Friday, 20 June 2008

Stelvio Pass

Saturday 14 June 2008.
Epic Camp, day 7

Big day today as we ride over the Stevlio Pass – at 2800m, it’s pimped as the most brutal climb in the Dolomites. The group headed out for a pre breakfast run together around the town, I was deliberately taking it easy in order to preserve what I had left in me for the big climb – not keen for another day like yesterday – so when the pace increased I fell back and continued at my own pace for the 50 min. Steven, Gordo and Mike had elected to do the same, I noticed. A good breakfast, and in the pool a similarly non stressful set of 9x300’s on 5:15.

Out on the bike, we had approximately 60 mi approach, which was predominantly flat. My concern was getting dropped by the group prior to the start of the KOM assault on Stelivio, and over extending myself in a battle to stay connected. Fortunately for me, the guys were all taking it relatively steady, including Steven who was working for me today! Riding behind me, he ensured that I remained close on 3rd wheel, quickly coming through to fill any sizeable gap that formed between me and the wheel in front saving me from those draining surges. We reached the aid wagon after 3 hours, in good shape and all keen to get started on the climb, which would occupy the following 2 hours and 25km of our lives.

There is a long and fairly steep approach to the climb, taking us through a couple of towns on the way. I found my position on the front of the group and using the 150 BPM principle managed to stay there, but could see that Douglas was not far behind and towing a couple of the others. Mike P, who has revealed himself to be a very strong climber was just ahead, and seemed to be riding along side Scott, with Gordo John and Steven up front. I really wanted to push on and catch them, so at each turn in the road I gave a little push more for a few seconds. By this method I soon opening up the gap on those behind me, but had made no apparent progress to those ahead, so it was quite relieved that, by the time we reached the bottom of the really steep bit – the 48th switchback – they were out of sight. Time now to get into my own rhythm – keep working steadily, putting in that little extra effort on each switchback, enjoying the sensation of flattening off out of the bend to spin the legs. Recover, push, recover, push and maintain HR of around 153. Play games with the numbers on the switchbacks, the elevation on the garmin and kilometres covered. Halfway, 2/3rds, 3/4s … Look down the road behind for the tiny figures of the other riders in our group, squeezing frozen fingers into my handle bars as the temperature drops when I clear the tree line.

With around 10 turns and 800m to go the road takes a general swing through 90degrees such that the last remaining portion of road is presented in all of its zigzagging glory ahead, with the buildings of the summit resort atop. So near yet really, so far. Be patient and continue….as the figure of Douglas comes into view behind. That provides a little additional adrenaline, , and despite the slightly nauseous feeling due to altitude, and the increasing fatigue in my quads, I push on – with a little music now to help me along.

Finally over the top – the pleasure of those last few turns is hard to describe – and the sensation of standing it at the summit looking right down over the other side of the mountain in a light flurry of snow, so worth the effort. Not to mention the view back on the road below. It was damn cold and everyone was well wrapped up. I had a small cough, which seemed to expel more oxygen from my lungs than was available in the thin air, triggering a mini fit of hyperventilation, fortunately I was well taken care of and someone knew just what to do with a plastic bag in this situation.

Steven and I were the only people who took the opportunity to ride back down the pass – and in doing so, it really hit home just how damn long a climb it had been! It was good to get a car ride back to the hotel afterwards, and I appreciated another chance to seek out some training advice from Gordo.

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