Wow, what an incredibly beautiful place, and what a great day in the saddle.
12,000 took part in the event. There were 3 different distances, I went for the longest one of 83 miles and 13976 feet of climbing (about half the height of Everest). The challenge was the amount of climbing, there were barely any flat sections with 8 mountain passes and a final short kicker towards the end. I have never done anything like this amount of climbing before, so it was a big challenge and worry if i’d make it, especially as I have back problems.
It was an early start, and my alarm awaking me before 4.30 am. I drove part of the way and cycled the rest to find a mass of cyclists as the sun was rising. There was a lot of waiting, but a buzz of nervous cyclists chatting, trying to keep warm and eager to begin. I passed the start line just before 7am. Despite the early start there were people already lined in the streets cheering us on. As i was number 11460 i was starting very near the back. The roads were closed, and the first climb was so clogged up, people were having to stop and unclip. It was important to concentrate being so close to other cyclists, none of which i knew, with many different levels of experience.
The scenery was spectacular and there was plenty of time for soul searching on the long climbs. There were people dotted throughout the route cheering us on, some with big drums and cow bells, it was great to see, and often a welcome distraction.
The route was a loop, which then went off in another direction in another loop. I had already planned to stop after the first loop back in Arabba where i was staying, as i asked my wife Alice to come along with a bag of drinks and food i had prepared with my 9 month old son Filippo. This was 37 miles into the ride and after 4 of the mountain passes, with the hardest yet to come. It was great to see my family, and when I did, I was feeling pretty good and knew from experience that i would finish the event, so it was an added morale boost.
I set off again, the number of cyclists had thinned by this stage, as i had overtaken a lot of people.
The weather forecast had threatening rain, but it turned out to be a very hot sunny day, and i was losing a lot of fluid.
Through various sections, people were talking amongst their friends as they cycled, but as we hit the penultimate and hardest climb of the day called the Giau, which was around 6 miles long with an average incline of 12%, there was only panting and silence. My back was really hurting by now, and i was just trying to manage things, moving position on my bike, and just staying in the moment. A few drops of rain came down, which were welcome in the heat, and i was very happy as i neared the top to know the worst was over, and glad that I still felt pretty good. At the top there was a refreshment stand, which i decided to make use of as i had run out of drinks, and this would mean i wouldn’t need to stop again. To my surprise once i got off my bike i felt dizzy, and not so good. Clearly the 5+ hours of climbing, sweating, heat, and fatigue had more of an impact than i had realised. I drank some coke, water, rehydration drink, and ate some food. I was sick of sweet things, so the sandwiches and cheese tasted amazing.
I set off again and was greeted with the backdrop of rocky ragged mountains, mixed with brilliant green patches of grass littered with cows, sheep and goats. For me the reward of the arduous hour long climbs were the long snaking descents on car free roads, where I hit a top speed of 51 mph.
The next climb was much easier than I had anticipated, and especially after the previous climb, i approached the top and felt a real sense of achievement knowing there were no more mountain passes, as i passed another refreshment stand. However, to my surprise after a short flat section, i turned a corner and there was a steep section that seemed to go on for a long time. The sense of achievement of arriving to the top felt even larger.
Following this there was a long decent back into the town of Covara, which was a fun long and sweeping section. Before long I was on the the final kicker know as the ‘wall of the cats’ (the locals are known as ‘cats’) as it hits 19% in one section. There were long crowds on this steep narrow road cheering everyone along, and as i ground up slowly, a girl came swinging into me out of nowhere as she performed the ‘alpine weave’, i shouted at her as she nearly took me out, but she didn’t even wince and turned back into me again in the other direction, i just managed to swerve out of her way. Clearly she had no regard for her safety or anyone else's, she just wanted to get up without stopping, meanwhile others stopped and luckily, although i had to slow down a lot due to the ‘alpine weaver’, i managed to keep going. I overtook her in once piece and there was a big inflatable to mark the finish, which I was elated to see and pass, before looking down at my GPS unit, to see i still had more than 3 miles to go.
After what seemed like an eternity the real finish came into sight and i upped the pace, sprinting to the end.
It was a great feeling to have completed the ride. I have wanted to cycle in the region for years, signing up for the event 2 years ago. But I had serious doubts if i would be able to complete it. The training paid off. When taking on challenges such as this, deep down i always have confidence i will make it, but do doubt myself a lot along the way. Its great sense of achievement to complete a challenge that you have big doubts about being able to finish. I find it gives me confidence in all areas of my life. In conclusion; I’m definitely not a natural climber, but i am glad i did it.
I stayed in the Dolomites for the following week and enjoyed family hikes with spectacular views.