Self sabotage, why o why do we do it?
For this whole trip and even in France before hand, not being able to eat any of the pastries, breads, biscuits had not fazed me in the slightest.
Not even a post hard day beer. Nope. Didn’t care.
But then Raoul comes in saying that the pizzeria downstairs does gluten free pizza. Something clicked.
I can have pizza! My precious …
5 days in 43h of riding under the belt and the smarts go out the window. I had to have the bloody pizza.
The hunger is immense and only an hour before dinner, I get my much wanted gluten free pizza. I even said my “Io Sono Celiaco” and got the ‘not a problem’.
Did I stop to think if said base was made on the same boards are the regular pizza’s, cooked in the same wood fired oven. Oh no. That logic was no existent in my blindness to have the pizza.
What a vicious day to be sick. Stomach in complete-pieces-sick due to cross-contamination. All because I had to have the damn pizza. Each mouthful at breakfast bought on a little more nausea but in my mind was 204km and 4583m of vertical over 10 cols/passos.
Turned out to be 216km and 5800m of vert!
What a day to have your stomach in a mess. Thankfully the start is a nice peddling descent for a few k’s before we head up Passo San Pellegrino. We start climbing, some guys take off. Raoul and I do our usual thing but I’m already well and truly in the box.
Raoul picks up the distress. You alright? Nope … stomach is a mess. Ok ‘we’ just get through this thing. I’m here. A true gentleman.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of stage 6 other than looking at my handlebars and willing myself to stay on Raoul’s wheel. I know we chatted to take my mind away from it, but today I feel I learnt so much about being in the moment and releasing yourself to it.
What I do remember is Passo Manghen. I’m torn between it and the wooded switchback plus climb from Sainte-Jean de Maurienne heading to Col du Mollard in the French Alps as one of my favourite climbs. Somewhere on the way up it started to drizzle and significantly cool down … was this to be a change from our bluebird days of the first half?
It starts bucketing and the South African Express wants to bolt and off he goes. When you’re feeling good and the mind and body want to play. How can you resist the urge – it’s a major part of why we do this stuff.
I keep riding my tempo taking in the beauty. The road twists and curls through the woods and the scenery is meant to be dramatic at the top, making for an unforgettable experience. No scenery – just fog and freezing tits off cold. Jacket goes on and I’m thankful for my Specialized deflect winter gloves.
The descent was diabolical. Wet, cold and never ending long. Never been happier to hit the next and last climb of the day. Interesting feeling pedaling a bike where you feet and lower limbs feel like stumps.
Amazingly I got through this immense day on about 400 calories of food.
“A viscous but dramatic climb opens the stage” so says the book. Phil tells us its a few k’s till the start of the 8km climb where much of it is over 10%.
Less then 2km and we’re climbing.
Early on four of us are riding the same tempo and just trying to soak in as much as we can while learning more about each other.
The effort of this first climb is totally absorbed by the road that is cut out of the rock face and the views you get as you wind your way up. I’m loving today and it just gets better.
We’re now on remote, narrow roads where cattle roam and things seem care free. Mid way we make the first of many ‘off course’ errors. The first we miss the arrow and give ourselves a nice bit of extra vertical … We are all smiles, point our steeds back up and resume what we’re here to do.
The next off course I only know as my borrowed Garmin pre loaded with the course map is yelling at me ‘off course’. Now this happens a lot and a little bit later it comes up with course found but this time no such luck. We had been flying down some switch backs, taking it in turns to stop and grab photos and we got split up.
I’m chasing hard and yelling that we’re off course as the kilometres fly by. I had scrolled the screen and see the line on the map vastly different to the direction we are headed. I get Raoul and Kendal to stop. Ed is gone.
Again we head back up until a tight switchback with the loaded Garmin course suggesting we take this small narrow back road. More riders meet up and a debate starts up on the direction to go. Follow the main road – what we had just climbed back up or follow the course route.
We go the way of the Garmin map. Proves to be ‘wrong’ but gets us no less kilometers but narrow and butchered roads.
After the last feed stop were cruising through some stunning roads north of Verona. This time tiredness makes us misinterpret a sign and my Garmin is screaming again. I look at the little map and soon enough realise we have doubled back on ourselves via some other road. Another turn around, some more kilometers and back on course.
Tired, a little annoyed but so far today has been spectacular and you can’t let 30 or so more k’s and what ever extra vertical ruin it. This is what we love to do. It’s all part of the challenge.
With the wrong turns I think we had forgot about the stage being an uphill finish to our nights hotel that had been baptised as “The Little Zonconlon” – what a cruel but utterly enjoyable way to finish the day. Italy does steep exceptionally well.
Was described as a leg warmer stage for the following days hopeful affairs – Gavia and Mortirolo. This turned into one of our most immense days on a bike. The weather was looking patchy to say the least and the data junkies were predicting the worse.
Raoul and I spent an awesome day on the bike discussing just about anything and everything and that everything is bullshit. We rode through some middle of nowhere Italy where you could sense the harshness of those exposed landscapes. We rolled through ghost town winter only resorts as we slowly made our way up to the passo Fitanze in dense fog.
That is followed by a descent that will forever be etched in my memory. So incredibly steep, so incredibly breathtaking, that it had us questioning would you actually want to climb this? Probably, but not today.
Smiling and giggling as we weaved our way down through the wooded forest switchbacks and onto a face of a huge mountain wall with forever views of of the valley below and our lunch time feed stop.
We eat light knowing we have two phenomenal climbs ahead of us. Rolling out it starts to drizzle as we ready ourselves for Passo del Creer which constantly blows your mind with scenery changes and every so often another switch back and a glimpse of the where you have come from far below.
Another fast thrilling descent where the fog graciously cleared as we took a nature break at the top led us to a valley of orchards and vines and onto passo Santa Barbara. It’s long and it’s steep and somewhere on the way up I have the craziest craving for gummy bears and steamed broccoli and butter.
The last few k’s are once again steep and this is one feed stop we’re looking forward too. After going light at lunch, we proceed to smash this feed stop and I get my gummy bears … not the broccoli … pity as I would have smashed that too.
Yet another sheer drop descent before our final climb of the day. With around 180km in the legs and only a 7% constant grade to contend with, it was perfect just to tempo out. Getting close to topping out on Ballino, out came some silliness and Rocky sound track sing-a-longs. Jackets and back lights on as the sun starts to fade and the heavens finally relent and open up on us as we descend to our evening stop.
The day we have all be waiting for. The climb that many of us so want to do. The one that got cancelled mid way up on CCC last year due to ice on the road and a support vehicle crashing.
Today is really all about Gavia.
Phil has prepared a few different options if the weather gods are once again intending on closing the road. Above 2500m it snows in the middle of summer and the weather prediction wasn’t good.
But we woke up to cold, clear blue skies and I just knew we would get to experience Gavia.
The call was to ride essentially as a group and regroup at each feed stop. At lunch which was where we would get the green light on Gavia or not.
The days proceedings started with Magno, nothing hard until the last kilometer. Then the descent. It was damn freezing as bluebird days in the mountains will be. The Rapha soft shell classic leant to me by Kevin Lucas was a literal god send and those Specialized deflect gloves I got a few days before leaving .. thank you.
At the bottom of the descent we were treated to a coffee shop as our first feed stop and were wondering what the feedback was from Mattia who was putting up our life line route signs each day. So far it looked good but we would have to wait for lunch.
Another climb, another cold descent into lunch were I was frozen. I stripped down, changed into a new merino undershirt and jersey. Then I had on arm warmers, my Specialized wind vest and then the Rapha jacket. I wrapped myself in a blanket, sipped hot chocolate, ate and waited for the decision.
Green light. Show time.
Raoul and I rolled out and within 10 minutes we started our upward journey of arguably the most enjoyable climb of my life. You start in a valley, and then it’s into some woods until it’s a mixture of grass, rock and views. Then you hit the tunnel and it all changes.
“The rocks are rough, like they were sheared from each other by some ancient being. There is no perfection up here. There is only a sense that you are a speck in the landscape. Its a place where your mind goes far and wide and where you are forced to look inward as the cold seeps in, as the snow around you forces you to realize how small you are. Its an emotional climb and the surrounding mountains give you everything you need to find the best version of yourself out there. The air is crisp beyond what you thought possible and the gradient pitches up and up as the road surface deteriorates. There are dams that are impossibly unfrozen as the white mountains surround you and your thoughts.” RDJ
We ride it at the minimal acceptable speed. Trying hard to soak up there very essence of everything that is happening in this moment. It’s beyond grand. I’m crying inside because the kilometers are ticking by to fast. 5km to go … that is sad. 2km to go … bummer. There’s some snow on the road, I ride through it, not sure why but it seems like the thing to do. I’m filled with gratitude that we get to experience Gavia.
Then we descend. It’s an epic 40km descent and it’s cold but I’m all smiles because we just road Gavia. Before I know it another feedstop is past us and we turn into something that resembles a path. A path that is steeped in Italian cycling history. The monster that is Mortirolo.
Aside from previous celiac stomach woes, I seem to be fighting this one sans energy. My non existent breakfast options this morning have finally caught up. I find a rhythm of my best effort, looking at each mocking kilometer marker sign that greets you with information of the average percent of the next kilometer and it’s steepest pitch. Never less then 5% or greater then 15% but it’s a cracking final climb of a truly beautiful day.
Raoul is waiting at the top. We turn around and descend the west side of Mortirolo. The hard side. The infamous side with the Pantani monument that has Raoul and I going wow, this is ‘proper steep’. Nothing like descending tomorrow’s first up climb to put the scare on you. Sweet dreams 🙂
And seemingly in the blink of an eye, it was almost over.
The last day. 10 days of grand proportions and so many extraordinary moments all blurred into each other would soon just be lifetime memories.
Thankfully we get a good 7km uphill leg warmer to climb Mortirolo West. 12k at 12% and I wanted to enjoy myself up this climb that is both feared and loved at the same time. It was everything and more and I had a blast.
Normally keeping the well earned elevation would be nice. The road towards Aprica is special indeed but it was so excruciatingly cold. I forgot my overshoes and my feet were stumps but the road reminded my of one in the French alps I enjoyed so much. Forcefully cut into the side of a mountain face makes for dramatically stunning.
I have my first real near miss. A little fast through a corner, something not right with my brakes (after having them ‘fixed’ the night before) and I’m fishtailing .. will it be head-on into this car or sidelining the rock face? Somehow I miss both and am congratulated by a fellow CCC rider.
Focus .. I want to make it home. On my bike.
Everyone is so slow at the first feedstop. It is just so cold, so we did everything to get warm as we still had some descending to do before passo Vivione.
Then it happened again. I’m fishtailing on the wrong side of the road around a tight right hander. What is on the other side of that guard rail?
Thank god there is no car. Stay up. Fight. Hold it…. whoa. Fellow aussie Greg comes up and says I just scared the shit out of him. Something is seriously wrong with my breaks and for the remainder of the day I descend like Wiggo at the Giro.
Vivione was pegged at one of the favourite climbs for CCC. It didn’t disappoint – long, narrow and only 7%, and a wooded wonderland of switchbacks and some interesting carvings made from old tree stumps.
Another stunning descent which I rode grandma like but played who could find the best picture spot with Raoul (he usually wins hands down but I did get a cracker of him today).
A little bump and some drizzle later led us into a long peddling descent were Greg and I sat on the South African Airways express. There was no choice, just buckle in and enjoy the ride. We were back into busy for a bit though. After being in quiet for so long, a built up area is all noise and it’s deafening.
The slap in the face reality that it will all be over soon.
The final feed, another long pedaling descent and then the one last climb.
Phil threw the full house of cards at us on this one. Yes, by now I should have known better but in true Phil form it was a classic way to etch into our memories that CCC Dolomites is the ride of a lifetime.
Three of us laughed and willed our bikes full gas up the 3 sections well into the 20% range and then enjoyed ourselves in the ‘easier’ interlude before the final steep last kilometer of climbing that was Cent Cols Challenge Dolomites.
Some handshaking and hugs at the top and a fun descent to a coffee shop which got a weeks worth of custom in the following hour as a group of hungry cyclist convened to ride the last 4km on bike path back into San Pellegrino Terme.
And with that, it was all over.
The stats: 10 days, 100+ Passo/Cols, 1963.3km, 51,873m of vertical climbed and 88 hours 12 minutes spent in the saddle of my Specialized S-Works Venge riding with a guy I have immense respect for.
I feel so much gratitude to have been able to experience something so immense as this. As Raoul put it, everything about this trip is immense and is the only apt way to describe the riding, the scenery, the friendships formed and the lengths Phil and his team go to, to make CCC everything and more.
Special thanks go to my wife and best friend in the world Charlotte and of course my son Mack who allow me the time to embark on things like this. Raoul De Jongh, our friendship and bond is rapidly getting stronger and I thank you for putting the invite out on this trip and towing me around Italy on a bicycle. I look forward to the many adventures we have in front of us.
Thanks to Sam and Emily at Specialized Australia for putting me on the best bikes and all the trimmings, it makes me excited every time I go riding. Thanks to Matt Bazano of Shimano Australia for setting me up with a Di2 Dura Ace groupo and those seriously awesome C24’s that carved up what ever roads Italy threw at them. To the guys at Oakley for the awesome eyewear and finally to all my athletes for understanding that I would be somewhat out of action for a little bit as I was stretched mentally and physically.
I’m deep with gratitude for the life I get to live.