Monday, 9 July 2012

Italy Part 6: Gods, Liquigas and the Sella Ronda

On the rest day, I took a wander into town in the afternoon. As I was coming back to the hotel I noticed a woman unloading some road bikes from a van. I thought little of it. I barely even looked at what the bikes were. If I had, I might have spotted that they were slightly special.


Pinarello Dogma. Campag Super Record EPS groupset. Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels. Huge saddlebag. That's not a cheap bike. Still, anyone with a saddlebag that big must be a bit "all the gear, no idea". Look at those stem spacers!

There was a matching white and lilac one, and a white one too.


Clearly a family who enjoy cycling. Probably here to bimble up the passes in the sunshine. Based on the rest of the hotel guests, probably German.

At breakfast the next day I noticed this tall kid, about 14 or 15. Skinny. Looked a little lost at the buffet. Again, thought nothing of it. Scoffed some food, went to the room to get kitted up. Wandered down to the lobby with my bags. We had a transfer that day but we'd be riding straight from the van at our destination in the heart of the Dolomites.

Most of the crew were there, beaming. Either they'd had an especially good breakfast or something else was up. Massimo broke the news.

"Miguel Indurain is staying in the hotel. I'm going to find him and ask for a picture!".

I grinned too. Although I'd not got into following professional cycling until about 2006, I'd done my best to catch up on the history. Big Mig, five times Tour de France winner (consecutive years), time trial master and holder of one of the lowest resting heart rates this side of a pachyderm. Someone, with better knowledge than I, had spotted him at breakfast with his wife and son. We dashed to the bike room to take some pictures...

This tour company was good. Ace routes, brilliant hotels, fabulous lunches and now a superstar on the side. We hung around the lobby, taking our time to load the luggage into the vans. His wife appeared in cycling kit. Massimo has a word... it was on - he was happy to meet up and pose for a picture. We started bouncing with excitement.

Miguel appeared, also in cycling kit. He shook our hands. He chatted (in Italian). He posed with the Bath CC riders, holding a Bath CC jersey. They were very happy with this. Then a picture with all of us.


He's the tall one in the middle, in the black and white. I took a sneaky pic myself.


If you look carefully, and maybe zoom in on his legs, you'll notice something. The next time your shaven legged roadie friends tease you about your hairy legs you can tell them - Big Mig doesn't shave. Big Mig's a real rider.

After all that, what else could the day bring? Well, a two hour drive to start with, made shorter by frantic texting, Facebooking and tweeting. We were off to do the Sella Ronda - three or four passes, known as a ski loop but also famous from the Giro. It's a true circuit and we'd be riding down the first part of the first climb once we'd completed the loop. We started with a 20km downhill/flat to warm up, where we were passed by a couple of Liquigas riders or very good wannabes - full 2012 team kit, bikes, legs and descending skills.

We paused for a snack at our hotel - we were riding past it before the main loop - before setting off to the first pass, Passo Sella - summit at 2214 metres or so.

Once again, a beautiful climb. Tight hairpins through woods led upwards until the trees cleared, leaving magnificent views. Not that I was really paying attention - I thought I'd put some effort in on this one, even managing to stay with Tony for 200 metres when he passed me. A glance at the Garmin showed an unsustainable (for me) 280w so I let him go and eased back a little. Not too much, as I was still passing people all the way up. I'd pay for that later. The view from the top was...


...and the descent, chasing buses and cars, was just as good.

Next, Passo di Gardena, about 2110m. I didn't enjoy that one, due to a combination of being worn out from the morning effort, a full stomach and a lack of carbs. A Torq caffeine gel got me to the top. I was riding with David - he too had smoked himself up the first climb and was set on an easy day. I was happy to help hold him back.

Passo Campologno was a mere 1877m, which then descended to the foot of the final climb of the day. By that time I was just grinding out the pedal strokes, chugging along. No zip, no pizzazz. Tired. Very tired.

Passo Pordoi tops out at 2239m, and I felt every one. There's a memorial to Coppi at the top, not that I noticed. He crested the climb first in three straight Giri, 1947, 48 and 49, again in 52 and once more in 54. He obviously liked it. It's the highest pass in the Dolomites (Stelvio is the Alps) and so it's often the highest point of the Giro. The Cima Coppi prize is now awarded to the first rider over the highest point.

Coppi may have liked the climb, but I loved the descent. Adored it. All those hairpins through the woods that we'd ground up earlier, we now flew down. I was even getting faster - I could just about keep David and Tony in sight. My right hand turns were now almost as good as my left hand turns (almost certainly better because of riding track). At the bottom I may have whooped. I apologise.

That night I had double pasta, and ice cream. I deserved it.

Route here. 88km, 2149m of ascent.
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