We said the 2013 ride would be different. It was. And the last day was the most different of them all, for reasons of remembrance, innovation, pilgrimage and the unstilted exuberance of the music of Culture Club.
Told you it would be different.
Our day began in the dusty mining town of Sondrio. Avoiding the busy main drag, this time deliberately rather than because someone thought they had a better idea with the route, we eased along the valley floor through the villages, light industry and dubious road surfaces that seem to abound the north east of the Lake Como area.
After some fast riding on the flat, we were soon at a nondescript town on the northern tip of the lake. Scant reward for our efforts, but the coffee was strong and cheap.
Then we made our way down the Lungolargo lakeside road through quiet villages, past sweeping views across the water and through a few dodgy tunnels until we reached Varenna, a lovely little village with green and ochre houses working their way up the steep hillside.
And then some LVG innovation: lunch on the quayside and a ferry across the lake to Bellagio. The first LVG kilometres covered not by pedal, and very pleasant it was too.
We arrived at Bellagio, a cute little port, but had other matters to attend to. The very sharp, then flat, then sharp again 10k climb up to the Madonna del Ghisallo, the little chapel of the patron saint of cycling. A true pilgrimage. I knew what the old stuff was like, but there was no substitute for seeing Coppi and Bartali’s machines in the flesh, with gearing that can only make a modern cyclist shudder.
And a moment of sombre prayer as we offered thought for Nuts, who checked out of this world earlier this year and left us with a motto for this year’s ride shirt that certainly helped me over the past few days when the spirit was sagging: “You’re a long time dead mate”. We left the hallowed LVG bell at the most hallowed of cycling shrines in his memory. Nuts, thanks for all the memories, and rest in peace.
Then a fast followed by steady descent towards Como and the finish line. Already it was over. An epic ride, so many tales, so much beautiful scenery, so much achievement, so many new things and yet so much that stayed utterly the same.
We ate outside the hotel on the terrace, our group on one side and a middle-aged Italian medics’ convention on the other. When The King made his appearance as the quacks took to the dancefloor in front of a cheesy cover band, you could see where that was heading. Amazing images, and the sight of a faux Elvis grinding around amongst confused locals beside the lake to off-key Culture Club was a fitting way to end another bonkers week.
For the LVG this week, every day was indeed like survival.
But survive we did. Big thanks and safe travels to the 2013 riders: Matt, Gabbi, Deptford, JL, Weeman, Hans, Typo, Cap’n Jack, Textbook, Ed, Wardy and Beev. And, as ever, huge gratitude to van man Howie – Ciao-e.
A new bell was blessed and is the ‘safe’ hands of Cap’n Jack for another year. He won a Livestrong cap for being the rider most likely to take things he shouldn’t (even the bike was borrowed this year) and I got a bandana for most improved ‘rider’. Started from a very low base though. Plus Luke in absentia won a stuffed marmot – for the most spectacular crash of the week, committed while not actually riding his bike. Big skills.
Oh and then Textbook got invited to an Italian bunga bunga and pasta party by a very strange man and rolled in at 5am. But more on that another time. Expect many more pictures on Dropbox soon.
Superlatives can grate a bit around the LVG dinner table can’t they?
Tough. This was a truly epic day.
The iconic Gavia and Mortirolo climbs. A stunning descent from the Mortirolo that wound and then dropped for ever. A Gavia descent that was the scariest thing I’d ever ridden, though the acrobatic mountain goats and scenery were a distraction. Snow piled 15ft high on top of the Gavia. And Typo and Hans in a summit stand-off over ice down the back of a dry rain jacket that would have put budding T-Rexes to shame.
The Gavia is something like a 25.5km climb. Very gradual ascent for the last few km but ramping to around 15% for the few previous km. The Mortirolo had a similar stretch near the top. Some 125km in all today, most of it hot.
We said goodbye to Weeman and Hans, both heading home as Wardy did yesterday.
We did some cyclocross on the way in tonight and I caught some air from some kickers.
Bell to Textbook, largely for poor chain maintenance: his hallowed prize will be to carry it to the Madonna del Ghisallo tomorrow. Horn of shame to Deptford for wearing galoshes.
Onward to Como tomorrow, via a lake crossing and the sacred church of cycling.
Have honestly tried to upload pix but hotel wifi failing. More when feasible.
Pass (noun): a route, sometimes even paved, between mountains or mountain ranges to provide a thoroughfare from one destination to another, typically to traverse normally impassable terrain.
Pass (verb): to pass, as in “You think I’m going up that on a bike? No thanks mate, I’ll pass.”
Somehow none of the LVG did today. After a windy and dusty ride up to Prato del Stelvio, we spent a good chunk of the afternoon winding our way up endless treacherous (48, felt like more) hairpins on one of cycling’s tougher and certainly infamous climbs. Through valleys with roaring streams, forests, road clinging to the mountainside, road with snow piled high on either side, and finally after 25km of climbing (yes 25km, yes a long way up) made it to the summit and yet more hairy German bikers (Germany, do you deliberate ship them out to Italy in June?).
It was a classic climb, a beautiful climb and a near-soul-destroying climb. Made worse for me by having slopped tomatoes all over my (Bianchi world champion; yes: ponce) jersey at lunch.
Next a descent from what seemed like the top of the world down some 1,900m to the brilliant cyclist hospitality (though reduced wi-fi, photos later hopefully) of the Hotel Funivia at Bormio. It even has a bike cave.
Incidents: fairly few. Hans was a trooper on the front, Textbook was nearly munched by a truck in a tunnel and I had a rear tyre blowout on the Stelvio descent (thanks Matt for waiting).
97km in the bag, great food at the hotel and Weeman gets the bell while Luke gets the horn (for buying us all bells). But more on that last bit another time.
Tomorrow: the Gavia, then the Mortirolo, then finally some more flat to Sondrio.
Alright I’m getting really fed up with WordPress on the iPad now.
As I was saying: fast descent from the Pordoi, then immediately up the Passo Sella. Short climb but a few hard-ish bits. Then straight down with a rough old descent in places and on to our lunch stop.
By then the sun was shining, the snow and rocky outcrops had been replaced by Germanic Italian architecture and leather-clad ZZ Top-fan motorcyclists by irate Italian truckers. Thankfully they gave way to a a beautiful descent through forests and valleys, marred only by Typo’s unnatural rear-end charms.
Then a fast (well, for some of us) run into Belzano where, like commuter trains in England, the train divided. One small pack of gentlemen took the valley floor road to Merano, one pack of nutters the scenic highland route: 11% average, a 17% cobbled bit, dirt, heat and abject misery.
Those who rolled into Merano just before 8pm looked borderline broken. I had pitied them as I drank my cold beer. Dinner was a quiet affair. The LVG not silenced, but certainly less gobshitey than usual.
Oh and Hans turned up, for a few days, as he does.
Weeman got the bell and the pink horn of shame. Poor sod, we salute you. I had the horn, so to speak, yesterday for wearing headphones, which allowed me to listen to some choice music rather than the pants of pleasant fellows on climbs. Cap’n Jack had the bell from yesterday, nominated for time spent in the van and other minor misdemeanours.
Tomorrow: 80k trending uphill and then the Passo di Stelvio for a warm-down.
The LVG silenced. Almost.
Today we headed from the granite crags of Colfosco through the Alto Adige (I think, at least) to Merano, a lovely little spa town that could do more to signpost its hotels.
Shall I tell you more? Of course I shall. Yesterday’s post was hampered by being written on an iPhone with a piss poor signal, so don’t bemoan me. There will be plenty more opportunities to do that this week.
Today started with the Passo Campolongo. Shallow, and not too long-o. It saw Textbook crest first after a titanic effort.
Then a straightforward descent and we began the ascent of the Passo Pordoi. I flagged about half way up so big thanks Luke Skywalker (for ’tis his name) for dragging me up. And I thought you were just feeling a bit slow this morning. Pordoi was stunning: nothing too steep, snow at the top and a great coffee stop. Despite three of our group not being able to tell a ladies’ loo from a men’s, we left without incident.
Day one done, and a tough day.
122k, four climbs up something like 4,500m, sore backs and sore arses.
The forecast rain held off for the morning, but arrived just in time for the steepest, relentless and thorougly miserable climb of the day: the Passo Giau. Averaging 9.1 per cent, it just never let up. Miserable bastard of a mountain.
Climbs two and four were easier. Climb one was the Passo Duran, also really tough.
Tomorrow: Colfosco to Merano.
Remember these words ringing in your ears when you woke up in Girona one Saturday last June?
“Next year we should step this up a little bit again.”
Which meant we’d either be packing our bags for Tibet or the Dolomites this year. Thankfully common sense won – although it may not feel like that at some points next week. 593km and 13,369m of climbing await.
What we’re all promised, surely, is something very different. The first LVG trip to Italy, potentially enormously variable weather, some climbs the likes of which most of us have never even contemplated before, and some gearing choices that will make purists weep. What won’t change is the five-day festival of wheeled verbal abuse.
As everyone connected with the LVG is sadly aware, this year will be a particularly poignant one given the passing of Nuts. As a newcomer, I met him at the start of last year’s ride, he pulled no punches from the off and I’m sure he’s smiling up there now as I retell this memory. Just a few kilometres into the Col de Pailheres and I was already tailing and struggling. The familiar Dartford Motors support van drew alongside, passenger window wound down. Expecting words of encouragement, a blond Aussie leaned out precariously and hollered “Get on with it you f***ing girl” before closing the window and pulling away.
And then there’s Pinny. Or the lack of Pinny. It won’t be the same in that way either, but I think we’ve done Signor LVG proud with this year’s route, hotels and, er, organisation. Still, no LVG is truly complete without a chap with a 5ft seatpost is it?
Anyway, to the ride. It promises tales of extreme endeavour. It promises a church of cycling. It promises some bonkers Italian moments. And it promises all this:
Day one: 124km Belluno to Colfosco (via Passo Duran, Forcella Staulanza, Passio Giau and Passo Falzarego)
Four big climbs. Start as you mean to go on eh?
Day two: 136km Colfosco to Merano (via Passo Campolongo, Passo Pordoi and Passo di Sella)
The rest of the Maratona climbs. Couldn’t leave them out could we?
Day three: 98km Merano to Bormio (via Passo di Stelvio)
Looks like a nice short day. And it would’ve been if we hadn’t decided to ride over one of the most horrible bloody mountains in Europe and up 48 switchbacks. At least the hotel has a spa.
Day four: 127km Bormio to Sondrio (via Passio di Gavi and Passo di Mortirolo)
Tired legs? Tough. Two more monstrous climbs, including one Lance Armstrong ranked as the worst he’d ever ridden – even when he was probably topped up on his favourite chemical booty. We’ll just have camaraderie and insults to power us on.
Day five: 108km Sondrio to Como (via Passo di Ghisallo)
Cheating really: we’re taking a little boat in the middle of it. Then up a nasty little final climb, then a visit to the church of the Patron Saint of Cyclists, then to Como. Then to a bar.