Saturday 7 July 2012

Italy Part 5: Stelvio, take 2

Rest day. Well, kinda. There was no big ride planned for the day as we were staying in the same place - Prato allo Stelvio. As well as being pretty close to Switzerland we were also pretty close to Austria and there was a distinct German feel to the town. The road signs for example, and the other guests in the hotel - all German. We also had the novelty of a bike shop to visit, a hotel with a pool, sauna (naked) and steam room.

Various plans were put together the previous evening, over dinner. The enthusiastic Bath CC were planning to ride up Stelvio, continue down the other side to Bormio, then hang a left to ride up Passo di Gavia. They were then going to come back down to Bormio and probably hitch a lift in the van.

The slightly less enthusiastic people were planning to ride up Stelvio, then either come straight back down or loop the slightly longer way back via Switzerland. I was in this group - at best.

The sensible, recovery minded Phill (who was suffering from a knee twinge) planned to do very little - maybe a flatish ride along the river to Austria.

My personal motivation depended on the weather. I failed to mention that the descent of Stelvio to Prato allo Stelvio the previous day was slightly terrifying. 48 hairpins, fast, steep and soaking wet. Did I say cold? It was so cold my face froze. I really didn't want to be riding in the cold and wet again.

Morning came. Sun, clearish skies with the odd little fluffy cloud bumbling along. Bah. I guess I'd better go out and ride.

Three of the Bath crew (John, Pete and Rob) had set off super-early for their "recovery" ride up Stelvio and Gavia. That left myself, Tony, David, Graham and Christina the guide. Graham, Christina and I set off, expecting to soon be caught by David and Tony.

The "classic" side of the Stelvio has 48 hairpins, handily marked out for you so you can either be motivated or demotivated depending on how you react to "31 hairpins to go" when you are already knackered. I just closed my eyes and concentrated on the next rider to overtake - yes, amazingly, I was overtaking people all the way up. I can't believe there were people who could ride more slowly that I was, but to be fair plenty of them had rucksacks and mountain bikes.

As I climbed higher, the sunshine gave way to cloud. Low cloud. Cloud so low that we were in it. Rain came, visibility dropped to 30 metres and I once again did my trick with the gilet. The lack of visibility didn't bode well for coming back down - this was a really busy road with motorbikes, cars, campervans and trucks  all squeezing past the tortoise-like cyclists. Hmm.

Describing a climb up a mountain that's shrouded in low cloud is difficult. I won't even try.

The summit. Cold again, so straight into the cafe. I actually felt better than the previous day and did my best to warm up with coffee and strudel. Graham was already there, but curiously we'd not been passed by Tony or David. A couple of minutes later Tony appeared, panting like a man who'd just sprinted up a 25km climb. After a few minutes he was able to talk and explained that David had broken a shifter (SRAM - not a good make to break in Italy) and the resulting delay had meant they hadn't started for ages. David was now on Massimo's bike - without David's not-so-secret 11-32 cassette. He wasn't far behind Tony though.

I still wasn't warm, mainly due to being soaking wet. So, I did what any other cycling freak would do in that circumstance and bought my second souvenir jersey of the trip with the excuse of "it'll warm me up". After trying on the pink and black "Cima Coppi/Stelvio" version, and noting the odd cut, I went for the white and black version. Good job, the pink one was the girls cut...

Christina arrived and told us that lunch was ready in the van. We huddled inside and consumed calories, watching the clouds alternately surround us then drift away. There were three options from here.

  • Go with the van to pick the nutters up from Bormio
  • Ride the longer way back via Switzerland
  • Risk the Stelvio descent one more time, in the low cloud
Something came over me, probably a desperation to get back to the hotel. I waited for a break in the clouds, and announced I would head back down the mountain. Tony felt the same and before my bravado could subside I was over the top and accelerating towards hairpin 1. At least I think I was - it was difficult to see.

Call it more confidence, bravery or stupidity, but somehow I was 3 minutes faster down to Prato than the previous day.

Stupidity, I reckon.

Route here. 25km up, 25km down.


Anonymous said...

What happened to "Real men wear pink"? :-) sounds like you've been having a blast. Hope the Apple strudel did the trick - at least you've had training for the wet, cold, frozen face, dampness over the last few months in the UK!

Unknown said...

Yes, I guess cold and wet should be easier to handle than hot and dry... like today's ride for instance!

We'd banned pink on the trip - one of the riders (David) has a bit of a thing for it.