Doing it all the hard way...

Saturday, July 9, 2016

DolDay 7 Back to the beginning Vizzini

Lutz snapped this one
On our final day we departed en mass and retraced our descent of the previous day to the Passo d’Sella.  The group took longer than usual to string out.  I found myself linked up with Brad and he set the perfect tempo for me.  I was going fast but not exceeding my targeted heart rate. We rode together all the way to the junction where the Selle Rhonde loop goes to the right to Passo d’Pordoi or to the left to Passo d’Sella.  It was early but it was warm and my jersey was already unzipped.
Narwals are a problem in the Dolomites
Thanks for the photo Brad
I gave Brad his leave and he graciously ramped up his effort ever so slightly and a gap appeared and grew between us.  I took the time riding solo to look around and smell the limestone.  

Another Rapha kind of day
I reflected on my preparation and success.  I realized this was what I had trained for and it would be a waste to be staring at my heart rate on my bike computer or to be locked onto someone’s rear wheel trying to hang on.  Instead I looked around and said to myself something I had said a thousand times over the past week. “I am so lucky to be here riding in freaking Italy.”

The views were fantastic and just continued to get better the higher I rode.

At the top we refilled bottles, posed for a photo and then set off to find the Alpe d’Suisse, our last climb of the trip.  

We stopped at the legendary Frankfurter Hof and had the typical lunch of the Giro d’Italia a frankfurter.
By now my body was like Mr. Fusion from "Back to the Future"  
I could eat anything and convert it to fuel.
We followed the route on our Garmin devices and after passing through a tiny village we found the climb known as Alpe d’Suisse.  It turned out this climb averaged sixteen percent and was a thousand meters high.  

We found our lowest gears and everyone wanted more.  It was a climb that made me feel like I was in a Rocky movie.  It was a slow motion slugfest. 
The climb didn’t let up and the best thing I can say about it was there was some shade.  We spread out and everyone got to enjoy their own personal purgatory.  My quads complained and my adductors screamed.  There wasn’t any alternative so I just fought my way up the climb.

Near the top I linked with Coz and The Cheetah and we passed some geriatric hikers who literally cheers us on.  We put on a mock sprint only to realize we were not at the top and as we settled back into our saddles our legs screamed louder.

We reached the top and the wan wasn’t there.  The road opened up and the views were stunning. 

The road was rolling and remained high.  We passed a handful of horse drawn wagons with tourists. This was a real “Sound of Music” scene. What a place.
A couple kilometers later we found Horst and the wan.  He admitted he didn’t want to see our faces when we topped out on that nasty climb.  We told him it wasn’t our faces he didn’t want to see but our profanity he didn’t want to hear!

We filled our pockets with food and refilled our bottles. A healthy smear of sunscreen couldn’t hurt and a dollop of Buttonhole was an excellent idea as well. 
Soon we were on our last meaningful descent and then tooling along a bike path toward our hotel.  The bike path went between a river and the highway and the coolness of the water was welcome considering the heat of the day.
The Cheetah crossing in style

River on the right
When we reached the town of our final destination our group had taken an outdoor table at a pizzeria. They had some food ready for us and we dove in.  Then a short walk across the street for some gelato.  Then we set off to our hotel that was above the town. 

Yep. More climbing.  I’m not sure of this but I believe the name “Horst” is a German word that translates into English as “More Climbing.”
As we set off our group had Coz, Jens, Lutz, El Jefe’ and myself.  It took a while but the reality of the climb set in and I unzipped and found my “this isn’t a short climb” speed.  We spread out and Coz went off the front and El Jefe’ went off the back.  El Jefe’ and I had cheered each other on for so much of this trip I opted to slow down for him. 

At about this time El Jefe’ found his rhythm and caught and passed myself, Lutz and Jens.  So much for thinking he was struggling. I rode with Lutz and Jens and then felt my own surge of power and set off after El Jefe’.   Soon El Jefe’ and I caught Coz and we were working together.
Uli a.k.a. Uberman!
As we climbed we passed some farmers who were harvesting hay by hand.  Above the road was a large field of cut hay and men in big hats gathering it into piles under a scorching sun. Typically when I ride past men working in a field they are in an air conditioned tractor cab and they look at me like I’m nuts.  Instead they looked at me like I had it easy.  They were right.

We arrived at the hotel and exchanged awkward man hugs.  Our riding was over and we had competed the mission we had set out to accomplish.  After cleaning up we packed our bikes and loaded them into the trailer that had spent the week here in Brixen.

DolDay 6 Selle Ronde - In the throne room of the Italian cycling gods

Words can't convey and even the pictures don't do it justice
We were all excited about today.  We had discussed making a trade back on day two.  The forecast was for rain and lots of it on day three.  We opted to shorten that day and reroute day six to cover the sacred ground of the Selle Ronde. 
Thanks to McWoodie for the photo
Horst had shared an updated Garmin file so we had the route on our devices.  We had some elevation profiles available to us before the trip so I had made little cheat sheets with the info on the climbs.  The updated route did not have this so I had to “wing it.” 
Jens had said the first climb was “only half a climb.”  It turned out that his powers of estimating are not in line with his nationality and the first climb was 900 meters.  
A few of the group had decided to skip this first part and ride in the wan to the start of the Selle Rhonde.  After climbing 900 meters those guys looked pretty smart to me.
Even early on I could sense it would be a Rapha kind of day
After the climb we were pacelining to Canazei when we were passed by some riders in light blue kits riding two abreast.  These were Astana riders.  There were eight or nine of them followed by a team car with a bunch of wheels on the roof. We didn’t recognize any of them but still it was pretty cool.  We spent six months training to prepare to do for seven days what these guys do every day ten months out of the year.
Note the numbered turn....
Soon we passed through Canazei which would be our final destination this day and began the climb to Passo d’Pordoi.  The switchbacks were numbered and El Jefe’ and I churned up and up.  When this trip was first conceived I had pulled up Google Maps and “virtually” made my way up to the top of this pass. 

 How do you ride past this without staring?
Back in 2012 I had done something similar with the Galibier in France.  In 2012 I had an image from the summit of that pass on my computer for six months before the trip.  When you actually ride in the place you have been looking at for months it is magic.
As we climbed I recognized a hotel I had seen via Google Maps.  I recognized the sign and the road.  I was really here.  I breathed it all in.  I tried to memorize the smells. 
This was the hotel I had seen on Google Maps
My legs felt strong and after the final few hairpins the road flattened out and we were on top.
At the pass is a monument to Fausto Coppi the Italian God of cycling.  
He gave hope to a beaten people after WW2 and while he was no Fabian Cancellara he was in fact much better looking than this horrible image of him atop this pass.
We found the wan and refilled bottles and ate food.  As we ate we looked around and tried to take in the beauty of the high Dolomites. This is a stunning place and we all tried to file a piece of it away in our heads to save for a rainy day.
Then we regrouped and sped down the hairpins under sunny skies.  
We climbed and descended Passo Gardena and Passo Campolongo before the final climb of the day; Passo Sella.   We were approaching 3,000 meters of climbing on the day but my legs felt strong.

These were everywhere
Below Passo d'Selle

I got out of the saddle and accelerated as I neared the top.  From the top it would be a downhill roll back to Canazei and our hotel.   Our group paused for pictures and to eat some food.  One of my blessed brothers handed me a can of coke and I dispatched it quickly.

Below us was the town of Canazei and our hotel.  
It would be an “E Ticket” descent.  As we got going the sun was sinking and the shade was cooler than I was expecting.  I knew we would soon be at the hotel and I was looking forward to a hot shower.

As we were rolling into town I sensed the impending accomplishment of meeting the challenge of this trip.  This was a hard trip and my earlier statement that one person’s heaven can be another person’s hell was still accurate.  All of us were having fun and it was exactly what we expected but you have to admit the size of the task was and is daunting. 
The mood at dinner was light as if there was a collective relief that we would finish the task at hand.  We knew the next day would be much easier as it was designed to allow time to pack the bikes in the afternoon.

Horst had done an absolutely brilliant job of selecting routes that would challenge us but not kill us.  He is a master of his craft.  Our group chemistry is exceptional.  We wonder where our German brothers have been hiding all these years.