Monday, May 23, 2011

To hell and back

This weekend has been crazy.

Let me break it down:

Woke up at the crack of dawn to leave Florence and catch the start of Stage 13 in Spilimbergo.

The beginnings of stages are so relaxed.  The riders were sipping coffee and chitchatting before the race began.

We got to check out all the bikes too.

Once the riders were signed in we watched the ceremonial start.

We left Spilimbergo and headed to Ovaro, the town that's at the base of the Monte Zoncolan.

Drove up the Crostis (the climb that never was) to see what it was like.

We found a nice camping spot on the side of the Zoncolan, about 2km into the climb.

A beautiful field behind an abandoned shed.

Time to ride up the Beast.

Dropped down to Ovaro and warmed up on the flat before starting the climb.

And we were off!

I rode the first 2.5 km then had to take a breather...and I hadn't even come across the 20% gradient spot yet.

Ged kept on riding while I tried to catch my breath.  After a few minutes, I got back on climbed further up the steep road.  A few turns later, I had to stop again.

This ride taught me that sometimes, you just have to walk it out.  And that's exactly what I did.

I walked and walked and walked (alongside lots of other cyclists) until I reached the 2 km mark.  Ged rang and encouraged me to get back on because the gradient eased up at the end.

Once I went through the tunnels and could see the finish, I had to get off again but this time because there was too much foot traffic to actually stay on the bike.

Even though I walked a lot of the climb, I still had a really good time.  I met a lot of nice people and talked to strangers about cycling.  This climb was a huge chapter of my cycling education and just plain good fun.

The descent was a little hectic as cyclists, pedestrians and cars were still coming up.  Once we changed clothes, it was time to get a spot on the mountain to watch the pros do it.

It made sense to pick one of the steepest bits so that we could cheer and take pictures when the riders were at their slowest.

You could see the pain in their eyes.  Professional riders moving at a snail's pace.  Legs twitching, arms shaking.  Incredible.

As the last of the riders passed us, the sky turned dark and the rain came.  Hard.

We watched the finish on a small TV in a nearby camper van then hid under a tree to keep dry.  Not very successful.  Ended up running back to the car, soaking wet and cold.

Camped that night on the Zoncolan again and by the time we woke up on Sunday morning, all of the people were gone.  It was like no one had even been there the day before.

Drove to Cortina to ride up the Passo Giau and watch the riders pass through town.

While this climb was easier in the sense that the gradient was steady and stayed around 7%, it was so much colder and longer.  We could literally see snow on the sides of the mountains.  The rain didn't help either.

Despite the rain and the cold, the descent was great.  The temperature shift was incredible.  I went from hot and sweaty to shivering over the 1000 m.

So much happier back in Cortina.

Here comes the peloton.

The drive back to Florence was mixed.  A bit boring at times but Ged always manages to scare the life out of me with his driving.