It’s been a week since we left sea level and the 7 Aussie girls and our coach Dave McPartland and soigneur Liane Wild are having a great time on this mountain.
For the first few days, it was about adapting to these new heights. Day 1 we rode 3 hours from Tirano at only 700m to Passo di Foscagno at a mere 2100m. Views from our bedroom window were stunning and we enjoyed a well earned dinner knowing that the real adventure was going to begin the next day.
Day 2. We rugged up in some layers as descending at 70km/hr from our hotel at Foscagno back to Bormio (1200m) in the early morning was quite breezy. From Bormio, we cruised along as a group in the valley before doing a U-turn to face the monster mountain climb to Stelvio pass.
The Top Gear TV crew who had some fun on the Stelvio pass (minute 3.40) described it as “15 miles of asphalt spaghetti draped on an alp.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZm8VFCKNj4&feature=share
It really is a magnificent climb and with memories of last year’s women’s Giro where we actually ‘raced’ up this mountain, I was happier to be cruising at a more sedate pace.
Day 3 and 4 were ‘recovery’ days based at Hotel Pirovano, Stelvio Pass. We brought the rollers out onto the terrace and attempted to spin out the legs which were feeling heavy from the previous days efforts. A stereo pumping out the tunes and good company made these sessions a lot easier!
Aside from a few tourist shops and a cafe, a Brattwurst stand and an automatic teller machine, there is not much to distract onself up here. The weekends are quite busy with loads of motorcycles testing out the switchbacks. Our hotel is also the place for summer skiing. Just a short cable car ride takes you up to 3400m and lots of SNOW!
Day 5 started with a tricky descent down to the town of Bolzano. We then enjoyed a casual 25km loop around the countryside filled with vineyards and orchards and although we were only at 700m, I was still struggling to breathe and feeling quite tired. Living at altitude with reduced oxygen is certainly a challenge and whilst the body responds by producing new red blood cells and increased capillaries to the muscles, these changes are made over a period of time. It is possibly not until 3 weeks after returning to sea level that the real benefits are going to be felt for me. Right now it’s all about balancing the all the training with loads of ‘feet up’ time, sleep and iron tablets!
We weren’t allowed to enjoy this flat terrain for too long. To reach ‘home’ the only way was up. From a small town of Santa Maria, Switzerland we climbed the steeper side of the Stelvio pass. It has some really exposed and windy sections and the cow’s jingling their neck bells did little to distract me from the pain I was feeling most of the way up. It was mentally tough to be ‘close’ enough to the top to see our hotel but still having to count down 10 switch backs (all neatly signposted at each turn) to the top.
Day 6 was another recovery day on the rollers. We have always drawn quite a crowd of onlookers for these sessions. I guess very few have seen rollers before… it’s equipment that is generally only used by track cyclists here in Europe. They marvel at how we can be pedalling furiously on metal barrels and not be travelling anywhere. I’ve had to be pretty careful about maintaining my balance and not make a fool of myself by falling offin front of an audience. Given increased episodes of dizziness whilst up here, it would be quite easy to do! :)
Day 7 and 8 were more tough climbing days. Day 8 was particularly tough as it included the Day 1 climb to Fossagno. With Mel on some sort of a mission due to the acquisition of her new ‘28’ cluster, she was content to sit the entire climb on the front, spinning away with a new found higher cadence. ( I continued for the 8th day in a row on my ‘25’ and have been getting some serious ‘strengthy’ workouts! ) From here we descended into the busy town of Livigno (1800m) where we will be relocating to next week. After travelling 5km along the lake front on the flat, more climbing was in store as we made our way to Santa Maria, to revisit the Swiss side of the Stelvio climb. Thankfully I felt better than on Day 4. We have now climbed the last section of Stelvio 4 times and those signs listing the number of switchbacks remaining to home are certainly cracking me. It’s better just not to look.
The days out on the bike have been magical and we have been blessed with sunny weather every day. The highlight for me has definitely been the thrill of riding the many descents in this moutanous region. The views are stunning , the roads are smooth and there are always lots of cyclists ascending who give a friendly wave.
We have 2 more days living at 2750m and then we’ll head to Livigno where we will be able to take advantage of some more intense training and some duty free shopping…
Till next time,