OK, back on the carbon horse. After splitting from Innsbruck early in the morning I quickly decided that I wasn’t shortening the stage and I was just going to go for it. The whole 244km, with a three hour lead on the pros, I could do it. A day that was drastically affected by the weather and one with some dangerous descents. Remember? Armstrong was complaining about this stage and I could see why, but I’m no pro.
Day of Journey:
Stage 10, Day 13, May 15th, 2009.
8h 42m (252km)
Train – 27km, Bike – 252 km
Train – 27km, Bike – 252 km
Total Distance Biked:
1565km (10 stages, two rest days)
Twitter: “Stage 7- crazy, freezing cold, driving wind. 252km total for me, but the big boys caught me at 210. Then I got soaked. Descent was gnarly.”
So What Happened?
I think it was the cockroaches that woke me up. I must have had seven or eight of them crawling on the leg. And then beep beep beep – my alarm. No cockroaches thank god, it was only a dream. However, as I crawled out of my defunct bed made from couch pillows now stuck to the kitchen floor, I had no problems imagining cockroaches crawling through the pile of dirty dishes and through the empty chocolate boxes littering the floor. I had to get out of here.
No breakfast before I left and that would be a problem. Giuseppe in Campione recommended that I try the cake in Austria, specifically the Sachertorte, so that became my breakfast. And John Lennon would probably agree with me when I say Christ, you know it ain’t easy, you know how hard it can be…to eat a chocolate cake in a bag while you’re bicycling. I was making a habit of downing the leftover pasta from the night before for my breakfast up until this point, but now we would see how I could do on 3 billion calories of chocolate cake and apricot jam. Hopefully, I get a tailwind.
The road out of Austria was creeping up toward the mountains where the wind was creeping down toward me and the clouds were about as puffy and dark as that cake I had gorged myself on two hours earlier. Up into Switzerland, I came across a few other touring cyclists who seemed to have no idea that there was a major tour coming though as they lolly-gagged along with trailers and dutch flags proudly waving their nationality in the wind at 5kmph. I tore by because I had a mission – to stay ahead of said tour.
I had been endlessly running calculations on how long I could stay ahead of the peloton, how long I could stop for lunch, when exactly I would through my f*ing bike into the woods because the headwind coming out of the valley was really pissing me off. I think there is nothing more frustrating than riding a bike with an effort that feels worthy of 42-44kmph and looking the cycle-computer and watching the numbers mockingly dance between 24.5 and 24.8kmph. This headwind was really a killer. I have experienced this before on the trip, but not with this intensity. The wind seems to get funneled right down the valley, concentrating all currents into one of two possible directions – with you or against you.
After finally getting a break with the wind I was approaching the 180km point and could literally see nothing but road ahead, or below. I had a mantra for my journey – Hammer hard, but not so hard you drop your head. This way I could enjoy the scenery, and remember some of the things I had seen, while still giving about an 70-80% effort. Up until this stage I was doing my best to do exactly that. By the end of stages I was tired but not exhausted, I went hard, but not all-out. Well not today, not now. That was because of three reasons: 1. The wind was killer. 2. The caravan had passed me about 1 hour ago. 3. WELL, before I get to three, let me tell you about the caravan. The caravan is the most annoying and obnoxious collection of cars, buses, motorcycles and vans you could imagine. These vehicles and their drivers seem to exist for specific reasons such as giving away endless numbers of free crappy sunhats with sponsors logos on them, honking their horns as much as possible and blasting Euro-techno at ear shattering decibels. And don’t get me started on the Giro merchandise van. If I hear “solo dieci euros trovano il Suo oggi” one more time I will cram all those pink jerseys down Giribecco’s throat.
Ok, you get the idea about the caravan. Let me get back to it. Number 1 – wind. Number 2, was that the caravan had passed me an hour ago and number 3. The peloton was right behind me. Ok, I’m not kidding when I mean right behind me. Check the pictures. You can’t actually make out the peloton, but the white car in the photo was about 1km ahead of the red “start of the riders” car and the riders about 1km behind them. On long stretches with a slight bend I could see the multi-coloured streak that was about to eat me up. Apparently that damn Jens Voigt was pushing a hard pace again. Can’t he just relax?
So there I was, unbelievably about 8 km ahead of the peloton. Well, 7km now. or 6 maybe…5….4… I had my head buried and was giving my best effort to keep ahead of ‘those guys’ but in reality I felt like that short kid who is trying to punch that tall kid, but the tall kid can put his palm on the forehead of the short kid and hold him at a long arms reach. Well – I was the short kid, and the wind was the tall kid and all of the 34.5kmph I could muster wouldn’t hold the peloton off for long. The peloton, by the way, is like the cute girl who is laughing and pointing at the short kid (me) who is trying in vain to punch the tall kid (the wind). My 6-8 kmph speed deficit would, I assumed, eat away my noble breakaway by St. Moritz, about 45 minutes and 22km away.
I now have adopted an Italian police officer. Again imagine this. Empty straight road. Bunches of spectators here and there on the side of the road. Slightly uphill. Stupid Wind. Peloton behind. AND the slowest driving cop on a motorcycle EVER. It doesn’t take much more than a motorized vehicle to make a world-crushing effort on a bicycle seem ridiculous. And yet, there he was…driving ever so slowly beside me. 33.6kmph slowly to be exact. He would look over at me impatiently, then grab his chest mounted radio, talk to someone, nod his head, look back at me impatiently and keep driving along. I assume the conversation went like this.
MotoCop: Dispatch, we’ve got a maverick cyclist up here how do I proceed? over.
Dispatch: Shoot him! over.
MotoCop: I can’t shoot him! over.
Dispatch: Taser him then, over.
MotoCop: Hold on I have to slow down, over.
Dispatch: What’s for lunch? over.
Motocop: Nope, out of taser range. over.
Dispatch: Eating,… we’ll get back to you. over.
This went on for about 20 minutes or so. I had my first ever motorcycle convoy! Then suddenly, after a quick radio chat, he accelerated briefly, going only slightly faster, suddenly cut directly in front of me driving both of us off the left side road, where we skidded to a halt and he smiled as if to say “Fun eh? You’re lucky I didn’t taser you.” About 3 minutes later the pros passed anticlimactically and then I was back on the road…back in the wind and now, the rain. It was 4 degrees Celsius in St.Moritz, raining and windy and I had to cautiously navigate my way down the Passo Majola. If I had to make one more switchback, I probably would have been heading the other direction, but luckily the descent went by quickly and without any falls. Before I knew it the race was over and being packed up in Chiavenna.
I bought my train ticket to Colico and warmed up on the train. In Colico I met up with Pietro, my second-to-last host, an architect from the region. He took me to the restaurant he used to own and he, his sister and I hung out for the evening. This was the hardest, wettest, windiest day of my Giro and I was glad it was over. I was also glad I rode the entire stage and didn’t abbreviate it as I had planned yesterday. Tomorrow: Colicio-Bergamo
Picture(s) of the Day:
The mountains I climbed from.
The mountains I had to climb into.
The face of fear and exhaustion, here comes the Peloton.
The breakaway catches my breakaway.
…and the rest of them catch me just outside of St. Moritz.
Passo Majola – Scary, slippery and fast.