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July 20, 2016 0 Comments
Well I’m a year older, so I thought I’d try something new - this is a morning blog. I’ll be honest its mostly because I was too tired yesterday after an epic bike ride over the Stelvio, but at least I’m honest.
This is my last day up in the Village of Trepalle just above the town of Livigno. I’ve been here on a training camp for the last ten days. Its been my first time at altitude and its been quite a learning curve. To say the least my feelings on the bike have been somewhat erratic, some days feeling ok others I couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding, but apparently thats normal as your body tries to adapt to the different climate at high altitude.
Anyway where to begin so many memorable and funny moments from the last seven days. The first week I was here I had the pleasure of the company of my team mates for training, but as is the norm with cycling we all had slightly different plans, so one day we headed down to the town of Bormio as a whole group with Gaspa, Tom Devrient and the epitome of all that is Italian: Simone Anotnini. When we got to Bormio Gaspa went up the Stelvio to do some climbing, Simone was only doing three hours so he rode a bit with us then turned back. I managed to persuade Tom to come with me on what I thought would be a nice pleasant 4hr loop of 125km to Tirano and back up the Bernina Pass…
How wrong could I be. It was downhill and tailwind (which I didn’t realise) all the way to Tirana which was at about 400m above sea level. This is where I realised we’d had a roaring tailwind on the way out and where set for a solid 60km uphill climbing to 2300m above sea level. So basically it was every cyclists nightmare it was solidly uphill for 60km and a block headwind which was being funnelled down the valley.
Also to add to the hateful headwind I’d made the rookie mistake of forgetting my food and half way up the climb I began to get the hunger knock (hunger knock is when you haven’t eaten enough and you’re body runs out of fuel; its a bit like being drunk but not as enjoyable or funny). With my foolish pride I couldn’t ask Tom for some of his food plus he’d left me for dead and was a good minute or two in front (thats what team mates are for no?).
As I zigg-zagged my way up fighting the wind and the gradient with every pedal stroke, much like a mirage in the desert, I spotted a proverbial watering hole: a cafe. I stopped, climbed off my bike, walking in like John Wayne with jelly legs I asked for a coke and a piece of Crostato (an Italian jam tart). No sooner had the old lady put them down had I devoured them and asked for the bill. That was another kick in the mouth 8 euros for a piece of cake and a Coke, I hadn’t realised we where actually in Switzerland and if anyones ever been to Switzerland they’ll know its quite expensive even in the most densely populated areas never mind the only place for replenishment on a mountainside.
Anyway once I’d dealt with the shock and started to feel the sugar rush I set off again wondering if Tom had even realised I’d disappeared. Sure enough I seen him coming back down the hill towards me once I’d explained what happened we laughed a little he gave me an energy bar for extra sustenance and we cracked on. Its strange how when we suffer in training or a race the things that go through your mind: ‘Why am I doing this?’, ‘I must be mad’, ‘Why am i hurting myself like this?’ But when we got to the top of the Bernina pass we were both relieved. Laughing with thorough enjoyment we may have made a mistake of not listening to the more experienced rider who knew that if we went all the way down the valley the way back would be horrendous, but we’d survived it, came through it and now we have the extra mental strength as well as the training gains and the funny story of when I blew my doors off into a block headwind for three hours up hill!
Then came the Stelvio, the last few days I’ve been training with and ex team mate and an old friend Gediminas Bagdonas. We used to share a room on stage races so its nice to see an old friendly face and enjoy some bike riding. Yesterday we decided to go to the legendary Stelvio Pass, a 22km giant with 36 switchbacks making its way up to 2700m above sea level. It was the first day I’ve felt ok on the bike here as we worked our way up at a 'not-leisurely-but-comfortable-pace'.
We could enjoy the scenery whilst making sure we got some good work in. As we got 4km from he top I decided to test myself a bit and see if I could ride hard. The rest of the time here, every time I had pushed on I really struggled to hold it. I felt pretty good settling into a nice rhythm. As I caught a figure in the distance I recognised the Jersey of the St Helens CRC as I went past I greeted him with a standard ‘Arite Mate’ which was duly greeted with a ‘Bonjour’ from him (apparently its a standard greeting in St Helens). I shouted to him that I was from England and another local club called the Century and continued to press on. As I worked my way up the climb I caught a young lad who I recognised as Dan Gibson also a member of the Century who was with another Bear of a man who I was pleasantly surprised was the head of the Pugh cycling dynasty (everyone around merseyside will know of or ridden with a member of the Pugh family at some point in their life). As I greeted them both with a surprised breathless grin I shouted I’ll see you at the top and pressed on.
Over the top we had a quick catch-up and took a few pictures, enjoying the moment over a can of coke (Italian prices thankfully this time not Swiss!). We said our goodbyes and me and Gedi headed back down the mountain. Its strange how small the world is sometimes and how in cycling no matter where you are you’re never that far away from a friendly face. Rite, I’m off otherwise I’m gonna be late for my birthday cafe ride!
Follow Mark's training and racing on Strava.
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