If you only have one race per year to travel to, make it the Xterra in Italy. This race, which is on the island of Sardinia and the village of Villacidro, is the best race experience this year, and probably the best race experience ever for me, Maui 2003 included. I can?t actually say enough about how great the people in Sardinia are, how amazing the fans were, how beautiful the course was, or how great the parties before and after the race were. It was everything that Xterra is about, family, fun and excitement. Winning the race also helped me to appreciate this venue, but I won because I was just so happy to be there. It is a great confidence boost because I believe the course is a lot like the race on Maui and I had a convincing win, with all of the best girls there. I stayed with Roberta Pittaus family, and they were so warm, generous and friendly I felt like I was the new blonde sister of Roberta. It was really, really cool. My week in Sardinia was amazing, the race went really well, and the story is to follow?..
As our last story ended, my trip to Cagliari was delayed by air traffic control in London, so I was forced to overnight in Rome. I was not in tourist mode at that time, so my stay in Rome included a night in the airport hotel and a dash in the morning to the Alitalia counter to stand-by for a flight over to Sardinia. When I arrived, I rented a car since I didn?t know how to catch a bus to Villacidro, which was only about 50km away. Driving a Fiat Panda trying to find this little town while I was working on 5 hours sleep was a challenge. A couple of circles around the intended destination and I managed to arrive. The next challenge was to find Roberta?s house in this tight little maze of streets without a map. Luckily, the name of her street is the same as one of the churches, so I followed signs to the church and finally happened upon her street. Needless to say, her parents were surprised to meet this bedraggled, tired, English speaking girl asking for their daughter. They invited me in, fed me some oranges, and tried to figure out what had happened to me, as I was expected the night before. I speak no Italian, they very little English, so her mother and I tried to chat in French a little. We understood enough, all was well, and I was encouraged to be ?tranquilla?.
After a very long sleep that night, we went to the race course the next morning so that I could run the run course, and then Roberta and I would swim in the lake. Roberta is this amazingly beautiful Sardinian girl, who has just learned to swim three months ago, has done some mountain bike races and is part of the cycling club in the city. Last year, when the Xterra came to Villacidro, she watched the race, became inspired and this year she decided to race. The only thing she was nervous about was swimming in the lake, but she is a competitive girl and wouldn?t let nerves stop her. Normally no one is allowed to swim in Lake Diga because it is a reservoir so she was eager to go and practice swimming open water a little. Lake Diga is built up with a large dam, and is surrounded by mountains. The road leading up to the lake has oleander flowers in full bloom, and the race office was a beautiful house overlooking the lake. It is a spectacular and very special race site.
So a quick recap of the race, but even though it was a good race, in the scale of a lifetime doesn?t measure up to spending a week with this family. The race start was odd, we had to be out of transition an hour before the race, and when we were down at the water they were again checking numbers to make sure we were there. This took a lot of time so the race ended up a bit late. Then we all got in the water and a bunch of people were treading water slowly towards the buoy way out in front? and I wasn?t with them. Dummy! Anyways, the start for me was horrible, and on the second lap I found myself struggling to get back onto Jamie?s train, and ran into transition with her. The first part of the bike course was paved and covered in chip seal, and snaked along the shore of the lake, so lots of corners to slide out on. I was really aggressive coming out of the corners and saw I had a gap to Jamie so I punched it to get away. I caught Candy right away, and when she got on my wheel and tried to draft she ended up missing a corner and going down. I wasn?t waiting around, I hauled ass through the whole bike, trying to ride as hard as I could on the climbs and riding the sketchy fast descent a little out of my comfort zone. I was mostly riding alone, and came into the run in survival mode. At that point, it was about 40 degrees. The first loop of the run I had a massive cramp in my right quad, and was taking tiny steps to try and let it loosen up a little. I was freaking out that I would be caught, but it loosened up on the second lap, and no one was very close so it was okay. Second win of the year!
The Italian federation showed up to do drug testing, which was good, but they only tested the top four women and no men, which was unfair. It took me two hours to get out of there because I was so dehydrated. Where is the IV when you need it?? Once I finished there I went home to pack my bike, shower and go back for the awards. After the awards almost all of the athletes went to a Pizzeria to eat awesome food and drink some wine. It was very fun but so was the whole week, so I will summarize what I have learned of Italy.
Mimmo Trudo is the organizer of this race, and again, what a friendly person. He was so great in helping me to come to this race, and when I got there, the pageantry that I witnessed was not disappointing. I don?t think I have gone to many mountain bike races in Europe with this many parties, a press conference, tv, a film crew?. They were all there. Plus the people of Sardinia were so excited to have the pro athletes coming to race that they absolutely spoiled us with all the attention. It was great. I met lots of the members of the Fuel Triathlon team, went to a swim practice (at 8pm and given that dinner in Italy starts around 10:30pm this is not considered late), went riding on the course with my own personal guide Marchello, was cheered on during my run training by the volunteers setting up the site. Setting up took the entire week (not mentioning coordination weeks before), as the transition area was also a fan viewing area, so as we came in to transition we were greeted by cheering fans right beside us. Super cool!
The Thursday before the race we went into Cagliari for a press conference at the airport. I have no idea what was said as it was all in Italian, but they called up Jamie Whitmore, Ute Schafer and I and asked me what it was going to take to beat Jamie. I said that whoever was strongest would win. Duh! Anyways, then we went to a gelateria, which Roberta claims is the best gelato in all of Italy and I believe her. I ate the most incredible ice cream there, I can?t even describe it. The first flavor was cr? caramel, and it was fluffy like mousse, but was ice cream, and the other flavor was some kind of mocha chocolatey thing that isn?t like anything else-almost like the crema off the top of espresso. Ice cream is a lifestyle in Italy, as big as gigantic coffees are in North America, so they do it right. We had our ice cream in the nice square of Cagliari, walked around the Bastille of the old city, and then tried, but failed, to find somewhere to have dinner without an hour wait. Roberta and I ate left over pizza for dinner at midnight and went to bed.
?When in Rome, do as the Romans do?, basically that is what I did in Sardinia. I ate with the family whatever they were eating, whenever they were eating. The only departure from my family?s schedule I had to enforce was breakfast. I drank my coffee made in the caffeteria (Italian stovetop espresso maker) with warm milk, as they did, but I ate cereal, soy milk and fruit, rather than cookies as Roberta ate. I learned to make some very simple but tasty things? for example, I ate a lasagna type dish made with zucchini rather than noodles. It was layered with ground meat, some pomodoro sauce, and mozzarella on top. So good! But the thing is, the vegetables taste better there because they come straight out of the garden. I don?t really like zucchini at home and in Italy I was eating it for lunch and dinner two days straight because I liked it so much. Of course I was eating my zucchini with red wine that they make themselves. This house wine I am sure is better than a lot of the wine we buy in Canada. In fact, I brought a bottle of wine to give to the family, which they shared with me, and I am sure theirs was better than that one. Definitely a departure from Canadian house made wine.
One day I was coming home from a little walk around the village when Roberta?s mom and aunt Vera scooped me up and took me off to go shop. I bought coffee to bring home and some cereal. Mom bought two giant pieces of parmesan which cost 5 euros and would cost about $35 in Canada. On the way home they took me to the garden? which is a giant orchard with plum, apricot, peach, orange, apple, pomegranate, olive, and almond trees (I am sure I have forgotten some). Sardinia is very dry, and they showed me the large wells that I think they fill with water from the Diga to irrigate the fields. They also have a massive greenhouse filled with tomatoes. I think that they share the fruit they have with other families that grow other fruit they might not have, and in that way everything they eat is home grown, fully organic, and so tasty. It is really, really cool. In fact, the family sent me home with two bottles of olive oil from the trees in their orchard (fact: olive trees only produce fruit every second year). I loved that at the house in Villacidro there were grapes growing over the courtyard, and pots of flowers, basil, and other berries growing up the walls.
The family bonds in an Italian family are incredible. Roberta is the same age as me, is engaged to be married, but still lives with her family, and will do so until she is married. They are so great together, her and her parents. Her dad was a funny character, and kept teaching me the Sardo words to go with the Italian (for example, vino is Italian for wine, something like bee-you is the Sardo word for it). Roberta speaks English, French and Italian very well, and works as an English teacher, so it was great to have her teaching me my first words of Italian. Mom does most of the cooking and managing stuff around the house, and was always offering me a treat, or a meal, or something. I don?t know how Roberta stays so thin, because I could not be in that environment and less than 200 pounds because everything is just so tasty, I would eat everything. Her dad and brother work a bit together in the fields, but I believe her brother has another job as well, but he was off with his amicis most of the time so I didn?t see him unless he was grabbing something to eat before heading off again.
As I said before, this was one of the best race experiences of my life. I was so happy to have Roberta?s mom invite me to stay with their family whenever I come to Sardinia, and I really look forward to going back. I encourage anyone who wants to experience the Italian lifestyle to check out this race, you would never regret it. I am going back, as I didn?t have nearly enough time at the beaches, and I already miss the people there.
But now that I am back to reality, British Airways has no idea where my bike is…. and so begins the challenge here in Richmond, VA. Ciao!