Friday, November 30, 2012
CCC Dolomites Blog and Comments
William Webb, September 2012
I’ve arrived in Italy at the old spa town of San Pellegrino Terme. My bike made it too which is a huge relief! There are lots of very expensive bikes and very fit looking people. We get our first briefing in an hour. Everyone is wondering whether they have low enough gears for the steepest climbs. Many people have a lot lower ones than me….. Not that I’m panicking yet!
Hopefully the first real blog will appear tomorrow evening.
Enjoy your week and think of me as you put your feet up.
Miles today: 106
Cols today: 11
Ascent today: 13,550 feet
Miles to go: 1,120
Cols to go: 93
Distance to ascend: 152,600 feet
Main climbs: Passo di Zambla, San Zeno, di Maniva, di Croce Domini, Ampola.
Description (as provided by Phil): A 26km climb after just 4km of the Stage opens the show and sends us on our way to Lovere on the beautiful Lago Iseo for our first feedstop. A 17 km climb follows that, but the real feature of the day is the Passo Maniva, followed by the Croce Domini. A total climb of nearly 30km with a 5 km passage of flattish Strada Bianca at the top across some extraordinary wild, barren scenery. A long descent then to Bovegno sees a return to a more reassuring landscape as we make our way to our lakeside hotel on the Lago di Ledro. A stunning opening stage.
Today was supposed to be a acclimitisation day. Well we got acclimated all right – to torrential rain. It started about 3 hours into the ride and is still thundering now. As a result it turned into a survival ride. The climbs were OK, well at least bearable, but the descents were nasty, narrow crumbling roads (lots of signs for strata distressata – distressed was how I felt too) with thick mist, torrential rain and very cold leaving everyone shivering. We all just wanted to get to the hotel as fast as possible. I was so keen I got there first which rather surprised me – happily riding well at the moment despite a few medical problems down below (I won’t elaborate!). There was at least one tumble although he seems OK if rather shaken. Now I’ve got to try and wash and dry all the kit…
We learnt a little before the start of the trip that we’re going to be film stars – well, sort of. The CCC is sponsored by a very upmarket cycle clothing company called Rapha (check out http://www.rapha.cc/shop/ to be astonished at how much cycle clothing can cost!). As well as clothing Rapha does a lot of promotional activities including books, CDs and short quirky films (see http://www.rapha.cc/films/ for examples). They have decided to make a film of the CCC and picked the Dolomites as the toughest of the challenges. So we’ve all been asked to wear special Rapha CCC-edition team kit (happily much discounted to persuade us to do so) and a camera crew is following us around. It does make you cycle faster when you know they’re nearby! I doubt the film will be ready until after we’ve finished but I will send you a link in due course.
Do send me suggestions for what you’d like me to write about.
Miles today: 141 (too many!)
Cols today: 9
Ascent today: 18,700 feet
Thing that hurts most: the balls of my feet – never had that problem before
Miles to go: 982 (below 1,000!)
Cols to go: 84
Distance to ascend: 4.7 Everests
Main climbs: Passo di San Uldanco, di Bondone, Compet (Vignola), di Forcella, del Brocon, della Gobbera.
Description (as provided by Phil): Arriving at Riva del Garda via the old corniche ‘road’, we are treated to superb views of the Lago Garda before we head north-east for our climbs. The Monte Bondone is our first big climb (16km) with some steep passages. The star of the day comes in the afternoon when we climb up towards Vignola : our first (of many to come) narrow road that hairpins its way through dense woodland. A real treat!
Today was hard, very hard. I spent 10 1/2 hours in the saddle (well probably an hour of that was standing on the pedals). I cycled further than ever before with four massive climbs thrown in for good measure. The acclimitisation continued in the morning with heavy rain from the start to lunchtime. I’d seen this on the forecast so just put my wet gear back on from yesterday – it’s a glamorous life! All of the climbs were steep with the gradient never dropping below 8% and sometimes hitting 17%. On the plus side the roads were smooth and the descents good fun, hitting 40mph at times. But really it was far too long. We left at 7:30am and I was back to the hotel at 7pm. It’s now getting dark and still about half the cyclists are not here. They will have little time to recover and have to do it all again tomorrow. Of course, I do too, but at least I had some time to relax (well write blogs actually). It’s often said that day 3 is the hardest – day one everyone is fresh, day two everyone gets exhausted and day 3 they have to ride another touch day with very sore legs. After day 3 the body (sometimes) gets somewhat used to the mistreatment and things get easier. Except that day 4 is an absolute monster of a day, more about that later.
So what does a typical day on the CCC look like? A routine is very important and within a few days I’ve got it all sorted down to the exact order various items go into each bag. Typically we get up about 6am. There’s 30 minutes to pop various pills (vitamins, anti-inflamatories, anything else that might help…), mix energy drinks, get dressed and head for breakfast. A typical breakfast takes about 40 minutes and includes a bowl of cereal, a bowl of fruit salad, a couple of croissants, a couple of bread rolls, a hot chocolate or two, a couple of cups of coffee, a yoghurt and anything else that’s going. Then it’s final packing, bags into the various vans, a bike check and we’re off sometime between 6:30 and 7:30 depending on the length of the day. Most days will involve 9-10 hours cycling plus a couple of hours stops for snacks and lunch so all going well we’ll be in the next hotel around 6:30pm – although some riders have been known to arrive four hours later than that! Then it’s a manic snack on peanut butter sandwiches, quick bit of TLC for the bike, into the shower, wash cycle clothing, recharge bike computer, write blog, and down to dinner at 8:30pm. Dinner rarely takes less than 90 minutes, partly due to quantities eaten and partly due to slow restaurants. Then at there’s the briefing for the next day covering main climbs, any difficult roads or descents and logistics. A quick scan of emails at 10:30pm and then bed by 11pm. You might think I’d be out like a log but often a full stomach, a head buzzing with thoughts, a hot hotel room and a strange bed mean that getting to sleep can be difficult. Which is annoying because at 6am it all starts again.
I have been asked about photos. I haven’t taken many because of the weather and uploading is tricky but I’ll try to do something on the rest day.
Miles today: 125
Cols today: 12
Ascent today: 17,050 feet
What hurts most: my knee ( uh-oh)
Retirements today: 3 (one with exhaustion, one with an imploded knee and one with an allergic reaction – there’s always one strange retirement)
Bikes destroyed today: 2 (one cracked frame and one exploded £3,000 a-pair carbon wheel. Those riders just swapped bikes with the retires)
Miles to go: 857
Cols to go: 72
Distance to ascend: 117,950 feet
Main climbs: Passo Cerada, Duran, Forcella Cibiana, Mauria, di Pura, Sella Chiampon.
Description (as provided by Phil): Coming right at the start of the Stage, Passo Cerada , with its average 9% over 8km is literally our wake up call : we have arrived in the heart of the Dolomites. The famous rock skylines set the tone for some dramatic rides to follow. The Forcella Cibiana is another classic : a particularly charming climb through the woods . After the gentler Passso Mauria, the Stage ends with two tough and very steep climbs. Both have some very dramatic moments and the first is followed by a superb descent through a gorge and (lit) tunnels. The second brings us to within striking distance of Villa Santina, with views over towards the next mornings’ giant.
Today was the second of a string of three very tough days. A few were walking up the early climbs and the last climb had a mile of average 19% – I’m sure more will be walking up that! My strategy of getting in early enough to have a good rest yesterday paid off – I found today fairly comfortable (relatively speaking, as 9½ hours cycling up 10 mountains is never going to be all that relaxing). No rain today, weather just right and some cracking fast descents. Some beautiful scenery as well, dramatic mountains, gorges and more.
I was right about late arrivals yesterday. Six riders had to be rescued before the last col in the dark. Some only just got in for dinner at 9pm and one fell asleep at the table.
A few words about competing on the CCC. The original CCC was a timed event – each rider was clocked out of the hotel in the morning and back in the evening and total times added up and even posted on the Internet. But during the 2010 event I rode, a lot of accidents were occurring, especially on descents, as riders tried to claw back lost minutes. So halfway through the timings were stopped and everyone was much relieved (just knowing there’s a clock ticking seems to add pressure somehow). Instead, Phil came up with a different idea – a couple of the climbs each day are timed leading to a sort of “King of the Mountains” competition. Now, everyone knows that this event is ludicrously difficult without trying to compete as well, but everyone here is a superb cyclist and you don’t get to that sort of calibre without an unhealthily competitive instinct. My plan is to start out towards the bottom of the rankings and as time goes on have the satisfaction of climbing steadily upwards. But I don’t have any expectations of being anything above about mid-table. By way of comparison, I was delighted a few years ago when I rode the amateur competitive Tour de France “Etape” stage and finished 314th out of 8,000 elite entrants. One of the riders here rode it this year and finished 14th!!! I just need to upload my GPS files soon to find out where I am.
Tomorrow we have the most feared climb of the trip – a mountain called Zoncolan. It’s been described by many, including Lance Armstrong, as the toughest climb they’ve ever done. It’s a height gain of 1,200m with an average gradient of 12% but the problem is a few 22% stretches. It’s been described as a “slow, steady execution”! Indeed, tomorrow is brutal with more distance and climbing than any other day. Wish me fortitude and sufficient daylight.
And the knee. It’s the most likely problem to stop my trip but I think this one is muscular or tendons, not joints. It hurts for the first 30 mins of the day and after every rest but otherwise OK. Let’s hope it hangs in there till the rest day!
Day 4 Pt 1 “Judgement day”
Left at 7am this morning. Arrived back at 7pm this evening after 10:40 in the saddle and the steepest climbs you’ve ever seen. Much of the field had opted out in various ways by lunchtime and some of the rest will time out after dark. I doubt more than half will fully finish today. Brutal. I finished with Johnny, my riding partner for the day. Now I need to replenish 8,800 calories. I’ll write a proper blog after I’ve done that….
Day 4 Pt 2
Miles today: 140
Cols today: 10
Ascent today: 19,400 feet (the most on a single day for this challenge and equivalent to ascending Snowdon 9 times)
What hurts most: it’s a close call, the knee hurts for the first 10 minutes after each descent, my wrists are very sore from all the buffeting and my back aches a bit, and my stomach doesn’t appreciate eating 3 breakfasts and 3 dinners a day. But strangely my legs are fine!
Calories today: 8,800
Miles to go: 723
Cols to go: 62
Distance to ascend: 98,500 feet
Main climbs: Sella Monte Zoncolan, Forcella di Luis, di Razzo, San Antonio, Monte Croce Comelico.
Description (as provided by Phil): The Beast of the Challenge comes 20 km after breakfast and is obviously the main feature of this epic stage. All other notions of steep will become relative after this one. After a beautiful wooded loop to the Forcella Lavardet , which marks our most eastern point of the route, we head north-west notably via the formidable Passo san Antonio with its 6km of 10% over 16 hairpins. Having almost touched the Austrian border, we turn south again and conclude the stage once again at a stunning lakeside hotel. More superb views all along the way make this another stage that offers The Best.
Today was extreme. Just the basic stats are beyond belief, ask any cyclist. Then remember that this comes after 3 tough days. The stage finished 3,000 feet higher than it started so we didn’t get as much downhill as uphill, making it tougher. But the real killer was the first climb, Zoncolan. This had 3 1/2 miles at 20%. Imagine turning the corner and seeing a climb so steep that you could only do it when out of the saddle and at full effort. If it were a short UK hill you might just do it, panting at the top. Zoncolan takes 1 hour 15 minutes at that effort level. Then you’ve got to ride 130 miles…. The Rapha film crew decided to drive in front of me for much of the climb with a photographer in the boot of the estate car and the boot open so they could film me at full exertion. Of course that made me try even harder…. About 6 of the cyclist (who are elite, almost all having ridden other CCC challenges) failed and had to be driven up. I contemplated walking for a moment but knew that would be the end of the day, so put that thought out of my mind. About 10 that did get over were so exhausted they realised they couldn’t finish the day and took short-cuts.
Anyway, I had a pretty good day. The weather was perfect, broken cloud and just the right temperature. The scenery was magnificent. I spent the day riding with Johnny from Edinburgh who was great company. The feeling of achievement both from riding Zoncolan and finishing the stage are good as are all the compliments from others. And I’ve learnt I can climb the steepest Italian mountains on my not so low gearing. I just wish my knee would stop hurting. A slightly shorter day tomorrow then the rest day that everyone is dreaming of!
I got asked about logistics. With 30 riders there’s enough money for multiple vehicles. Van 1 leaves during breakfast and puts up arrows, staying out front of the cyclists all day and takes the cases to the hotel. Van 2 zooms to the shops then becomes the snack van, setting up feed stations mid-morning and mid-afternoon. It also carries our emergency bags in case we need more clothing, etc. Van 3 also zooms to the shops and then sets up lunch. It is also for our day bags. Once it has done lunch it heads to the next hotel so we have a bag on arrival. Van 4 brings up the rear with the mechanic who takes down signs. So all we have to do is pack lots of different bags in the morning, put them in the right van, then ride all day!
Miles today: 98 (hardly worth getting up for)
Cols today: 11
Ascent today: 16,400 feet (still more than half of Everest)
What hurts most: I did the cycling equivalent of twisting my ankle half way through today and it was pretty painful whenever I pedalled hard after that. Unfortunately there was a lot of pedalling hard! On the plus side the knee seems slightly better despite what it was put through yesterday.
Miles to go: 628 (still seems like a lot!)
Cols to go: 51
Distance to ascend: 3 Everests
Main climbs (as provided by Phil): Passo Giau, di Valparola, Gardena, di Sella, Pordoi, di Campolungo, Fedaia.
Description: The stage that takes in the famous Sella Ronde and climbs into the core of the Dolomites. The Passo Giau , considered one of the most beautiful passes in Italy, is our opener but what follows will not disappoint even so. The Gardena and Sella passes can be enjoyed as examples of mountain perfection whereas the Fedaia (Marmolada) , which ends the glorious suffering, is as brutal as they come. This stage is an absolute Classic and a perfect way to end the first part of this Challenge.
Today was a bit easier. Of course, it’s all relative. Yesterday was inconceivably tough, today was just extremely tough! Despite the shorter distance we did almost as much climbing. This meant steeper climbs and less valley floor to recover. Actually, it was a glorious day. With less distance to cover the faster group set off at a very relaxed 8:30 (everyone else left at 8am) and we could afford to stop longer at breaks. While I remember there was a question about breaks and how often we stop. There’s a morning and afternoon snack, we always stop for these because otherwise you just run out of fuel. On a long day we shovel down cake, peanuts, bananas, raisins and similar in 5-10 mins and then jump (well climb carefully) back on the bike. On days like today we took 10-20 mins. Then there’s lunch which might be couscous, salads, or even gnocchi one day. In a hurry lunch can be done in 15-30 mins, today we stopped for 40 mins or so. And that’s it. Pictures are taken on the move (requires some practice!) as are most clothing adjustments. Anyway, back to today. Fantastic weather, totally amazing scenery, a great ride with Johnny and Rob, old partners from previous years, and we covered most of the classic Italian climbs from the Giro d’Italia. The only downside was being the most scenic of the Dolomites there was a lot of traffic – coaches, motorbikes, etc. But lovely, really lovely.
I had my first bad patch after lunch which coincided with a 3,500 foot climb all at 13% – but managed to hang in there. We were beaten hands down by Mike, who is by far the best rider here, in a league all of his own. He has tended to concentrate on the timed climbs, riding those flat out then resting and pottering back to the hotel which is why I generally get in before him but today the last timed climb finished at the hotel. Oh, regarding the timed climbs I’m generally somewhere between 3rd and 5th (Mike always wins!).
Rest day tomorrow, we’re half way through. Hopefully it will give all my ailments time to recover. I’ll have more time to tell you about things too so maybe even a longer blog.
Enjoy your weekend,
Rest day today!
I thought I’d take the chance today to tell you a bit about the bike. Lance Armstrong says “It’s not about the bike” but I’d look pretty stupid if I didn’t have one (well four actually….). For a trip like this, weight is everything. Every extra gram has to be carried six times up Everest. So the bike must be as light as possible. It also needs to be very stiff, so when you pedal hard up the mountains all the energy goes to the back wheel rather than in flexing the frame. Comfort, of a sort, is helpful but mostly sacrificed to weight (my saddle weighs 110g in total – that doesn’t leave much room for padding) and to stiffness. Aerodynamics are less important – when going uphill speed is too slow for it to make a difference and when going downhill more often than not you want to have poor aerodynamics to slow you down for the next hairpin.
My choice is a “Cervelo Soloist Super-Light” or SLC – this esoteric beast was ridden in the Tour de France and is only available as a frame with about 2,000 only ever being made. At £3,500 just for the frame it’s ridiculously expensive (although, as always, I got it in the sale….). Actually, the SLC was only used for a year because the pros found it too extreme in its stiffness but it works for me. Coupled to this is the lightest possible everything from 110g saddles to 21g carbon fibre drinks bottle cages. The net result is a bike weighting 6.5kg – to put that into perspective, adding two full drinks bottles to the bike increases its weight by 25%.
For this trip it has been modified from its usual fit. I’ve put on lighter, but less aerodynamic wheels than usual (I normally use wheels with a deep rim). The cassette of gears at the back has been changed for one that will give me the lowest possible gears to match the steep gradients. Then it’s had new chain, jockey wheels, tyres and brake blocks – all of which will get worn out on this trip alone.
Does any of this matter? Well any super-bike would probably be fine for this trip. But take a bike costing below £2,000 and you’d really notice the difference. Compound that over 100 cols and it could be the difference between finishing or not. But most important of all, it means I can look the part especially as luckily the black and white colour scheme of my bike perfectly matches the Rapha CCC clothing. Speaking of which I’ve managed to upload some photos. Taken on the move they’re far from great but they might be of interest. They are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilwebb1 . Look for those uploaded in 2012, the others are from the previous CCC trip in 2010. In particular I’ve taken some pictures of our bespoke cycling kit, specially made by Rapha for this trip. The three sloping lines making a sort of pyramid form the logo of the CCC. The clothing is based on professional team kit Rapha supply to a few teams including Bradley Wiggins’ Sky team next year. Very exclusive! It certainly makes you feel part of something special to have our own pro-team clothing range and to be filmed in it!
Continuing on the bike theme, today is a day for maintaining and mending bikes. Mine will get a clean, lubrication all over (well not the saddle), new brake blocks and a thorough check of all bolts for tightness. The guy whose frame broke is attempting something more ambitious. His wife went to a bike shop, got him a new frame and drove hundreds of miles to get it here today (I won’t make any comments about wifely duties….) so he is going to completely strip down his old frame and rebuild a bike. Best of luck!
What else is a rest day about? Well the key question is “to ride or not to ride”. If you don’t ride your legs stiffen and your body thinks “hurrah, all the suffering is over”. That makes getting back on the bike much harder. So Pros always go out for 2-3 hours light cycling on rest days. But for us, we have to think about ailments, joints, aches and so on, which will improve faster without more aggravation. I know that stiff legs won’t prevent me finishing but a damaged knee could. So I’m not riding in the hope that knees, ankles, wrist and back will recover enough today to survive 5 more days of extreme exertion. One very hardy individual who missed 2 cols in the first week is off today in search of a replacement 2 to get back on track. You don’t know whether to applaud or certify him….. It’s also washing day, I’ve just discovered (1) how much labour a washing machine saves and (2) how much sweat and dirt a week’s worth of cycling clothing can hold. I’ve also discovered a sock went amiss somewhere, luckily I have more than one pair!
So 5 more days of the same. The second half look very marginally easier than the first, but the last day has the potential to be the “final day of judgement” with a very similar set of climbs and distance to day 4. Getting through the second half is all about damage limitation. With a run down body, illness, injury, stomach upsets, etc, are all too likely and 5 days is too long to nurse sickness for.
Time to sleep, eat and repeat frequently…..
Miles today: 130
Cols today: 12
Ascent today: 17,000 feet – this is still over half Everest or 8 Snowdons
Breakfasts today: 3 (see later)
Miles to go: 499 (what would be a normal cycling holiday for most!)
Cols to go: 39
Distance to ascend: 66,100 feet
Main climbs: Passo di San Pellegrino, di Valles, di Primadiccio, di Lavazé, Manghen.
Description (as provided by Phil): After a rest day in Canazei, in a hotel with full spa facilities (steam room, sauna, indoor pool, etc),we climb the Pellegrino on its easy side, but then the Valles makes up for this ‘soft’ climb by throwing five km of 9-11% at you. True Dolomite Grit. From this climb though we begin to pull away from the mineral heart of the Dolomites as we head along ridges that offer superb views across wooded valleys towards the Swiss Alps. Towards the end of this stage the Passo Manghen steals the show with a climb to match any other in the whole route.
Today was well beyond what most sane cyclists would do but felt straightforward and most enjoyable, with perfect weather and wall-to-wall spectacular scenery. I came in with Rob and Johnny in a mere 9 hours which felt like a half day and I guess shows how far we’ve come. It started with three breakfasts. The reason for this was because our route was going to be closed for a mountain bike event at 8am. So we needed to be over the first pass before then. That meant leaving at 6:30am and the hotel wasn’t up for breakfast then, which was a shame because it was spectacularly good the day before. So Phil laid on chewy bars and coffee before we left, then one of the vans waited at the hotel until they could provide some yoghurts and rolls. These were then driven to the top of the third climb where we had a second breakfast. Then a bit later we had our mid-morning snack which we decided to call third breakfast. The early start was very cold indeed, the first time my winter clothing has come out on this ride, then it got very hot mid-afternoon, lucky I was then wearing my ultra- lightweight jersey. So you see, I do need all that clothing . That was on a climb that was over 10% for over 90 minutes, climbing 4,000 feet in one go, past lots of cows sitting beside the road – very Alpine.
Our leader, Phil, took a tumble today on a patch of sand (I’d spotted this earlier and slowed right down for it). He’s OK, a bit cut up, but he broke his frame. However, the guy who was attempting a complete bike rebuild yesterday failed because of some wrong bits and has given up, returning home with his wife. So Phil is going to take the spare bike he was riding and get back out tomorrow. It just shows how easy it is for disaster to strike!
In terms of aches and pains, my knee seems mostly better which is a huge relief. But the ankle is still sore and swollen, and got worse during the day. And I’ve got a cold, which probably explains why I didn’t feel good on day 5. That’s not critical until day 8 which is the next super-massive day. Let’s hope I can stay injury free until then!
Now to see if I can get three dinners to match the three breakfasts…
Do keep up all the feedback, I really love to get it, and I need some more topics to write about!
Miles today: 121
Cols today: 15 (the most in one day)
Ascent today: should have been 17,500 feet but I did 18,500!
Fastest speed: 51mph
Slowest speed: 3.8mph (19% gradient at 120 miles into the ride – that was nasty!)
Cows avoided: 16 (we’re into rural Italy)
Miles to go: 378
Cols to go: 24
Distance to ascend: 48,500 feet
Main climbs: Passo Cost, Vezzana, Coe, della Borcola, pion della Fugazze, del Zovo.
Description (as provided by Phil): This stage begins with another of the steeper climbs of the route : 8km of 10-12% on an extraordinary road carved into the mountainside. It takes us up to the Passo Vezzana in a truly dramatic fashion. This is one of the most remote stages, with several wooded climbs on narrow, deserted roads and more endless views across wooded expanses. It also has the only uphill finish : a steep climb up to the tiny village of Castelvecchio. This has to be a timed climb on the Challenge!
Each night before a stage we carefully go over the route card. Not so we know where we are going – arrows and GPS take care of that – but so we know what climbs we have coming up. That helps pace us during the day and more importantly avoid the physiological problems associated with hitting a climb that is much steeper or longer than expected. Succeeding at this sort of extreme endurance cycling is much more down to mental attitude than fitness, and that means knowing what is coming and being positive about overcoming it. I had one of my worst moments on day 2 when I thought after 10 hours pedalling that the hotel was only 8 miles away, only to find an extra col had been inserted. Getting my mind around another climb rather than the expectation of a shower was harder than coping with a sore knee. Before leaving home I printed a profile chart for each day. That shows height versus distance and tends to look rather like a set of shark’s teeth. That chart goes into a plastic bag in my back pocket so I can check it throughout the day. I look at when the climb starts, what height it peaks at and what distance. My satnav systems tells me my current distance and altitude. I can work the rest out. But like any big endeavour, you need to bite off a bit at a time and so once on the bike I only concentrate on what I’ve got to do before the next feed stop. That’s the plan, but read on….
Today showed the power, or lack of it, of mindset. We have a route book for this trip with maps and vital statistics for each day. Today, on paper looked the easiest of the ten, at “only” 120 miles and 13,500 feet of climbing. Everyone was looking forward to a sub-nine hour day prior to the very tough final three days. But Phil had made a mistake, and it was actually 17,500 feet, which only became apparent mid-afternoon as we started to realise just how much climbing we still had to do. I then decided to do a bit more! Like half of the field I missed a directional arrow. Being smart I had the route per-programmed on my satnav so happily re-routed myself. Unfortunately I wasn’t smart enough…I couldn’t see on my screen that we were in a loop and took the wrong direction onto the course. I had great fun descending a steep climb for 2 miles until I realised I was in a town I’d already passed through and had actually just gone back down a monster climb I’d already come up. Nothing for it but to do the climb again. That removed a bit of gumption. Then the last 3 miles we were told were uphill as the hotel had been changed. Nobody told us that the gradient was 18%. That removed a lot more gumption and destroyed any hope of keeping my legs in some sort of shape for tomorrow. I wasn’t the happiest of individuals on arrival! I’ve calmed down somewhat now.
Apart from that it was shaping up to be a nice day. Great weather again (although the forecast for days 9 and 10 is not good), and nice quiet roads in rural Italy. Finally we’ve got away from the motorbikes that tour the Dolomites. They come in packs and tend to be of the very noisy type. They buzz around us like angry bees, disturbing the peace and generally irritating us. I’d like to see their riders try to get up the cols under their own power. There, that’s something else off my chest too! It was a tough start, out of the hotel full of breakfast and into a 14% climb lasting over an hour. Doesn’t help the digestion! After that, it was really more of the same, up, down, up, down, up and more up, down…. What is tough is the transition, you can be going down for 30 mins then turn a corner and immediately see a 14% uphill, no time to change gear, warm up legs, etc. painful.
Talking about painful I’m sure you’re all keen to hear about my ailments. Well the knee seems mostly better, just the odd twinge. My ankle is still painful and bruised. The other ankle is coming out in sympathy but not as bad. The palms of my hands hurt from gripping the handlebars and getting battered by rough roads (today’s were pretty bad) and I’ve still got a cold, which makes sleeping harder. I’m just starting to get saddle sore. Apart from that, everything’s fine! So we’ve got three extremely tough days to finish with, pretty much the hardest three of the trip. It feels like a race against time as my body starts failing in every joint, ligament, tendon, squishy bit and probably other parts. We don’t have a doctor on this trip (although conveniently my room-mate is an ex-GP) so it’s treat yourself, or for more serious go to hospital. Thankfully, nobody has had to resort to that yet.
A couple of bikes failed today. They’re probably repairable but it gives me something else to worry about. Thankfully, mine has been running like a dream.
Three days to go…..let’s hope it all hangs together.
Miles today: 128
Cols today: 14
Ascent today: 18,320 feet – more than half the cruising height of a jet airplane!
Mosquito bites overnight: 11 (including 4 on my bad ankle)
Miles to go: 250
Cols to go: 10 (not many!)
Distance to ascend: Still a whole Everest to go
Main climbs: Passo di Santa Caterina, del Branchetto, di Colla, Fittanze, Santa Barbara
Description (as provided by Phil): From the Veronese hills to the National Lessini Park, this stage takes us from woodland to barren open windswept highland scenery and on back into the mountains at the end. It contains two of the longest climbs (24 and 26 kms) as well as the two steepest and most dramatic descents of the whole event. The Passo Santa Barbara is a very memorable way to finish the hardest climbing of this stage….!
Ten and a half hot and very sweaty hours in the saddle. My kit is so salt-encrusted that it’s hard to see the logos. But another day of gorgeous scenery, mostly traffic-free roads and lovely cycling. It was a critical day today, with 14 cols any issues would have made the 100 cols impossible. But remember that we actually have 104 cols on the agenda so a spare 4 in case of problems. With only 5 or so each of the next two days, there’s now a chance of minor problems and still succeeding. It may seem odd but the number of cols is no guide to the severity of the day as some cols are so massive they take 2 hours to climb and others can be along a ridge taking only a few minutes.
There’s some really big ones coming up! But, of course, my plan is not to miss any. Also, today was the start of the massive last three days. Of these three, tomorrow, day 9, is the least impossibly hard so the aim was to ride today without further injury and without hurting myself too much. Then hopefully tomorrow will be relatively OK and the last day can take care of itself. And it was mission accomplished, and in style. It was a day of four massively big climbs, one before lunch, two between lunch and afternoon snack making for a very long and hard session and one to polish the day off.
I thought I’d say a bit more today about my secret weapon – weight. I’m pretty sure I’m the lightest person here, only 9 stone 0 lbs on leaving the UK, almost certainly less now. Some guys here weight over 50% more than that. Obviously being light helps going uphill. I put in about 30% less effort than most. I burn 30% less calories so have to eat less. It helps coming down as well, I have to brake less for each corner and so use less brake pad but most importantly don’t overheat my wheels. On long descents the rims of the wheels of the heavy guys get well over 100C in some cases causing wheel failure or a big drop in braking performance. In general I put much less stress on the bike both when hitting potholes and pedalling hard. Being lighter means I don’t run so hot so don’t suffer on the afternoon climbs in the sun and can even get away with carrying less water, which is less weight. The only downside is that I get cold much faster on the descents but they make good gillets for that. Oh, and I’ve got more chance of finding clothing in the sale in my size. Of course, I pretend that I do so well because I’ve trained super-hard, but really it’s just avoiding cakes….
And the bit you love the most, the injury table. Actually looking relatively good. The knees are mostly fine after the first ten minutes with just the occasional twinge to remind me that they do hurt really but can’t be bothered to continuously tell me. The ankle is mostly the same but I’ve resigned myself to that. The biggest hurt today is my wrists. There were a couple of very steep descents with continuous hairpins where I had to brake hard all the time and the road surface was very poor buffeting my wrists. It got to the stage where I could hardly hold the bars. Luckily almost all of the time is spent going uphill when I can just rest my hands gently on the bars giving them time to recover a bit. Even my cold seems to be getting somewhat better (I won’t go into details of how to deal with a snotty nose when on the bike from 7am to 7pm). Let’s see if I can return home with less than half a dozen ailments!
Rain tomorrow, oh dear….At least it’ll wash the salt out of the clothes (only joking!)
Miles today: 108
Cols today: 5
Ascent today: 12,130 feet
Miles to go: 142
Cols to go: 5
Distance to ascend: 18,100 feet
Main climbs: Passo del santel, della Mendola, Tonale.
Description (as provided by Phil): Perhaps the ‘easiest’ stage of the Challenge, it begins with a ‘soft’ climb before a thrilling long descent to the Trento region valleys. Here we have a rare 30km section of relative flat, through the impressive orchards and vineyards, before climbing the stunning Passo Mendola. The finale is left to the Passo Tonale, which, after a gentle start, becomes quite an’ interesting’ climb. A welcome descent finished the stage down into Ponte di Legno where we have time to prepare for the grand final stage.
Yesterday sweat everywhere, today hypothermia. It rain from 11am onwards, the cloud base was low and the conditions on the passes diabolical. Imagine the top of Snowdon on a really bad day. Some of the passes we went over were twice as high and the conditions twice as bad. Everyone got totally wet then on the descents, when you can’t pedal and there’s massive wind chill, extremely cold. At least one person had to be manhandled from the lunch tent into a warm van, almost comatose. At lunch everyone was shivering almost uncontrollably. Getting back on the bike after lunch when it was still raining and I was deeply cold was very hard but like all these things best done quickly rather than thinking about it. I’m sat in the lobby now and people are arriving shaking so badly they can’t talk and looking in terrible shape as hot chocolate is poured down their throats. You have to be very very tough to do this.
It started off as a “rest day”. It turned out that the stats were wrong and that rather than 13,000 feet of climbing and 142 miles it was “only” 112 miles. Everyone cheered and Phil said let’s treat it as a rest day to prepare for tomorrow’s monster. Now let’s get some perspective. The toughest one-day events in the UK claim “up to 10,000 feet of climbing over 100 miles”. People rest for 2 days beforehand and 2 days afterwards. We were going to do something tougher and treat it as a rest. And actually, it would have felt like one had the weather not turned apocryphal.
Lot s more attrition. I forgot to mention that 6 people took the van yesterday, mostly because of bad knees or similar. I suspect a similar number today. And possibly tumbles because descending in these conditions is treacherous but you have to go reasonably fast in order to get down off the mountain.
I rode OK, moving into survival mode and putting on as many clothes as I could muster. In fact, the UK summer has been good training for ghastly wet rides! I was first back, imagining how good the shower was going to feel for the last 2 hours. And it did feel that good. In fact, someone said that one of the good things about doing this trip is that you really appreciate things like showers and rest days, more than you could ever imagine. I’m not sure that’s a great reason for doing it, but it’s true!
Aches and pain report: currently I’m suffering from very wrinkly hands but I’m sure that will go away! Otherwise, it’s hard to tell at the moment because everything is deeply chilled, but I think things are mostly Ok. Knees seem fine, wrists a little sore, ankle still somewhat painful, cold in its final stages, but looking OK for the last day.
It’s an absolute monster tomorrow – as bad as the “judgement day”. But it is the last day so I don’t need to keep anything in reserve or worry overly about injuries. Succeeding in the challenge is tantalisingly close…..but what will tomorrow throw at us?
I DID IT!
Miles today: should have been 141 but ended up as 124 (see below)
Cols today: 5 (very big ones)
Ascent today: 16,200 feet
Distance: 1,226 miles (1,961km)
Ascent: 167,230 feet (50,675m)
Hours on bike: 91 hours and 35 minutes (that’s a lot of time on a skinny saddle)
Pedal strokes: 384,000 (roughly, I didn’t count each one)
Calories burnt: 61,880 (equivalent to 728 bananas)
Average speed: 13.5 mph (desperately slow by any normal standards but there were a few mountains in the way)
Main climbs: Passo Gavia, Mortirolo, Vivione, di Ganda.
Description (as provided by Phil): The massive climb of the Passo Gavia opens the celebrations : a truly iconic climb and very dramatic. 40km of descent follow, passing through Bormio. This brings us to the foot of the second iconic place of the stage : the Mortirolo climb. Almost on a par with the Zoncolan, this climb is tough and steep all the way up. Another long descent takes us to one of the most beautiful climbs of the event : the Passo Vivione. An absolute jewel of the Challenge, to be savoured. After the third long descent (another 30km stretch) we join the route of the 2011 Giro until the end of our stage for one final climb before plunging back down into our start town for the finish.
Actually, the massive climb of the Gavia didn’t open the day. The lead van went up to signpost the way and got stuck in the snow that had fallen as part of yesterday’s storm. We had started on the climb, having got up at 5:30 to leave in the dark and very very cold morning but got turned back fairly quickly. Phil had a plan B which involved a different col from the Gavia which had the advantage of being lower and shorter. I think everyone was secretly relieved as suddenly the day became do-able. With only 124 miles it felt like a party! Actually, it was a lovely day. We had plenty of time due to the early start although the first climb was bitterly cold. This meant a lot of “kit discussion” the night before along the lines of “should I wear knee earners, or 3/4 length tights or leggings and when should I take them off and change to shorts….”. I only have shorts and knee warmers so that made the decision easy. Then we had the most gorgeous climb after lunch, 2 hours up to 6,000 feet through a wooded valley with river, waterfalls, smooth quiet road, opening onto a plateau with spectacular views. I’ll remember that climb for ever. I think everyone managed to ride today, although about half a dozen opted for a valley floor ride.
I got back to our starting hotel at about 6pm. It felt like there should have been a welcoming committee, but instead I collected my luggage, showered, disassembled my bike and grabbed a sandwich. Speaking of my bike, what a star. Not a single mechanical niggle, no punctures, ran perfectly despite torrential rain, very bumpy descents and more. I should buy it a present….
So why did I do it? Why put myself through all the suffering, the rain, the long days and not to forget all the training beforehand? As you might imagine it’s a question we often asked ourselves, especially towards the end of the day. An easy answer would be to say because I enjoyed it, and there is much truth in that. Cycling in fantastic scenery with a great bunch of like-minded and equally talented individuals was very memorable. But, of course, that’s possible without the extreme challenge. A different answer would say something about the sense of achievement and pride, about the fact that I put succeeding in the CCC in my “Who’s Who” entry because I’m so proud of it. There’s no easy answer, but the best I could come up with was the rather enigmatic reply David Cameron gave when asked why he wanted to be Prime Minister – “because I think I’ll be good at it”. And I was.
Thank you for reading my rambles and for your replies. That’s it for now, although I will let you know when the “movie” is available.
I feel like playing the Ryanair tune.. or maybe that should have been sounded after every successful col… well done. Andy Hopper
William, CONGRATULATIONS!!! I’ve been following your posts for the last two weeks as I’ve been moving around on travel (in London today and tomorrow) and they are amazing. You must feel GREAT…as well as tired. And I love the way you call out your bike as a star . And, I agree, there should have been a welcoming committee…throwing rose petals. All the best, Robert Pepper
Congratulations! Why do we do any of this stuff? To test our physical limits and have the satisfaction of succeeding at it. Well done! Mary Brown
Well done indeed, you should be very pleased with such a fantastic achievement. I’ve just read out loud to my family some of your blogs and at the end there were bemused faces of “did he do this for fun!” but your last paragraph answered them. Maybe you should actually take a “rest day” now. Congratulations again. Vanessa Price
Many thanks for taking the time to write an interesting and informative blog, especially when you must have been starving and exhausted. The only question left. What do you do next year? Take care, Barry (Gareth’s dad)
That’s really awesome mate! I’m chuffed for you. I expect an account in person when you return. In the meantime, have a glass of wine tonight – you’ve earned it! Thanks for keeping me, my dad and my dad’s riding partner gripped for 10 days. It’s been emotional! Safe journey home. Gareth
Congrats, William ! You did it… I have really enjoyed reading all your emails, and experiencing all your challenges, success and frustrations. I can see why you are a successful person too… your determination and strategic thinking, even in cycling, has obviously paid off! I shall miss all your daily stories.. . Kind Regards, Soraya Jones