Day 11 – The Comeback – Alpe di Suisi


The shortest day of my tour and the second highest climb. My cough was still present, but much better and my energy was coming back. I had a ton of time to relax in the morning and take it easy on the ride. I blitzed the first bit of Alpe di Suisi, chatted and rode with a 62-year-old up the middle section and then had a little fun at the top. It was high, cold and stormy but my spirits were super, because I felt like the worst was behind me. I did however, skip my one “off course” special climb, a climb even the pros won’t try. With my condition the way it was I would have to slot the Eidelweiss in my to-do list and return to Bolzano some day.

Day of Journey:
Stage 8, Day 11, May 13th, 2009.

Time Traveled:
3h 25m (91km)
Distance Traveled:
Bike – 91km
Travel Methods:
Bike – 91km
Total Distance Biked:
1200km (8 stages, two rest days)

Twitter: “Today was a short day, and i woke up feeling 200% better, still coughing a lot. Alpe di Suisi was fun, not too tough, but long. Bellavistas.”

So What Happened?

When I left Bolzano I had an important decision to make. I could ride directly to Alpe di Suisi and only battle my way up what was regarded as one of the most decisive climbs in this year’s Giro D’Italia. Or, I could attempt the impossible – two climbs in one. The Alpe di Suisi with an Eidelweiss appetizer.

I have avoided speaking of Eidelweiss until this point because I knew it was likely that I wouldn’t attempt it. I thought I wouldn’t for three reasons: 1. It’s not part of the Giro. 2. I had a 11-23 cassette. 3. It’s considered the hardest climb in all of Italy with sections as steep as 27%. This climb is more for 4×4’s than bikes, and isn’t even actually regarded as a pro-bicycle climb – the pro’s have never attempted it. Mortirolo, near St. Moritz in Switzerland and Colico in Italy is widely regarded as the toughest ‘pro-climb’ in Europe. Only the Angrilu in Spain is mentioned in the same breath as Mortirolo. To give you an idea, the Mortirolo averages 10.5% over 12.5km with a max 18%! Eidelweiss averages 15% over 7.2km with a max of 27%! It is insane and I wanted a piece of it.

Now, it is easy to envision oneself trying to power up a 27% grade in a 39×23 gear from behind one’s computer screen, but when you wake up on the day of an already challenging ride, coughing and realizing that without a triple chainring it’s likely that riding 10km’s to climb 1km at most is foolish. So I didn’t go.

Perhaps it is because I skipped Eidelweiss that today seamed rather uneventful, but it did. The climb to Alpe di Suisi was in front of me in no time and I was on it. With some steep bottom sections to greet the climbers off the word go, I was feeling good. My cough was significantly better, and I had much more energy than the previous day. I was feeling like the king of the mountain, blistering up the hill, until the only ones to pass me were a group of 12-15 year old kids lead by their coach, green to the gills with pro-cyclist ambitions. I would catch them in a couple of kilometers, which I’m assuming was as soon as their Ritaline wore off, but they had already done the job of putting me in my place – I actually started feeling old.

62 years old. Now that is old. Exactly twice my age. Here I was feeling sorry for myself about 3km’s ago and now I’m pacing a 62 year old up Suisi. Interesting ain’t it? Here’s how it happened. I was feeling like a king again after dropping the packrats and their PBJ sandwich and juice box toting coach and was back to climbing well enough to be the passer and not the passee. Then suddenly, as I passed a group of older guys, one of them yells out “Armstrong??? Oh non!” I though it was hilarious and turned back, slowed and smiled. Then this old fella on a classic Colnago gets out of the saddle and rides over and shakes my hand. He introduced himself, and we started riding up together. The pace was slow, but as I found out, he made a goal to get to the top and didn’t think he could do it, so I took it upon myself to drag him up there. I tell you when I’m 62 years old, if I can even think of climbing Alpe di Suisi, let alone do it, I will be happy. So, I made up my mind, 8kmph or not this guy was going to make it, and we were gonna chat in a language I can’t speak the whole damned way.

Ring, Ring, Ring. A cellphone. I couldn’t believe my ears. Who brings a cellphone up the Alpe di Suisi on the day of the Giro D’Italia? An even better question is, who gets reception up here? Ring, Ring, Ring. Then I realized, 3km from the summit that the riding partner I have been pulling up the hill is the one with the mobile! Now, I may have ridden 12km with this old geezer but I didn’t hesitate to drop his mountain-yakking – ass like a sack of potatoes once he pulled out the phone. So again I was alone, and with all the energy I had saved up over the last 12km, I was making a serious Big-Ring-Sprint-Go for the last 3km. This didn’t sit well with a couple of Italian’s who didn’t wanna be the passee. So there we were, four abreast, out of the saddle sprinting toward the cop standing 500 meters from the finish. We dropped the first guy before he could say “wait up” and it was down to three. An early surge by white DeRosa, and after we scrapped back to his wheel, he was looking very cooked as myself, and red Pinarello, were passing him on the left. Then I made a little test burst, that the other two matched, and De Rosa had caught and gone again! Then Pinarello. I was in a bit too large gear and ground back to catch them pinned in the middle, but I had the advantage once that big gear got going. De Rosa flaked at 700m, and I had an easy bike length on Pinarello by six hundred. Two more big bursts and then I slammed on the brakes to a firm police hand and traffic stick in my face about three inches from my nose. I had won the little ego-fest and smiled as Pinarello skidded into the yellow police tape. De Rosa came in seconds after, we all looked at the cop and smiled. He smiled back.

I climbed the last 500m in the grass on foot and got my position. 2 Hours later Menchov would seal his first victory on the way to his overall win, and Di Luca would be in Pink. I rode down the mountain follwoing about a dozen pros from Bbox and Slipstream and froze my ass off. Then it was a short ride to Brixen and I stayed up in the hills with a German engineer Mike. The day was short, went well and I rested nicely. Tomorrow…248km to Austria and a 42km train afterward. Mike didn’t seem to think so and neither did I.

Picture(s) of the Day:

AdS1The crowds about 2 hours before finish.


AdS2 Slowly more people make their way up Suisi.

Edelweiss An absolute monster of a climb. Pull Hell.


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