Sunday 31st July|
Up just after 6am for breakfast. I didn’t feel too bad, but James was not looking happy about having to get out of bed! At least we knew where we were going now, and we had plenty of time to get the bikes sorted out, get kitted up and be ready to race at 8am. It was a little cooler, about 23 degrees, with the weather looking initially promising, but the clouds were gathering which didn’t bode well….. The first 33km warm up loop was ridden at a controlled pace behind a lead car, which meant riding the brakes a lot. James and I started at the front, and Alex and Tim made their way through to join us fairly quickly. Part way round we got our first shower, but it was mostly ahead of us, leading to plenty of spray off the road, but not getting too wet, apart from our feet! The race is an unusual format – there is a set course each day, but only one climb is actually raced, and with transponders on the bikes to time these sections, it can be treated as an individual time trial in effect. However, on this first day I wanted to start the climb at the front to see where I was against the rest of the field. I was second over the start line, and quickly joined by Tim in holding the wheel of the leader. I was just thinking it seemed like a comfortable pace when two riders attacked, so I went with them, and soon the three of us had a decent gap. But my heart rate was up to 195bpm, and I had to let them go and try to find my own pace. Once I’d settled in a bit I was holding the gap to them okay. However, there were some riders coming up from behind – first an older guy (52, I later found out!) came storming past, so fast that I couldn’t even think about taking his wheel. Behind him was a group of three, which took much longer to catch me, and I was able to slide onto the back to join them. The climb today was 10km and 800m, but felt steeper! It took me a while to recover from going that bit too hard at the start, but eventually I did a turn or two on the front of my group. Then after we went under the 1km to go banner, I sensed they were tiring and attacked. With the road levelling out a bit I flew up the road, only to get round the corner and see the steep tilt up to the finish…. That last ramp was painful, but I held the other three off by ten seconds to take fourth on the stage. The winner was an incredible 2:50 up on me, but thankfully only one of the front three was in my age group, so I was second, 48 seconds down. At the top, once I’d got my breath back, I got food and drink at the feed and greeted the others as they came in. I was keen to get going again, to save getting cold and stiff, so Tim and I rolled off. The road kept going up however, and I only wanted to ride piano, so Tim disappeared up the road, whilst I was caught by an Ozzie, which gave me someone to talk to for the 30km ride to the next feed station. The Dolomites are very scenic, and although there was some light rain and damp roads, it was a nice ride, cruising at an easy pace on rolling backroads. We had intended just to have a brief stop at the feed station before continuing on down the mountain back to Bolzano. But we were told that we had to wait for the convoy, and would be disqualified if we went ahead. So we waited, and in the hour that it took for everyone to arrive, the weather had closed in, it was pissing it down and cold. And I had no other clothes…... We all sheltered, shivering, in a tunnel, before finally setting off on the descent. It was really not funny, I had to have the brakes on almost all the time, but with my arms tensed the muscles were spasming with the cold, making the bars wobble and I was barely in control, badly scared that I would crash. Behind me, James was in a worse state, with Matt nursing him down, stopping in each tunnel along the way. Apparently my Australian friend, Glen, was stopped in a tunnel unable to continue – hopefully he made it down eventually….. Really grim, but we did all get down safely, then it was a 30km bash down the valley back to Bolzano, by which time I had almost managed to warm up. Tim was smart – he ignored being told to wait and went down ahead of the rain regardless, then just hung out in a café before rolling in to finish with the rest of us! Good to get back and get changed and warm, but now we needed somewhere to stay…. But maybe our luck had changed – Tom had meet another rider who knew of a place up the hill which could take all eight of us – sounded too good to be true, but sure enough, a quick drive back up the day’s climb and we were sorted for accommodation for the week! We were presented with four rooms; as GC leader I bagged the single, and the others sorted themselves out. Great to shower, settle in and chill out, then we walked up to the local pizzeria for dinner. Slightly comedy meal with the Rocky-look-and-sound-a-like getting very confused with us all ordering two meals…. But ultimately a good feed, though once again we had to scrape round for cash after they wouldn’t take foreign cards! Turned out the old guy who won the stage is a local dentist and has won the event eight times, holding the course record for almost every climb in the area. But still a bit depressing to lose almost three minutes to someone over 50! Shannon’s name had confused the organisers – he was in the womens category, though only in 8th place…..
Next day....... Giro delle Dolomiti index