Driving like the Skoda advert!!

Last Sunday I was with my daughter Saskia for the Womens team series race in Yorkshire. Having set off from Derby at 6am we arrived at about 7.45 and promptly drove in the wrong entrance to find no-one about in the start area. After a while we found our away and found signs of life at a sports centre. The setting for the race HQ was the beautiful Ampleforth Abbey College and grounds near Helmsley.
Saskia didn’t fancy a trip round the course and duly signed on and set going on her roller warm up session. After that we were greeted by an Italian gentleman who asked if we wanted him to take our spare wheels in his service car. We welcomed his generosity and he also asked if I wanted a trip with him in the car. I jumped at the chance to follow Saskia and the race more closely. He asked if I was carsick as he was a little crazy which was a clue to what was to follow. Nevertheless I jumped in behind Flavio. I started to have visions of the Skoda team car TV advert and sterotypes of Italian drivers crossed my mind.
The car was equipped with radio supplied to listen to race progress. In the front were supplies of food and drink and in the back were coats and a pillow presumably for sleeping in the car. In contrast in the boot of the estate car were only the wheels of Saskia, another girl Sophie and Victoria Bussi (Zappi’s Ladies Team). He explained how to shut the boot gently and that we didn’t have to wear safety belts so that we could get out quicker!

Soon we were in the queue of team cars in car no.4; Flavio had been late to the briefing but was not bothered. Soon we were off in the neutralised part of the race and the weather was brightening after the heavy downpours of the night before. Within seconds one of the Matrix girls was on the floor and Flavio and the other cars all overtook her team car that dropped back. She was soon to get back in the field aided by her team-mates. The Scott Contessa team car driver started waving frantically in front and then shouted to let the Matrix car past. Flavio wasn’t too impressed and ignored the request. That was until we got told by the commissaire on the radio to let Matrix back into position!

The flag was dropped and I got chatting to Flavio who was cooly driving with one hand on the wheel. I explained that we were now in God’s county (I was born in Hull) and he said how friendly and down to earth the people were in this area. I explained how Saskia hated hills so was going to be up against it with 3 climbs on each lap. Victoria had only been riding since last year and Flavio wanted to help her with her bunch riding and technical skills.
We soon hit the base of the first climb up a steep hillside and there were some stragglers appearing. Near the top Saskia popped out the back and we both shouted encouragement out to her as we had to pass to keep in the convoy. A group of 3 was only 50m ahead and we could see Saskia and another girl trying in vain to bridge the gap. We caught another group of girls could not get past. Others caught the cars and Flavio hit the horn hard to get the rest of the convoy to move to move to one side to let them past.
At the bottom of a descent Flavio was impressed with a rider’s skills as she came shooting through a narrow gap between the cars and verge.
A few miles later there was another massive climb which Flavio said his Garmin had told him was 1 in 5 in parts. After these two climbs the news came through on the race radio that a group including Victoria had escaped in front of the bunch in a group of 11. At 58 seconds gap Flavio was getting excited but frustrated by the fact that the commissaires would not let team cars into the gap. Eventually they said they would let cars through but asked the team Zappi car to stop back as neutral service. Flavios passion was starting to emerge and he said “Why me!?” A bit further on he decided to take action and waved car no.5 up beside him. After some discussion whilst driving alongside, car no.5 agreed to stop back leaving Flavio free to go forward. He soon agreed this with the commissaires and the mood improved. But next he questioned why some cars had not moved through and the retort was that they had not been precisely called through yet. But at last we were allowed by and the foot was flat down to get past the bunch before the road started to bend.
At the end of the lap the road wound its way up through the picturesque abbey grounds where spectators had gathered. Flavio saw a member of his club who was explained was his northernmost member and was in his kit. He slowed down (a little) to pass him a new Zappis jersey and on we went. Flavio passed me a breakfast bar and tried to make a phone call to “Steve” to put something on his website/facebook. On the downhill again we sped after the leaders but in front of the gruppetto. A car came in the opposite direction and an annoyed Flavio honked the horn and manoeuvred across in an apparent attempt to get the car to stop or move over or go into the verge or something. Two more cars followed and he repeated the actions with more intention. It was obvious that he thought the road was closed but I said I thought it was a rolling road closure. They must have got on the circuit via an un-marshalled side road. Any way it didn’t stop him pulling over at the next marshall to complain.
Back up the road the group was still away and on the steep hill we slowed to give a girl some jovial encouragement- she responded in kind with some good natured expletives! Back behind the bunch the matrix team were all off the back on the same climb and Flavio correctly identified that they had dropped back to help a rider. Sure enough they were soon behind us and catching the bunch up. In the same place again we met another oncoming car and Flavio showed off his Italian driving style again! We stopped again to complain to the same marshall that someone was going to get killed but he said it was an open road circuit and he could do nothing. Up front again with the leaders and Flavio explained that Victoria was wasting energy by riding in the wind beside the others who were in line.
On the last lap she was one of 3 riders who dropped off from the leaders on a hill and Flavio was up beside giving some encouragement in Italian and beeping his horn. However a quick instruction by the commissaire for him to leave them behind soon put a stop to that. But Victoria pushed and lead the group back to near the leaders with much horn beeping in encouragement and cries of “ Forza Forza Forza” from Flavio. But we were close to the finish now and we could see the leaders ahead as we followed the Victoria group. We were told to pull over with a kilo to go and missed a crash as a rider slipped off on a corner.
We jumped out near the finish to find our girls. Victoria finished a great 10th and Saskia had been pulled out with a lap to go. And so ended an educational and exciting 2hrs with Flavio.
So mad or just passionate? Definitely the passionate.
Someone told me afterwards about Flavios past and said “All sprinters are mad aren’t they?” But Flavio really cares for his cycling and for anyone who cares about cycling. That’s what he is about.
Same time next year Flavio? Thanks again.

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