And so it’s over for another year.
Legs may be tired, undercarriages may have taken a beating and some may be thankful that they can find their own way to a destination with relying on the input of others, gathered at a dusty roadside, staring into a small bleeping screen in brilliant sunshine.
But it’s still over. Back today to normality, where getting up means going to work, not smearing cream, pulling on lycra and heading for a breakfast regime of stuffing hotel food down throats that lead to stomachs which have long since lost their appetite.
Yesterday was the final run in from Feltre to Venice. The route profile looked bumpy initially, then pan flat. After a trundle out along main roads, we turned south for the Passo San Baldo, our final climb-proper of the trip. We’d seen the pictures, but few had bothered with the words – not many can adequately describe this theme park ride of a hill. Here’s one – ridiculous:
A pass that tops itself out with a single-track section consisting of tunnelled corners, with tight hairpins, short straights and traffic lights. Fantasy roadbuilding.
The thing is, it never seemed to come. As we approached, the road banked up, then down a bit, then around, then up a bit more. We were all in ‘where’s this bloody hill then?’ mode.
Until it dawned that we were already at the top. The tunnels bit was the south side – we were going down it.
I could wax lyrical about that for more space than is duly permitted here. Suffice to say I was laughing most of the way down, not quite believing what we were doing. The stuff of legend.
Befitting then, that the last day of a legendary trip, the first joint outing of LVG and Blackheath Velo, should end with such a legendary hill.
The rest of the ride was less legendary, but still a great and fast run in to Venice. Flat, increasingly hot (particularly if you’re wearing a pink morph suit, pics to follow I’m sure) and with the smell of the sea (well, swampy lagoons) in the air.
And then it was over. Time though for one last legendary lunch. Surrounded by innumerable restaurant options in a beautiful town off the lagoon, there was just time for one last baguette’n’van luncheon par excellence. To depict the full scene, only a picture montage can really do justice:
Another legendary week of summer cycling, legendary for being a dual-society ride. It worked well.
Thanks everyone who put so much time and effort into organising this year’s Italian job, in particular:
-Matteo Oweniani for the research into hotels and general getting-togetheredness of the arrangements
-Gianni Stradale for the route mastery and adjustments, and quick-thinking in the form of lagoon bridge gymnastics
-Tomaso Doncani for being the third and oft-vocal part of the triangle, and never minding too much when being nominated (despite maintaining the look of a guilty man each evening)
-And the support crew, Howardini, Vaidasimmo and Ericetti, who kept us all safe and sane.
One question remains though: why did I risk not just life but limb by doing this on a broken ankle (well, a healing ankle, three weeks in, which is obviously not so sensible)? Why would anyone want to do that, given the mountains, the distances and the need to chomp painkillers constantly while riding around with a cycling shoe so fat it couldn’t be closed?
The answer is in the stars. It’s because you’re a long time dead, mate.
A week that was the stuff of legend. And for me, also the stuff of leg-end.
Well they only let us store them in the VIP Club, the hotel’s own nightclub. First time I’ve tethered the windsurfer next to a grand piano I can tell you.
A stormy evening turned to a sunny morning. There were lofty granite (correct me if I’m wrong, geologists) peaks all around.
Amidst the beauty, the scene was soiled only by this early-morning image of The Beast hanging out his wet kit to dry on the balcony. A classic cyclist trip scene at least.
We were off. Via a climb up to Pocol, then the northern ascent of the Passo Giau. It’s sublime at the top, but dues are paid getting there. 10k at an average of just over 8 per cent it says, but the first 2k are practically flat and there are other practically level parts, so the ramps are not unsteep. It’s a grind of a climb.
But then there’s this at the top. Ed was so moved he found time to Facetime..
Coffee, chocolate, tea (yes, proper tea) and we were down again, to descend further into a long valley with jagged peaks (more of them, they’re everywhere in this part of the world) as we went downhill at pace to lunch, then on past a lake and then into another valley before turning towards Feltre, our night stop. Or in Lee Rhino’s case, missing the turn altogether because of his exceptional speed.
I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up taking the less scenic route in. But great scenery it was, Feltre included. We got there between 3.30 and 4pm, surely an LVG record? A few beers and shandies in the old town and then dinner. And then nominations – short version is Ben is going to be weighed down with a lot of holy adornments tomorrow.
Tomorrow, on to Venice.
F&ck me I was wet. Stinking, dripping, unable to even take pictures on a phone or call for help wet.
Rivers of nastiness flowing from my shoes wet. Sod this for a game of soldiers wet.
Yet many others were wetter still. Because I was in the bloody car.
What started as the Queen Stage (apart from for me – resting the knackered ankle) turned into the Wicked Queen Stage when a storm brewed over the Passo Falzarego in the late afternoon and dumped a lot of water on us. I was late up the climb (ankle, natch) and fearing a thunderstrike and trenchfoot turned back down a few kilometres for a hot choccie at a hotel. Others, heroes, soldiered on to the end abut 20k away. Others got in the car and the van. It was that kind of day. And that’s why this is a day late.
It started well enough, with a sharp unnamed climb from the valley near Bolzano then the meandering of the Costalunga (which didn’t cost-a-lung-a for anyone, though it was hot).
A beautiful part of the beautiful Dolomites, having left the Alps behind. At least some car time gave me a chance to take some pics on the Costalunga.
It’s a beautiful climb, with jagged peaks all around and the bluest lake I’ve ever ever seen (though the iPhone 6 might turn it green, sorry).
Lunch in the requisite sh&tty supermarket car park then on to the Passo Pordoi, another legendary Giro climb. A tough ascent after lunch but just reward with stunning views and a real sense of history with the Coppi monument at the summit (Fausto, who fittted your crank arms though mate? Shoddy).
No more pics from this point on. Too wet. Too miserable. And that was in the car.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is a lovely place to stay and clearly well-heeled. The Hotel Europa was fitting venue for a slap-up feed and you’d never believe where the staff asked us to store the bikes.
So what did we get up to? We got up to breakfast, then got straight up to the southern ascent of the Passo dello Stelvio.
Often the Cima Coppi or highest point of the Giro d’Italia, when it’s even passable given it tends to snow up there even in mid-May, the Stelvio is awesome. Yes I know young people use the word awesome all the time these days without even thinking about what it means, but the Stelvio truly does inspire sensations of awe. 2756m above sea level, a 22.5k climb up the side we did, something like 100 vintage cars, 500 flash git modern cars and countless cyclists make their way up it every day. When it’s not blocked by snow of course.
Though I was too tired to stop and take pictures, one lunatic was even doing a bit of it on a unicycle. Thankfully uphill.
Ed was first up, courtesy of all the training he’s not being doing. I made it up on a broken ankle, not that I should mention that.
The top of the Stelvio is an odd experience. After so much wilderness, you come across a hotel, bars and restaurants and shops. It’s basically a small village complete with trashy Europop blasting out of suspect speakers.
Pic: Howie, taking pic
Pic: tired cyclists guzzle and show off manliness.
So it was time to go down. Down about 28k, with 48 of the famous Trafoi hairpin bends along the way and many other unofficial ones. It was the very reason I’d decided to come on this trip despite snapping a bone and getting a hobbit foot a few weeks ago, and have avoided medics since: there are some things you have to do once in your life on a bike, and you’re a long time dead. For me, it was worth the pain. We went down in blazing sunshine, with largely smooth tarmac, down the side of a hairpin-laddered mountain, through forests, villages and alongside roaring mountain rivers, while peaks soared all around. Awesome.
Having seen so much of the world’s natural beauty and thrilled our every sense, we then had lunch next to the disabled parking bays in a nondescript supermarket car park about 20k down the valley. Tradition is everything.
Then a long but very warm (90 degrees farenheit mostly) and pleasant drag into Bolzano, to partake of a hearty meal and a few cold beers.
A beautiful day though, naturally, there were some minor indiscretions. And with a larger group, more ways to mark them. Safety sash to Ian ‘Steve’ Chalk for road and orchard misdemeanours. A duck, that squeaks, to JL for errant table manners. The pink horn of shame to Deptford for alleged rear brake riding up the Stelvio. And both the bell and the zebolon to Ben, for not carrying the latter up the hill.
Typo update: still in a neck brace in hospital, still awaiting action from his insurer, still maintaining his sense of humour. Get well soon, we need you back to keep order and ensure promptness.
Tomorrow: Bolzano to Cortina, via four minor lumps.
So that’s day one done.
And unfortunately, it may be Typo done for the trip too.
We started from Lake Iseo, a beautiful warm-up around the edge of the water with only a puncture 10-minutes in to slow us down.
A quick (er, ish) coffee stop and then on for another 50k or so to Ponte di Legno for lunch, trending uphill and in many places definitely uphill, for prolonged stretches. In fact verging on 2,000m uphill by lunch. So not so much trending uphill, as bloody uphill.
Ponte di Legno is infamous as the setting-off point for the sharper and meaner ascent of the Passo Gavia. And so it proved. A relentless 7 to 8 per cent average gradient from the off but 10 per cent or more in places until it reaches a forest, and then heaps joy upon cyclists with long ramps of 14% average. So basically, with less than half the climb done, half of us were practically done.
The views were stunning though. Not that we stopped (*cough*) too much for photos, like this of Cadel (Cad-Ill) Evans here.
The last 4 or 5km of the Gavia’s south side were brutal. Shoddy road surface, ever-steep, no let-up, long tunnel at about 10% with gravel 3k from the summit, it just went on forever. Finally got to the summit, which particularly pleased me given I’m riding with a broken ankle at the moment.
No time for pleasantries though as it was cold, so a beautiful 28km descent into Bormio.
Until it happened. Seeing a wiry old Italian cyclist slowing rapidly in front of him, Typo slammed on the anchors, but it was to late. Skidded, hit a bollard, over the bars, smashed face, bloodied nose, bad neck and shoulder. As I type this, Typo is in hospital with a broken vertebrae in his neck and is no doubt sharing his thoughts with any medical staff who will listen, including Italian nurses.
A sad end to a great if gruelling day, but he was very lucky given the speed and the impact.
Looking forward to welcoming him back to the comforts of the very bike-friendly Hotel Funivia, though it may be tomorrow morning now.
For the rest of us, a big sleep. Stelvio straight after breakfast tomorrow.
We’re off. Again.
To big hills. Again.
With adventures ahead. Again.
But this year’s LVG has a big new twist. Newbies. It’s the first joint expedition of Les Veloistes Gentils and Blackheath Velo.
So it’ll be a bit like one of those stags dos where groups who don’t really know each other meet, suss each other out and then quickly get down to the finer points of having fun. Without the binge drinking, and with an enormous amount of strenuous exercise.
What’s ahead? Banter of course, but a lot of cycling too. Having looked at the map we seem to have spurned the Roman tradition of shortest straightest line between two points, which would have made Iseo to Venice a flat trot across the valley floor, and instead decided to ride up the biggest hills feasible in a wide arc from west to east.
Day 1 (tomorrow): Lake Iseo to Bormio. Steadily trending uphill all day until we go up the Passio Gavia, which is a big beast with a rough, narrow road. No snowballs at the top this time though you jokers. Staying at a brilliant hotel that love cyclists and has a pool.
Day 2: Bormio to Bolzano. The Stelvio for breakfast, down from the Stelvio and downhill most of the afternoon apart from a bump towards the end.
Day 3: Bolzano to Cortina. Not a rusty old Ford with chrome bumpers but the ski resort favoured by Russians. Should be easy after the first two days. And it would be, were the tricksome Frazione Collepietra (well done Jon on unearthing that one) and the Costalunga, Pordoi and Falzarego passes not in the way.
Day 4: Cortina to Feltre. A stage for the sprinters? No, more big hills. The ‘easy’ side of the Giau, then the Staulanza and the Duran. By the end of that, these Wild Boys will be Hungry Like The Wolf. Ah well, New Moon on Monday.
Day 5: Feltre to Venice. And so to Monday. The small matter of the San Baldo pass and then otherwise pretty flat into our watery berth for a celebration dinner.
Big thanks Howie and Vaidas for making it through the blockade that is Calais at the moment, and the long journey south by road while the rest of us get to fly.
We’ll try to post updates as we go.
Arrivederci miei amici. Tutto frutto.
I never thought that cycling up Mont Ventoux three times in a day was going to be easy. After all, I’ve done it once before and that was difficult enough. But I’m not sure I really had any idea about how tough it would actually be. In fact, I know I hadn’t. I’d have probably not bothered trying.
This could be a very long post, because it was a very long day. I’ll try and keep it short(ish), but will fail.
In summary, the mighty Mont Ventoux in Provence – the giant mountain that has featured Tour de France battles aplenty and taken the life of British pro cyclist Tom Simpson – has three paved roads all the way up to its summit at 1,912m high. Ride them all in one day and you get to join the Club des Cinglés. It’s a ride that in total measures 136km along but, significantly, includes 4,443m of vertical ascent. Throw in the unpredictability of Mont Ventoux’s weather and it’s a recipe for, well, a decent story at least.
I was joined by five good men of Les Veloistes Gentils: Matt, Mark, Beev, Typo and Jon. We were riding in the memory of good friends and fellow LVGs, Tim and Nuts. You can find that back-story here on my Just Giving page.
So, here we go. We started in Bedoin, and we started early. Bedoin, because that route up is known as the most difficult and we fancied getting it out of the way first, and early, because (a) it’s the middle of July and not unlikely to be roasting hot by mid-morning and (b) we thought we might need every hour of daylight available! So, at a shade after 6.00am we got our cards stamped at the machine outside Office de Tourisme and set off on what was a beautiful morning, though with the summit of Ventoux slightly worryingly obscured by a big dollop of cloud.
The route to the summit from Bedoin is the one a few of us had done before and which is probably the best-known, being the traditional route used by the Tour de France. Essentially, it’s a gentle roll out of Bedoin for about 6km before a sharp turn into the forest where the road kicks up sharply for a very tough 8km until the large sweeping turn at Chalet Reynard and the final famous moonscape of Ventoux’s upper slopes for the final 6km run to the summit.
I’ve made that sound easier than it is. Basically it’s 21km uphill and some of it is very steep. But knowing that the climb was the first of three that day meant that we all tried to keep well within our limits (not that it felt it, to be honest) and it was relatively straightforward. ‘Relatively’ because about 3km from the summit the cloud closed in and it got pretty damn cold. And the last kilometre feels long and very steep when you can’t see the top.
Still, we all got there. Being just after 8.00am the shop wasn’t open and there was nobody around (in fact we’d had the mountain to ourselves) so none of us was hanging around and we dropped over the other side for the glorious (but again, pretty cold) descent into Malaucène to get our cards stamped and to down much-needed hot chocolates (weird for mid-July in Provence to be honest).
Now, I’ve ridden up quite a few mountains in my time and loved almost every descent that’s been the reward. And I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy the run down to Malaucène, because I did. It’s just that, well, bombing downhill for 20km knowing that you’re almost immediately going to have to turn around and cycle back up them isn’t quite the same thing…
But that’s what we did. And it was very, very hard. There are 3km in the middle of the climb back to the summit which nearly did for me. I had to have a serious word with myself. There the ones that are 11, 10 and nine kilometres from the summit. And, respectively, they’re 12%, 11% and 11%. That’s tough going. So tough, in fact, that when I saw that the marker for 9km to the summit and that its average gradient was only (only!) 8%, I very nearly cried with joy. I’m not joking.
The cloud still obscured the summit of Ventoux, but ascent number two was in the bag not too long afterwards (just after noon if you’re keeping tabs). The shop was open this time and I had a Coke and a Snickers, which were very nearly the best things I have ever eaten.
We bombed down to Chalet Reynard and took the fork towards Sault, which is a fantastic road. In comparison to the route from Chalet Reynard to Bedoin, the Sault road is shallower and more sweeping. It’s also got a brand new super-smooth surface. You fly through the forest and come out to ride across the valley floor through lavender fields (where you might, as I did, have a head-on collision with a bee which then stings you on the bridge of your nose) and up a little 1km 5% kicker to Sault. But no matter…you’re 2/3 of the way there and lunch beckons!
I’ve had rides before where I’ve reached lunch absolutely famished and made the huge error of stuffing myself so full that the afternoon’s riding has felt dreadful. Determined not to make the same mistake on this trip, I only polished off half the very welcome spag bol and half the equally welcome doughnut Beev bought us all. Cards stamped we found someone to take this happy picture and we were off yet again.
The ascent to the summit from Sault is regarded as the easiest (if that’s the right word). You start at a higher altitude so with it being long at 25km, the average gradient is less. And with the top 6km being the same steep ones that you cover on the run from Bedoin, the first 19km or so from Sault are, in relative terms, pretty pleasant. In fact with a tailwind and the lovely surface, we covered the last few into Chalet Reynard at an average of 30 km/h. Nice.
We gathered and decided to stay together for the final run up to the summit. We also decided that we’d stop at the memorial to Tom Simpson for a moment’s reflection and to pay our respects to Tim and Nuts, which we did by leaving one of the original LVG caps which Tim had designed.
After that it was just the long last kilometre up to the (still cloudy top). Quick photos and hugs and then a very fast descent all the way into Bedoin for the final stamp. It’s amazing the turn of speed the promise of a pint can give you, even with three trips up Ventoux in the legs.
As it happens and just for the record, in the sprint for the Bedoin sign I pipped Jon. So, effectively, I won.
So, that was that. We got back to Bedoin more than 11 hours after we left, and had been in the saddle for nearly nine hours of that. Which is why my bum was sore.
I won’t be hurrying back to Mont Ventoux. But I do love the place.