Saturday, 5 July 2014


First up apologies to Gary 'Dr Koala' Leong for my omission of him being in the van for yesterday's lethal descent. I found out tonight, when Matt was reading out the blog, that Gary did indeed do the descent, but had stopped just before the first t-junction to talk intimately to the cows. Gary proudly showed us the photos taken with his beloved creatures. He also explained the importance of the shape and size of the cow he needed to be photographed with. And let me assure you it was a very cute cow and most worthy of being in the shot with Gary. How nice is the world when a cute Koala and a cow can co-exist? Makes one feel good about the world...

Why Sharky is always late
So onto today's stage, another epic day in the saddle that saw the team relocate from the village of Santa Christina to another gorgeous little village called Bormio, which is situated at the foothills of the great and infamous Giro climbs of Passo Gavia at 2621 metres and Passo Stelvio at 2758 metres, two of the highest climbs in all of Europe. So our eight-am roll out time was extended to 8:15am due to me holding up the group as I was struggling to get the blog written and posted before departure. You see the riding in Europe in the high mountains tests your resilience and fortitude to always keep moving forward. At the end of the day you are on an incredible high. It is when you come down from that high that the reality of what you have just done catches up to the body and mind. Therefore, as each day stacks up on top of the other, the more fatigued the body and mind become. In my case, getting the blogs written and actually posted at the same time each day, gets harder and harder. Anyway that was a kind of long winded excuse for my being late this morning and I am sticking with that!

I wish I could tell you our average speed for today's opening stage was because the peloton had come into great form and were performing like professional cyclists... But I guess the truth should be told that we had a kick-arse 20km descent straight out of the hotel that sits at 1300 metres, down to our lowest elevation since this tour began at just 300 metres above sea level. It's a funny thing riding in the high mountains of Europe; at the top of each climb the look in each riders eyes is one of elated exhaustion. Then at the bottom of any long technical and exhilarating descents, that glassy eyed expression on each riders face, is one of total unadulterated joy. For some throw in a pinch of fear and you have the perfect recipe for curing the world of depression. If only we could bottle that?

From the bottom of that descent the road crew handed us over exclusively to Valentino, who's job it was to navigate us through the next 30 kilometres of riding along one of the most adventurous bike paths I have ever ridden on anywhere in the world. Will, Ingo and Pippo would rejoin us then for the first climb of the day up to the Passo Mendola, which stood at a lowly 1363 metres.

But back to that bike path that entertained us with a dozen tunnels; some as long as 500 metres and others as short as 50. The path followed a fast flowing river, which is fed by the vast amounts of stubborn snow that have no respect for the fact that summer over here is now five weeks old. The slightly downhill path kept our average speed up to the mid 30's before it started to flatten out. That 40km average by the end of the day would be sitting at 16km/h! Valentino was doing an excellent job weaving in and out the myriad of paths going in all directions over small bikeway bridges, through canals, crossing main roads, across gravel sections and dodging all manner of bike and pedestrian traffic along the way. My old mate Phil D'Angelis, as entertaining as always, on one of the road crossings where we needed to come to a complete stop, didn't get the foot out in time and down he went, but not before doing a yoga type balancing act that resembled a chimpanzee extending its leg over its head. Luckily I managed to capture it on my iPhone for nostalgia reasons and I wouldn't dare show it to anyone but Phil... ;) Wink, Wink.

The first climb up the Passo Mendola saw some trepidation in the group due to yesterday slog-fest up the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Actually when Matt read out the blog tonight his Italian pronunciation was extraordinary. We all thought he was definitely speaking another language, just not Italian. Matt pronounced Tre Cime di Lavaredo, as 'True Crime on the Lavatory.' Both Pippo and Valentino were horrified and quietly amused and offered Matt a job as a translator in Borneo!

Anyway our starting elevation of 300 metres meant we had an 1100 metre elevation gain in front of us over 15 kilometres. Now had we done this climb the day before climbing the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, we all agreed it would have been tough, but now it was just another climb as we all successfully got to the top with very little fuss or fanfare. Alyssa, Gary, Valentino and I arrived together to bring up the rear of the bunch and Will informed us that we were to descend immediately to the village below for lunch and packing of the bikes.

Peter, who is always thirsty and thinking of hydration and setting a fine example for the group to follow, snuck in a quick beer at the bar across the road, before the three vehicles were filled with people and bikes.

It took 90 minutes of driving over very twisty and turning roads to get to the base of our second and last climb of the day up the famous Passo Gavia at 2621 metres. Poor Dr Koala was not feeling well after suffering from a bout of car sickness, but in typical never-give-in spirit, the likable Gary Leung, soldiered on and faced the toughest day ever in his life both from a mental and physical aspect, but more on that later.

Today the riders were treated to probably the second most celebrated fanfare climbs of the day in the Passo Gardia. None stand higher except the slightly more famous Passo Stelvio that stands a mere 100 metres higher. Now we knew we were in for a possible rough time at the top, as it was trying to rain at the bottom where we parked the cars, it was cold and riders were scrambling for cold weather gear. 18 kilometres of never-ending road lay in our way to reach our destination, and from our viewpoint we could see nothing but scary clouds that looked ominous and downright intimidating. A climb like this for a cyclist is the Holy Grail of mountains. It is up there with Mont Ventoux and Alp D'Huez in France. Now luckily I am not yet married and I was able to climb it without selling my girl, but gee I sure felt for the other married men, actually married man, in our peloton, being our fearless Smiddy leader Matt Marshall, who had an extremely hard decision to make. Sell the wife and climb Gardia, or sit out the climb and enjoy the view from the comfort of either of the three vans. On behalf of Matt and the riders our thoughts go out to his Wife Tash.

So 18 kilometres of climbing equates to anything between two and three hours of climbing. It is bloody slow going and so painful towards the top that those memories of suffering will stay with you for a very long time. At the same time the views, the friendships forged, the battle scars that make you feel alive and experiencing life for the very first time, and most importantly the cause that we are over here doing it for those less fortunate, is what its all about. How good are the riders that sign up for any Smiddy adventure? Whether it be an overseas Smiddy event, or an event back home in Australia, these gallant lads and lasses all pay their own expenses and on top of that they honour their commitment to fundraise the required amount. Most go above and beyond their total and for that we at Smiddy and the Mater Foundation are eternally grateful.

Watching what the crew put themselves through today on that final climb; all I can say is that my heart went out to each and every one of them. From Valentino, Pippo, Will and Ingo, who went to extraordinary lengths today to help each and every rider make it to the top, to the riders themselves, who stared down into the depths of their very souls and willed themselves not to give in and cross that imaginary line at the heights of Europe. I know all this must come across as sounding very melodramatic but let me assure you I am actually playing it down. It was freezing at the top, it was raining, the entire top was shrouded in thick fog one minute and then clear the next. The road surface and limited visibility for the remaining five kilometres resembled a goat track, and the super slippery conditions were deemed too unsafe for us to descend and bikes were assemble atop the vehicles as each rider claimed their Holy Grail finishers achievement of conquering the Gardia.

It was hard not being able to do the descent but it was the safest and correct call. Good management there by Will and we all respected his decision. It was really hard for me to write that! :) The drive off the mountain it rained the entire way and I know we were all glad to be in the van with the heaters on full blast.

Our hearts went out to Gary, Dr Koala, who used up every ounce of his mental and physical energy to crest the top. Gary did the entire climb by himself, as did all the guys as we spread out over the entire mountain, each to our own thoughts and demons at various times. Gary was out in those terrible conditions for 90 minutes longer than Jason, who was first to the top, and being exposed to those elements for that long just caught up with him as he crossed that imaginary line over the top. Gary's emotions just had to be vented and the entire crew rallied around him in support. Gary had won all of us over by day one of this Smiddy tour, but after his efforts today and his beautiful thoughtful speech tonight over dinner, we could not have been prouder to call Gary our mate.

My apologies for this blog being so long but when I become emotionally involved in an event I also have to vent. I do that through these blogs.

The good news for the crew is that we have inserted a designated rest day in for tomorrow and I can assure you that all are extremely happy as we are in need of a day off. The other awesome news for not just you, my faithful readers, but for me, is that I am getting a day off from blogging and get to experience more than five hours sleep. I also have a nice surprise for you as of the next blog but you will have to wait another day to find out what that is.

Until then please know that we are all safe and warm in our comfy hotel beds and already the battle we went through just a few hours ago is already fading into the far recesses of my tired brain. Did that really just happen?



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