than 10,000 feet in the second half of the ride.

We stop to wrap Clint in a space blanket under his sopping jacket, but it doesn’t help much. We need to go fast to maintain body heat, but Clint is too cold to do that. Finally, we have to face reality: we need to get Clint help – fast.

Warming Zone AheadClint’s last control: No. Coventry TWP Police Station

Chip remembers a police station on the route in Pottstown. At 3:45 a.m., the lone cop on duty lets us into the station and points Clint to the restroom. Before we know it, Clint sees a shower stall, strips off his sopping wet bike clothes and hops in to warm up. After using all the hot water, he bundles his still-shivering body in a huge blanket and plasters himself against the wall heater. We fetch him a cup of hot tea. He urges us to press on, realizing there is no way he could survive another three hours in his hypothermic state. The officer asks again if he should call 911. As soon as we leave, Clint promptly falls blissfully asleep, wearing only a wool blanket. Sadly, with less than 30 miles to go, he doesn’t finish – even though he’s ridden 393 miles and climbed over 22,000 feet in less than two days!

The next control is only 8-9 miles away and we have over an hour to arrive by 5 a.m. As easy as it sounds, we realize we have a long way to go and not much time to get there. The storm and terrain made the trip incredibly difficult. We divvy up the space blanket, each tucking a third of it under our rain gear to block the chill. Suddenly, we are sprinting through the night, trading the warmth of our effort for the bitter cold. We must have a control stamp at 5 a.m. – two hours before our scheduled finish. We come flying into our control. It’s a sad state of affairs for a team that had expected to be lounging at this point.

With no time to waste, we now must go 22 miles in under two hours. Suddenly, that doesn’t quite seem like enough time. The hills, rain and cold take their toll, but the sky lightens and our spirits soar. It’s 6:30 a.m. and we have only about five miles to go.

Chip in the NightChip in the Night

But then Chip punctures. It’s a slow leak and we try pumping it up and pressing on, but it doesn’t hold – we have to change a tire. Our fingers are numb and trembling, but we manage to fumble through the change. Now, we’re sprinting again. We rocket down a long hill and into the hostel where food, friends and warm showers await us.

We arrive at the final control – right at the 24-hour mark. Chip looks down at his tire: it’s flat again. We’re so cold we’re barely conscious, but, thank goodness, we’re done. RBA Tom Rosenbauer passes out towels and we trundle off to showers, grimy and begging for blankets.

Among us, we have too many years of riding experience to count, but we all agree on one thing: this was the ride that froze Italian Ice.

All FinishedAll Finished!

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