Wednesday, 2 July 2014


Stage one, day two of the 2014 Italian Dolomites Smiddy Challenge started in saturating wet conditions and a temperature that did not get above ten degrees all day. Now Smiddy events always pride themselves in providing tough challenging days in the saddle. Well today was one of those days were the course, combined with the inclement weather, turned our 130 kilometre day into a torture test that literally saw the group running out of daylight hours and having to shorten the course.

This is what we had in front of us; 130 kilometres through some of the toughest but most beautiful mountains I have ever had the pleasure of riding. Over 5000 metres of vertical climbing. Five mountain top passes, each one summiting over 2000 metres of altitude. Temperatures at the top of each climb just a couple of degrees. Wet and slippery roads that made the descents treacherous. Nasty black threatening black clouds that kept dropping wet stuff on our heads throughout the day. An uphill start right out of the hotel for the first 12 kilometres in the rain. Average speeds of less than 15 kilometres an hour, and get this, noisy cows wearing cow bells that looked at us and wondered what the hell those funny cows with revolving legs were doing on the other side of the fence. Seriously that is what cows think of cyclists. I know because today I spent many a time talking to them!

So with the adventure I have described above this is what really happened; As much as I love our new guide friends Will, Pippo, Ingo and Valentino, and I say this with the greatest respect, but we have bitten off more than we can chew. We asked Will to set us a challenging course that would be worthy of a Smiddy adventure and like all Smiddy events we liked to be tested and put into a situation where suffering is duly expected. I have always said that no matter how much a Smiddy group suffers we get to go back to our daily lives after the event is over. Not so for the people we are raising money for, those brave individuals that battle and suffer with cancer each and every day of their lives. Having said that we need to actually be able to finish our chosen Smiddy event. Now let me share with you that today's stage was the easiest stage of the entire tour! Each day after today just gets worse.

So with waning daylight and with still three mountains to complete Will pulled the group aside and suggested that we all complete the fourth Pass of the day and the riders would be driven back to the Hotel. Now there is always an exception to the rule and that is Jason White, this guy is a climbing machine and in the best shape of his life. The poor guy would get to the top of each climb and by the time the rest of the group summited his limbs would be frozen solid and shivering uncontrollably from the cold and the waiting. But Jason's strength in the end won out when he was allowed to continue on and finish the complete stage. Valentino was his trusty sidekick for the remainder of the day. I also elected to continue but by the time we got to the final ten kilometre climb of the day, with Jason and Valentino disappearing into the fog, I was second guessing my decision and went back to talking to the cows!

So I hope that paints a picture of what was one of the most beautiful but painful memories of a day in the saddle in the unforgiving Italian Dolomites.

To finish there were some definite highs and lows that would be remiss of me not to mention in this blog.

1. The mountain tops in Italy are referred to as a Passo. Today the group climbed the Passo Sella at 2240 metres. Then the Passo Pordoi at 2239 metres. Next up was the Passa Glau at 2233 metres. The final climb for the group was the Passo Valparola at 2180 metres and finally the Passa Gardena at 2143 metres for Jason, Valentino and myself. Jason's Garmin told him that he had climbed 5499 metres in 131 kilometres. Each climb was a minimum of ten kilometres and as long as 16 kilometres at various gradients of 7 to 16%. Each descent was 8 to 16 kilometres in length and most times we dropped down to our starting elevation of 1300 metres. On a dry day the descents would have been awesome, but in the wet, fun was had by the experienced, but not worth the risks involved. It was the epic of days!

2. Our two girls on board this trip, Kerri Whitney and my Fiancee Alyssa Coe showed guts and determination on a day that was best spent in bed. Kerri lived up to her Alberto Contador tag and was the Queen climber of the day. With Alyssa closing in as the day progressed. Both girls had been a joy to have in the peloton and took the conditions today in their stride.

3.Gary Leong is a Pediatrician that works at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane and come on board this trip late into the piece. Gary's nickname is Dr Koala and think it is because he weighs a sopping wet 55 kilo's, is cute and cuddly but shows the raw determination of a Koala to eat as many gum leaves as is possible until his stomach distends. In Gary's case he has replaced the gum leaves with fine Italian dining. But seriously he is always the last up the climbs but never does this man quit, and he does it with the casualness and demeanor of a Koala laying back in a deckchair eating gum leaves.

4. Pippo is our mechanic and drives the rear vehicle that looks after the riders. The man is a dead ringer for the famous Italian, now deceased professional cyclist, 'The Pirate', Marco Pantini. Thankfully the live version and without the drug induced hazed look that eventually topped the great climber. Pippo, in his strong Italian broken English, shares a story each night at the dinner table, about the historical nature of the area that we are riding through. His story's are endearing and entertaining and tonights story suggested if you ever happen to be passing through best you don't stay at the Hotel down by the lake as you mind wind up dead. Long story, ask me about it sometime...

5. It was decided after today's stage that would have decimated any pro peloton that we needed to have a course rethink. The unanimous decision by the riders was one of going home alive and kicking rather than in a box from exhaustion. So a huge thanks to Will and the lads for coming up with a rejuvenated bike course for the remainder of the trip. Tomorrow's ride was meant to be another 4800 metres of climbing and 138 kilometres. We are no committed to a 3000 metre and 90 kilometre day. Which by all means is still an epic day in the saddle. Jason, who's form is outstanding, was given the option of completing the original course and he has decided to take that option. I am happy to say I will not be joining him!

6. Dinner tonight was once again an epic 6 course affair and spirits within the group have bonded in typical Smiddy fashion. The D'Angelis boys were once again in fine fashion with Phil spilling his entire salad over himself in the excitement in getting a seat next to mine! And Peter making sure that all the wine drinkers were doing just that, drinking copious amounts of the red stuff that calms any trepidations one may be having at completing another tough Smiddy stage in the Italian Dolomites.

7. Dinner again and history was made when we saved our Smiddy huddle for a Smiddy world first sit-down-table huddle. Jason was given the honour of taking tonights huddle and he summed up his feelings over a long first up day in the Dolomites. Funny looks were of course were extended our way when we did the Smiddy chant but we could all live with that! Dr Koala did an excellent job in reading out yesterdays blog to the group, while Matt and Valentine surprised the group with gifts of pink socks for all the riders and guides to wear in honour of Kerri's birthday tomorrow.

8. Finally a huge thank you to the entire group of riders and support crew, who passed us in the vans when Jason, Valentino and I were ascending that last climb. They elected to stop and wait at the top to give us some much appreciated support. I was personally in a world of hurt and it so lifted my spirits for the wet 20 kilometre descent back to our hotel. Thank you also to Ingo and Valentino who today did such exllent work looking after all the riders out there on the road with the riders.

Anyway I hope you have enjoyed today's blog and if you wish to send any message of support through to any of your riders please do so at I am also posting photos each day on my personal facebook site that I have made public so just do a search for me at Mark Sharky Smoothy on Facebook.



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