Despite the frame containing the photos of that incredible day in my studio, I still have difficulty in realizing that I made it! Anyway, let’s start from the beginning saying that none of this would have been possible without my friend Claudio Maria Fusto. He came to me with this crazy idea to try to be part of this race…“Giuseppe would you like to try to make Ötztaler Radmarathon?” and I said “mmm I have no idea what you are talking about”. After a really short (maybe too much) discussion we decided to try. Since then, we started with what I consider the hardest training of my entire life! I was a PhD student at that time, so it was very difficult to find an equilibrium between my work (my second home…) and my training. Some of my workouts started at 5 AM and after completing it, I went to work at the lab additional 8 hours.
During April something completely unexpected happened. I was really trained and able to climb Mount Etna three times in one day. I ate fava beans for the first time in my life (not a great idea I would say) and I was going to die. That’s because I did not know about my glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency. It is a genetic disorder that most often affects males. It happens when the body doesn’t have enough of the enzyme G6PD that helps red blood cells work, also protecting them from substances in the blood that could harm them. Without enough G6PD to protect them, the red blood cells break apart. This is called hemolysis. When many red blood cells are destroyed, a person can develop hemolytic anemia (my case…). To make a long story short, I “lost” more than a half of my red blood cells, I became “yellow” caused by having too much bilirubin in the blood, and I needed numerous blood transfusion.
Race day: Claudio and I wake up at 4:30 AM, we have a quick and big breakfast and get dressed. At 5:30 AM we are ready to go. Unfortunately, the weather conditions are horrible: it is very cold (1-2 °C) and it rains very hard. We wait a bit but it does not lighten in the slightest, then we go down to the starting line. The tension is sky high, it’s my first race ever and I’ve never been with more than 30 people on bike rides…now I’m in the midst of 5000 cyclists. Briefly, it is like enrolling in University without even having attended elementary school. Under an incessant rain we all leave. The cyclists start to overtake me on all sides and my only thought is “I must not fall”. The rain is very strong and the danger is very high. The first 30 km downhill are fine, hundreds have passed but I didn’t fall. The first climb begins, the fearsome Mount Kühtai. The rain continues to drill and many cyclists decide to abandon the race. Because of the cold, for the first time in my life I am happy to do a long and hard climb, it allows me to warm up despite the incessant rain and the very low temperature. As I get to the top, people keep retreating or falling, the ground is very slippery and many cyclists go crazy to gain positions. I stop for a moment at the first refreshment point and then down the very long descent. The temperature still says 2°C and the rain continues, I start to shake and after a while I can’t control the bike well as three fingers are completely blocked. I stop in a pitch where there are an Italian and an Austrian guy who have decided to retire and are waiting for the car. I take off my completely soaked gloves and I start blowing with my mouth in an attempt to recover sensitivity, I am very afraid and I even think of urinating on them to be able to warm them. I know that it sounds disgusting but at that moment I would have done everything. The two guys try to convince me that it is better to quit and I am really about to give up, then I think how many sacrifices I have made to get there, so I do not! I know that fundamental people in my life are following and supporting me. Let’s start again, I say! I keep shaking but finally the descent ends. From Brenner onwards things get better, the weather improves and my legs and arms respond well. I put all Claudio’s teachings into practice (“chew” at the beginning of each climb, when possible stay on the wheel and spare because the race is very long, let your leg understand that it flattens even just a bit and so on). Everything goes in the right direction, the Brenner and the Giovo are conquered. The last bastion remains: the Timmelsjoch, 29 km of climb, rarely slopes lower than 10%. I start with my pace, I meet people who get off their bikes due to fatigue and push while walking. I don’t look back. I reach the top, knowing that my amazing wife Claudia (she was my girlfriend at that time), my cousin Giuseppe, and my friend Antonio will receive a text message saying that the last bastion has been overcome. I am incredulous, a thousand thoughts pass through my mind, I go down towards the finish line. Few meters are missing, tears stream down my face all the time, I made it and finally I will be able to hug Claudia, Claudio and Giusy (Claudio’s wife) again!
This is the story of one of the hardest days of my life!!! I will never forget it and I am delighted to have spent it with some special people (physically or electronically present). Thanks for everything guys.. my dream came true!