A little something different for this stage as I departed from Valdobbiadene in order to avoid backtracking to Padova and I also carried on to Bolzano, planning to complete half of the next days stage. The stage length was planned to be about the same, the idea was to climb the entirety of San Martino di Castrozza, and the plan was to be in Bolzano by about 8pm. It was all set-up perfectly. However, sometimes things present themselves that you cannot plan for. This was the big test, as it was the first day that went really sideways.
Day of Journey:
Stage 7, Day 10, May 12th, 2009.
10h 05m (210km)
Train 15km, Bike – 210km
Train 15km – Bike – 210km
Total Distance Biked:
1109km (7 stages, two rest days)
Twitter: “Tuesday I had a disaster day – 1st one. Sick again, couching up a little blood on San Martino pass. Not fun. Got lost into Bozen, Long Day.”
“San Martino Di Castrozza was amazing I think the highest I have ever ridden. Croce d’ Aune is pretty tough as well. I liked those climbs.”
So What Happened?
Late. Again. I left Valdobbiadene in the early afternoon which ended up working out perfectly. I was nervous about getting on the road too late, but my adapted route plan of going from Valdo to Bolzano was smart thinking if I can say so. The pros went South from Valdo to Padova for the departure and ran right past Valdobbiadene on the other side of the river. Since I didn’t have a team bus, any support and it was very likely the route was similarly flat to what I have seen already, I stayed later in Valdo and just departed from there. This also afforded me the opportunity to ride the entire Passo Rolle without having to find accomidations in San Martino di Castrozza. It was a plan I was very happy with.
After a nice lunch at the famous Bar without a Bartender and a motopacing behind Fabio’s Vespa, I was on the route and feeling good. The first test which came quickly was Croce d’Aune which started out steep and was a short grind the way to the top. After the first 2 km I found a serious looking Italian glued to my back wheel and once I saw that he was hanging with me up the climb I knew we could work together to really kill it. That worked, but on the way down I suffered for it. The sore throat that was lingering the last couple of days had developed into a full blown heavy cough and was starting to present problems. Descending Croce d’Aune, it really announced it’s presence as I had to pull to the side of the road twice to clear my chest so I could stop coughing. The air in the Northern Italian region is heavy and wet which wasn’t helping and the effort that day, with two big climbs was going to be big.
About 15km’s from the start of the San Martino Climb, which was a false-flat uphill itself I started crashing. I had loads of energy, felt sharp, but I just couldn’t get enough air in my thickening lungs. After pulling the invisible man through a couple of tunnels, I realized that the echoing bike sounds I was hearing was in fact another draft on my wheel. This time I signaled for him to go around and thanked the cycle gods for a break. Then Thor sent himself in the form of Sammy, or Sanni, or somebody named something like that. Holy hammer of the gods, this guy could turn the cranks. 44kmph on a slight upwards grade, me and the invisible man, who knew this cycling marvel, could barely hang on his wheel. For about 3 or 4 km’s we squeezed every bit of power out to hang with him and then the invisible man became just that – invisible, dropped as the climb approached. I hung on until my lungs almost exploded and then let Thor go, up Mount Olympus in a heartbeat.
Again, the hurt was on. I thought drafting someone to the climb could spare a few calories, but I was mistaken, and I had some serious climbing ahead of me. This time I will spare the details, as the climb was beautiful, challenging but not devastating, and I rode it well, at good pace, navigating my way through the heard of cyclists. If Eddie Merckx sounded like a horse breathing flames of the conquest as he passed, I sounded like his chain smoking, whiskey drinking brother. Cough, Cough, Cough all the way up. Then the coughing really started to hurt. Then blood. Not blood like in a Hollywood horror flick, but enough that my somewhat colourful, somewhat opaque discharge I was spitting out every 2 metres was fully opaque, and much more colourful. “Shit, here we go again”, I thought, remembering back to the cough that killed my fixed gear trip, and the month of couching it took to shake it in Madrid. Suddenly, I felt devastated. Was my trip over today? In a couple of days? If so, I am going to enjoy this last climb. Common sense would tell me to stop, get some water and take a 30 minute break. Pride, on the other hand, told me to hammer up the climb. If, I couldn’t climb tomorrow, it would be from exhaustion not from a cough.
With 2km to go, I caught Thor. 1600 meters left, he was behind me. 900meters and I was being held back by the police. They really don’t let you cross the finish line. I went inside, got a Coke and watched the pros from the hotel lobby. The sugar probably didn’t help my immune system, but the Coke picked up my spirits well. Just before the pros arrived another rider, who claimed to be disabled, tried to get past the cops. A rather vocal argument, shouting and swearing in English stirred up the crowd and when the aggressive fan tried to run around and climb the barriers to get past the cops the hecklers came out full force. He was calmed down just as the sprint finish approached. A valient effort by Jens Voigt nearly paid off, followed by some aggressive attacking by Maurico Soler, but it was the Killer who murdered them all. Di Luca continued the LPR clean-up as they caught their third straight stage.
The hour or so break really helped me out as I climbed to the top of the Passo Rolle at pedestrian speeds without coughing much. The frigid and long descent was on. Hairpin switchbacks and tunnels and I was on my way to Bolzano. Then I came to a tunnel where bikes were prohibited, a problem that wouldn’t exist the following day because of the race, but today was all too real. I’ll go around I thought and I was sunk.
Tired, cold and with the sun setting in a couple of hours I rode tentatively down the winding highway from Cavalese. Feeling less than fully confident I speed downhill, enjoying the break from pedalling, descending deeper and deeper into the valley. Signage became less frequent and the terrain changed sharply. Suddenly, villages were high atop the valley walls with the river far below. The route plunged down and had short climbs and down again. Something started feeling wrong. I checked my route list. Highway SS12. I looked at the road markers. Highway SS612. Could that be a google mistake? Maybe the roads have been re-numbered. I rode even slower, plunging further into the valley. Looking around, there was nothing. Trees, aggressive mountain walls tapering to the water below. I really didn’t need this, and I couldn’t see much at all. I took my sunglasses off and it didn’t seem much brighter. It would be dark soon.
Ok. San Martino di Castrozza – check. Predazzo – check. Cavalese – check. Molina – check. I read over my list. Right at Molina on the SS48 to the SS12 – … Houston, we have a problem. Where the hell am I? I kept riding down the road where I could see another road sign. I had passed Capriana, which i didn’t recognize, with not a soul to ask near the road and the village a steep climb up the hill. Then through Grauno, Grumes and Valda with the same scenario. Ok, here comes the sign. TRENTO – 23km. Oh shit. I was on the wrong side of the valley. I had tried flagging down two cars previously, but neither stopped. This time a small truck with a flatbed was coming. I determined, walked into the middle of the narrow mountainside road and held up my hand. He came to a quick halt. I explained my situation and the three young landscapers bailed me out. One lived just up the road, the other two in Carbonare. They offered to drive me up the mountain side to the top where I could go down the other side toward Bolzano. “It’s about 15km down, 15km flat to Bolzano” said the birthday-boy driver. “My wife is going to kill me for being late, but I’m happy to help you” he said. Up to the top just past Anterivo and I was going down the other side on my way to the SS48 at dusk. Then down the steep and windy SS48 toward Olmi and Ora in the dark. Cars honked as they passed in both directions. I had no lights. I though of bringing little turtle lights just in case but I didn’t. I didn’t think I would be riding in the dark.
Ora to Bronzolo I rode in the blackness and finally stopped. This is insanity. I am going to be killed I thought. I was wearing my bright orange garbage-bag jacket in a vain effort to be seen, but after two of three close calls I sat on the side of the road, unsure again of where I was going, because I couldn’t see anything. This was really getting frustrating. I was coughing, cold and exhausted. I just wanted to sleep. I finally found a payphone near the train station in Bronzolo and called my CS host. She joked “I thought you were dead.” I laughed half-heartidly thinking that really I could have been. That was really stupid to not bring lights.
I finally got on the train at 11:20PM and arrived in Bolzano at midnight. I was sweaty, tired and felt terrible. I was coughing and falling asleep on the train. I really felt horrible for arriving at my host’s house in that condition, but I was really desparate. We chatted for a bit and I fell asleep. I lay awake for a few minutes staring at the ceiling, suddenly feeling totally relieved. Thank god that day was over.
Picture(s) of the Day:
The view from the finish in San martino di Castrozza
The Alps are huge and the Dolomites have character.
This was up, way up. Even San Martino is under those clouds.