Thursday, July 8, 2010

Eurotrip Day 7 part 1

Big day. Awaking to another brilliant day of just the kind of weather I like.  Hot, Hazy, Humid.  An uncharacteristically early start had me on the road shortly after 9am having watched several riders go by me while I loaded my packs onto the bike out front of the hotel.
(the hotel was right on the main street leading out of town towards Bormio)  It was early Sunday morning and watching a couple small groups ride past in the course of 5min I had visions of stronger, fitter, faster riders blowing past me all day.   I thought, "hey, just like home!"

So, on the bike cruising up the false flat from Tirano towards Bormio; (SS38 from Tirano to Bormio is entirely uphill) I was feeling pretty good enjoying the nice temps and the colour cast of the early day sunlight.  I'd been looking at the map and toying with an idea through the night and with such a great day, I decided I just couldn't ride *past* the mortirolo.   I didn't then, and don't now, know when I'd next get a chance to heave myself at such a (in)famous climb so when I got close to Mazzo di Vallentina I started looking to get close to the hill.  From what I'd read the climb is not obvious, and easily missed as it's so narrow and seems to be not much more than a  driveway between houses.  It wasn't too hard for me to find though. I just followed another cyclist until he disappeared into the trees above me.  At the bottom I stopped to snap a photo, noticed that the cyclist I had followed was about 100 meters into the climb and already out of the saddle rocking the bike slowly under him about. ..yikes!  The profile gives a hint as to why this is considered to be one of the hardest climbs in europe.  Relentless doesn't begin to cover it.
10min into the climb and I'd already stopped twice for not being able to keep up with the energy demands my legs and lungs were making..  I was suffering badly. My cadence was so slow on occasions that the bike practically came to a stop between each pedal stroke before lurching forward  to the next pause.  I probably would have laughed but for the mild anxiety borne of wondering if this was going to get much harder.  I'll not carry on about how hard it was.  If you turn pedals for fun, the chances are you, like most of us, find beauty in suffering so I must be mindful of sounding like it was unpleasant. Quite the contrary. The opportunity for a climb like this is a gift.   ..but it hurts like fuck too.  :)

A lifetime later (about 10-15min) I came to the first numbered switchback.  #26. I figured if they were equally spaced and I kept this pace I'd finish sometime in August.   But, I was starting to feel a little better.  My speed was still I think below 10km/h  but my legs had by now commandeered all the blood and oxygen in my system so my brain didn't have enough resources to formulate complaint.
 It was win-win..

Around this point I had been hit with a few really pitchy sections and while they knocked me back a bit I'd crawled through them, but the view upon clearing the first "official' switchback was nuts.   I think this is perhaps the first 18% part, and while the pic doesn't capture it, it simply looked like a wall to me. The effect of the narrow path and the grade was almost claustrophobic.
Clawing up that section I could hear the tire being torn up by the road.

This is first climb I've ever done that was painted up from being part of a grand tour.  In this case the Giro had passed through a week previous and the paint was fresh.  It was a really special feeling to be climbing past painted 'Ballero vive Pirata for ever', 'presente sempre e coppi' the many fresh signs for Basso, older paint for Bugno and lots more.

By the time I reached the Pantani memorial, I was actually feeling pretty good.   Shortly after I was passed by this gentleman who dieseled past in good form.  I hung on a few length back of him for awhile but he left me handily the next time it got stupid steep.   He was however, waiting for me at the top with a congratulatory 'five on the side' hand slap that was really nice.  He also took the photo of me with the sign.  Regrettably we could not converse as the only language we shared was the bike.  Nevertheless, I count him as a friend.

From the top after a short rest I headed back down the way I came as far as the intersection that would peel north to deliver me to Grosio, a little further up the SS38 from Mazzo di Vallentina.   As brutal as the climb up mortirolo is, you have to go down to appreciate how totally mental it is.  I roached off way more brake pad on that one stretch than two full seasons of riding would do around here.  You absolutely can not let the bike run for more than a few seconds because the acceleration from the grade is freaky. The road is only about 8-12 feet wide and you're doing well to carry mid 20's through the switches, so from exit of turn, off the brakes and in an  instant you're hitting mid 60's and desperate on the brakes to get back down to the 20's to throw it into the switch.  
I absolutely love me a good descent but this was kinda bewildering. Actual brake pump on a road bike.  (wtf!)

Anyway, I rolled back onto the SS38 and headed north buoyed by my having knocked off a biggie climb from my bucket list.  Stopped a grocery store, plowed in a couple thousand calories and carried on up towards Bormio.

To be cont..

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eurotrip Day 6

So Day 6 I leave the Lakes area and head east toward Stelvio.  My plan was to jump a ferry from Lecco to Colico knocking off around 45km and enjoy my last little taste of the rich and famous lifestyle.      Or the nearest approximation to "rich n' famous" I could make given I was travelling with 2 pair of socks and 1 pair of underwear.  ..but they're wool so it's cool.

anyhoo.  Best laid plans of mice and men, and it turns out that I couldn't get a ferry from Lecco. So I rode to Bellagio and the only ferry that goes to Colico doesn't take bikes so I'm crossing from Bellagio straight across to Varenna and riding up the lake.  Which was really fortunate because it was stunning.  My third day riding around  this lake and I'm still rendered slack jawed at the beauty.  Riding through gallerias, cruising along enjoying it all. It was bliss.
Colico came too soon.

Because from Colico to Tirano was frankly unremarkable.  The road itself was boring like trainer miles.  Dead straight road. Baking hot sun uninspired vistas and false flats.'s probably half nice but I've been spoiled rotten by this point and it seemed pretty bleh to me.  I was however, on the SS38 del Stelvio, and that was cool since this was a Stelvio inspired trip.  I stopped for lunch no.2 in Sondrio and considered stopping for the night there but decided to carry on to Tirano. Again, very good fortune.  Tirano is a lovely little town.  Only a few km from the Swiss border and is also the southern terminus of the Rhaetian railway Bernina express to St Moritz.

Rolling into Tirano I did the by now usual rudderless routine of aimlessly riding around for a bit until I found a hotel.  There was some sketchyness on account of there being a bunch of tour buses in town and the first couple hotels were full but I was directed to the Hotel Stelvio where I got a room for only 39 euro!   The room was tiny.  I mean, cottage loft where only the wee kids sleep tiny.   But for 39 bones it was a steal.

The numbers for this day are pretty light in keeping with the intended recovery of the knee.  Distance 111km with 1270 meters vertical.
A good set up for tomorrow!