Thursday, 3 July 2014
2014 ITALIAN DOLOMITES SMIDDY CHALLENGE - DAY 3 STAGE 2
THE WEATHER GODS ARE HAPPY AGAIN!
What a contrast today was compared to yesterday! At first light at 4:45am I stuck my head out the door of our second floor balcony and noticed two things immediately; the clouds and rain had disappeared and in its place a crystal clear aqua blue radiant sky had transcended upon the Dolomites region. The temperature reflected this change with the thermometre showing a crisp six degrees. I commented to Alyssa that I am glad we are not riding here in Winter if this is what their Summers are like. But give me the cold anytime over wet conditions.
Our roll out today, or I should say, our drive out, was not until nine-am, as with the shorter course changes implemented by Will, the plan was we were to be driven to the start of today's stage. While all of us but one got to enjoy a sleep in, Jason had to leave at eight-am but had the pleasure of having two personal guides to take care of him. Firstly, the super-strong-does-not-feel-any-pain and German born Ingo on the bike. While the Marco Pantani Pirate lookalike Pippo, drove the support car to look after the duo. Jason would have about a three hour head-start on us and was meant to catch us when we were ascending our first climb of the day up the Passa Furcai at 1789 metres.
PASSO'S TODAY THAT WOULD MELT THE STRONGEST OF LEGS
So today's amended course, while looking a shorter easier day on paper, at just 85 kilometres of riding, will go down in Smiddy Challenge history as one of the harder days I personally have ever done. I tend to think if you ask any of the other riders, they will probably, not only agree with me, but shake their head in fear, show the sign of the cross with their fingers, and point out their swollen knees as proof of conquering a climb that brought each and every rider today to a grinding stop at some point. In 2013 Vincenzo Nibali won this mountain top finish at 2348 metres in the Giro Tour of Italy. Many in the peloton that day accepted pushes from the thousands that lined the entire climb, but for the Smiddy riders today the only pushing was our hearts trying to burst a lining in our heart walls!
In my weary excitement to write about this climb I am getting ahead of myself. Our first climb of the day came after Will had expertly delivered us to our starting point at the bottom of the Passo Furcia climb. I say expertly with the greatest respect as the drivers over here are safe maniacs. Safe in the sense that they don't actually manage to hit any other vehicles -most of the time anyway- and more importantly, cyclists are mostly given wide berths and a fair amount of respect. But maniacs when it comes to motorists wanting to relieve Will of his side mirrors on his van, impressively equipped to carry eight bikes on the roof, of which a tourist driven RV was the most successful yesterday taking out his lefthand driver side mirror. Anyway up the climb we go on legs that reminded us of the big day we had in the wet conditions yesterday. The 12 kilometre Passo Furcia climb was bloody tough with many sections indicating on my garmin that the pain in my legs was real due to the 12 to 16% gradients. Of course the views were worth all the bloody effort we were putting in to ascend these monsters.
When Doctor Koala and I rolled in as the last riders, with Koala Man celebrating with pump fists and breaking out his last packet of gum leaves in celebration at not being the last rider to the top, we only had a short wait before Jason was upon us. He had done sensational to catch the group, or so we thought? He confessed at dinner that night that he was indeed human, had bonked after the first long climb of the day of 26 kilometres and gratefully accepted a lift after lunch to the top of the second climb, which is where he met us. He admitted he got out of the van just a kilometre from the top and actually got busted by Valentino, who had ridden back to offer support. Valentino, actually all four of the guides, kept Jason's secret all day until Jason himself let us know. To be honest no-one even cared -no offence meant- it's just that we all thought Jase was a legend for even trying to complete todays full stage after what he went through yesterday. Jase has now come to the conclusion that he is well and truly pleased to accept the amended course as of tomorrows start. Welcome back to the fold my friend, we missed you!
The descent down to lunch at San Martino was both treacherously steep but with majestic views of the valley's below. The cracks in the roads from a long hard winter of snow and ice and the many switchbacks made for a most technical descent. All arrived safe and sound, beaming with ear to ear grins of survival and adventure, with the exception of one young lady in Alyssa Coe, who arrived in an agitated stressful state and confessed that she should have got in the van for that one! The Dolomites are a hard place to cut your teeth in the learning curve of descending skills. Both the girls struggle on the descents but hats off to them for their efforts and most importantly for getting down the majority of them in one piece.
LUNCH AND FLAT ROAD EXISTS IN THE DOLOMITES
After a lunch of hamburgers and bratwursts from a local stall in the glorious warming sunshine the small peloton was on the move again. The valley between the two climbs afforded us the only section of flattish road that we have ridden in the past three days. Thankfully that 15 kilometre section gave time for the regurgitation of lunch to come to a complete stop! Not long after the regurgitation ceased, the 30 kilometre climb to the top of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo began. This climb lulls you into a false sense of security; the crescendo building slowly but surely from a gentle gradient of two to three percent, to a ear drum collapsing 14 to 18 percent of sheer unadulterated torture. Now I can only speak for myself but today's climb tested my limits like none before. Admittedly I was having a bad day in the saddle as a result of my idiocy yesterday in completing that first monster stage in its entirety. I had teamed up at the back, not by choice, but by pace, with Alyssa and Doctor Koala. Alyssa soon had enough of the pair of us and forged ahead in her slow but strong get-her-to-the-top-of-any-climb cadence. This final section of just four kilometre to the top averaged out at between 14 and 18 percent gradient and the only way I could get up this section was to criss-cross the road from left to right the entire way. The Doctor saw me doing this and decided to join me, eventually doing it so well that he passed me, my speed was 4.1 kilometres an hour! The Doctor had sped past me doing 4.3 kilometres and hour! It was nail-biting stuff the race to be the last person to the top, of which I was the champion for the second time running today!
The stories coming from the riders at the top was ones of immense suffering and disbelief and respect that the professionals actually race up this intimidating beast. The views on such a fabulous clear day, where you could see a hundred kilometres in all directions was definitely worth the pain of the ascent, but next time I want to experience it in the comfort of an air-conditioned car!Or even better, on my beloved BMW 1200 Adventurer motorbike that I am missing immensely each and every time I spot one just like mine over here.
THE FINAL LEG
After the mandatory group and holding bikes above heads photos were taken, Will actually had the audacity to suggest that we load up the bikes on the van now and get all the riders down the descent safely and head back to our hotel. Well this suggestion went done like a lead balloon for all but three riders, who gratefully accepted his offer. Alyssa, Koala and Kerri took the safe option while the remainder of us headed down what was a spine-tingling dangerous descent. Our group breakaway group of riders actually got into a little bit of trouble from Will and Pippo. Our instructions were to stop at the first t-junction at the bottom of the dangerous stuff, or about 12 kilometres of descending. From there we would load the remaining bikes on the van. But we would have missed the best part of the whole descent as the next 10 kilometres to the next t-junction was the seriously fun and safe stuff. Anyway we apologised and our awesome guides forgave us, especially when I gave Will the honour of leading the huddle for the day by the roadside after all the bikes were packed.
It was then a two hour very windy beautiful drive back the Hotel, with a mandatory stop for the lads to buy some beers. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 8:25pm and dinner started at 8:30pm. Let me assure you the showers felt good and the food was once again superb after such a long arduous and adventurous day. Again spirits amongst the group are at an all time high and the perfect day was finished off with a birthday cake and song for Kerri, yesterdays blog reading done by the Phil and Peter and many glasses of red consumed.
Another epic day awaits us tomorrow so until then chow for now.