Day Four. For me the big one. The Stelvio – right up there on my bucket list of climbs and then at the briefing they made the call to flag the Stelvio as there was a storm brewing and snow was forecast. So we all know I don’t really adapt (or should that read prepare) for the cold very well but flagging it because the conditions might be a bit bleak. Weak in my book. Check out the picture below from 50 years ago when they didn’t know what Goretex even was. Warmer clothes, less likely to go up. 50years of progress, eh?
That put a bit of a dampener on things. The weather was rumoured to be about to put several bucket loads of damp and misery on us. The visibility was going to be terrible and even though the stage was trimmed from 96k to more like 75k the talk quickly turned to clothing. More outfit discussion than the girls before a school prom. Dee-oh even asked for my advice as to whether his selection was appropriate and then he realised I was the last guy he should be asking about how to stay warm. I was figuring that being hot is annoying but rarely miserable whereas being cold is annoying and fckn miserable. Therefore, I was to wear a many clothes as Petro could fit in his pockets. When I saw how much that was (dude carries three pairs of spare gloves on the bike) I dialled it down to 50% of what he could fit in his pockets. If they were canning part of the stage then it was going to be a real sufferfest.
Usual stuff of get up, go to breakfast, hear Pilsbury’s latest theory of how he’s gonna fly or I’m gonna crack, humour him by feigning a bit of concern and then roll down to the start. The start is seeded a little with four groups of around 90riders each. So being a little closer to the pointy end than I’d imagined I’d be I was off with the last group at 9am. You could probably swap or blag your way in to another time if you wanted but I figured if that’s the way it’s intended and I’ve earned the right to roll with the big dogs then I ought to give it a little go. K-squared was in the same boat (dude is 2nd in his AG at the moment) and we met up down at the start. We’re pretty similar in ability so may be able to offer a little assistance here and there.
Neutralised roll out as per yesterday’s TT and then over the same timing mat and it would be every man and woman) more of that later for themselves. After having gone pretty much all in for three days there was bound to be a reaction at some point. When you’re not finding it that easy to hold a wheel in the neutralised zone that may well be taken as a sign of said reaction. Over the timing mat and the same climbing I was ripping up yesterday was not being bossed today. After a few hundred metres there was a motorbike behind me and I was wondering why it wouldn’t overtake – getting pretty annoying. I turned round to see what the deal was…the deal was I was at the back of the field on the road. Funny as. Just as we left a steep part the road crosses a railway line. About 20 riders ahead of me the lights started flashing and the barrier dropped. You had 19people cussing their misfortune and the fact that by not missing the train they’d now miss the train that was rolling up the hill. No free rides for these guys. Meanwhile there was one guy just rolling up to the back of the group fist-pumping his good luck. I had regained contact with some people (including Captain K) without expending any energy. Suppose we were only there a couple of minutes but if you factor in the loss of a pull from the group it may have cost up to double that. Seems a bit daft. I think I’m gonna write to the IOC and say I’ve got a great idea for the next Olympics. For the 10,000m final if one of the javelin dudes happens to be ready to throw you’ve just gotta wait up and let him have his throw. Seems legit. Anyway I’m looking to give a good account of myself and look in the mirror knowing I gave it as good as I’ve got – no train’s gonna ruin my week…not even one of the Curly Freight variety.
Now I had some company and I was coming out of my usual slow start. To be honest I was thinking of the big crack and the size of the crater I was going to leave. Just felt rubbish. Felt a bit sick, could have done with a dump and the engine room to legs communication seemed to have broken down. They say the mind gives up well before the body and my mind was already rushing ahead to seeing the delight in Pilsbury’s eyes a few ideas for the blog etc…but the body just keeps fighting. Telling the central governor who the guv’nor really is. There was white leg warmers dude and BMC man and Rapha-wanker (sorry Dee-oh that’s what we call ’em back home) and K-squared all yo-yoing back and forth in front of me close enough to keep me occupied. It was around about this time when I realised I was sweating like Buddha in a pie factory due to the amount of clothes Pilsbury had convinced me to put on. I was cussing my Merican cuzzie as we crested the summit. Still at least I didn’t have the constant drone of the motorbike for company – guess it wouldn’t bother you quite so much at the head of the race. Guess I’ll never know either. This is about as close as I’ll ever get :-
Then we were on a beautiful descent. I’m decent at descending so managed to chalk off a few more from the Descending Miss Daisy School of Braking. Pretty sure we started climbing again quite a lot and the local authorities had chosen to mark our passing by ripping up the top kilometre of the climb. Nice touch. I say pretty sure as I still haven’t worked out exactly what the Stage Sticker tells you or changed my Garmin into kilometres…but I have sent several thousand SnapChats and GroupMes. Gotta get your priorities right when you’ve paid a wedge of cash to ride your bike around Europe. Another fantastically sweeping descent and I’d say that was when we hit the only flat bit of the stage. Now never having ever done any of this poncy bike racing malarkey before (where’s the swim and the run) then I’m not really that well-versed in the etiquette. I know it’s bad form to sit in and not take a pull but other than that I’m pretty clueless. I managed to hitch onto a train (luckily enough not a curly freight one as it was shifting some) being led by a girl and no one seemed that keen to help and then there was a small bit of through and off then people stopped taking a pull and a German went to the front and pulled over so I got pretty aero and started rolling the Popsicle Express. I’d come around a bit by now and we consequently rolled up on another group. What to do? Hitch up at the back? Try and get them to join up? Were they too slow and that’s why I’d caught them? So I did what any old egomaniac would do…I lit the burners and rolled right past them. Then I noticed a familiar face. The ladies leader from the briefing last night. Hmmm…did that make it bad form? Who knows? I suspect there are as many answers to that question as there are cyclists on the planet. Up again and as she looks about 3stone wringing wet she was soon back in front. I decided she’d be a good target to keep me honest and it worked. I kept her no more than 50yards ahead at any point and dug a little deeper as a result. Asked a guy how much further to the top and if this was the last climb and he looked at me as if to say ‘What sort of a question is that Knobber?’. And in any other walk of life I’d have stopped him and said ‘I think you mean Questions unless you actually mean question in which case you’re going to have to specify which one in order for me to be able to answer that.’ but he was Australian so he’d have struggled with that level of logic so I let it pass. Bloody shackle draggers. Anyway I digress the fact she is a lady is neither here nor there – just an appropriate paced cyclist. If anyone’s counting though I’m currently third lady ;o)
At the top the guy shouts ‘Stop Chrono’ when it’s the end of the timing before the end of the stage which I thought initially was some misplaced protest against Chrono and wondered if it was a person or a faith or a political party. Rather boringly it’s a watch. Dee-oh and Petro are there and we have a good old chinwag about how great the weather was compared to the forecast. I give Petro both barrels about my inappropriate clothing induced sweat rate and then he does the same to some guy driving a van that had irked him out on the course. Boy’s getting a little crochety as the days wear on…esp with us Brits. No Petro Friendly territory means not very friendly Petro…best watch my back.
So the weather is good. You’re done for the day, in the middle of a race, with three big days to come…only one thing for it…let’s go ride the Stelvio. It’s only 20k long at an average gradient of nearly 8% with around 40 switchbacks taking you up to 2760m. What’s not to like. Dee-oh’s in so the three amigos head down the awesome descent to the base but not without an obligatory cappuccino perk up stop. After all we are in Italy and I was hanging with Mssrs Diodati and dual nationality Pietrofesa.
Climb was to be taken at all day pace. Except there must be some kind of Green Points Jersey race we aren’t aware of as Dee-oh (who’s a little ways back in the GC) puts in a few solid surges and gaps the two of us several times. Eventually he pulled the elastic once too often and it snapped…and he was left to his own devices within the first 3k of a 20k climb. Which Petro had predicted pretty much the first time he did it! My legs came around a little and I just set about getting up without burning many matches. It was an awful long way esp when the first switchback is numbered 38. Pretty sure Molina would have it in his Doozy class climbs. Talking of which it was probably Epic Camp that first alerted me this climb’s existence. Weather was still really nice and it even had me unzipping my jersey (sorry ladies no photo evidence) as I picked my way through the few Haute riders doing the same as us. Can’t come all that way and not do it. Only live once and all that. Might have even carped myself a diem at some point on the way up. Meanwhile the switchbacks told me that when we got to the top Pilsbury was gonna pull out the ‘stopped to take loads of photos’ card to explain his tardy arrival. Awesome climb…made all the more awesome by the hot sausage stand up there. I was pretty low on fuel and expecting the usual mountain summit of a signpost and if you’re lucky a layby. Things were pretty vibrant up there and boy did a coke and a generous portion of hot sausage hit the spot. All the while Petro’s telling me no was Dee-oh coming he’s turned back. Just as we were getting a little cold the Green Jersey duly arrived. Fck knows how big his SD card is in his phone cos he must have taken a million snaps to arrive when he did. All joking aside Chapeau for taking it on. Great to hear Jeff later calling it probably his greatest day on a bike after we’d descended. Pretty stunning and technical descent. Definitely had a few brown bibshorts moments – especially when a mahoosive campervan decides to stop right before a bend with oncoming traffic filling the other side of the road. Was pretty sure I was gonna be attempting entry through the rear window but luckily the brakes just bit just in time. No surprise to see it had a UK number plate!
There was gonna be a paragraph about suffering and the like but this took a while and we’ve got an early roll out in an hour and it looks like the room’s been ransacked so I’m gonna hit the publish button and leave that for another day. Ciao!