Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pietro Meets the Stelvio

My friend Peter, aka "Pietro", files his third report, now riding with the Andy Hampsten tour.

"Friday, August 28, 2009: Day 1 Ride from Prato delo Stelvio to Bormio, 27 Km climb to summit @ 2758 meters, 8 switch backs going up, 38 going down, all numbered. Stelvio Bike Day is tomorrow.

Man, 7 AM wake up. Aida didn't finish until 1 a.m. I’m tired. Crawl out of bed, dress and go to breakfast. Three cups of coffee. Moving slow.

Cab at 8 AM to go from Verona Center to Hotel West Point near airport (25 minute).

Arrive and meet Andy Hampsten again. I start to meet some of my compatriots. I’m in trouble. These are hard core looking dudes and dudets. There are four woman (3 couples and one from Denver). We load the bikes and gear into buses and van and leave 9:15 AM (2.5-3 hour drive to ride start).

We drive up the Adige River Valley with Monte Baldo on the left. Eros and I climbed M. Baldo. Now I get to take some pics of the mountains.

Finally, we get to the rest stop and you know what old people have to do. Then we proceed on to the hotel and lunch (salad, lasagna, strudel). We all change into our bike clothes and get the bikes out and ready. Andy gives us the obligatory safety talk.

We start the ride at about 2:30 PM. It’s a beautiful sunny day. It’s going to be a long day. I’m dropped by most everyone pretty soon. When the climb starts, I think I’m going well and the hairpin numbers start to go by. OK, they go by very slowly.

The climb is relentless. It’s seems like a constant grade and the only breaks are at the hairpins. That is, go to the outside of the hairpin, go real slow and I get a little teeny bit of recovery. Not much.

Somewhere about hairpin 30 I decided to stop for a break. I run into Elaine (Andy’s assistant) a couple of times. She has water and at one stop the van is there with apples. I can’t eat much so borrow a knife to have ¼ of an apple.

As I climb further up, I’m getting slower and slower. I faded a lot during the last third of the ride. I start to think whether I’ll have to sag to the summit (Ugh!!!!!). Anyway, I persevere. One other fellow, Paul, is back with me. He has a triple and is just grinding away slowly. I kind of sprint ahead, then have to stop every 3-4 hairpins to recover and there goes Paul grinding away.

Once you get near the top, you see the classic Stelvio hairpins as you look up. Man, those hairpins are counting down slowly. Once I reach #10, I start to think I have a chance to reach the top. I stop at hairpin 4 and Andy comes down. He has cookies. Just what I need, a little bit of energy for the final climb to the summit. Man, the legs are heavy. Not much left in the gas tank.

Final push and I make it to the summit. The van is there and there are booths selling stuff. Nothing to buy today.

Scenery was spectacular all the way up as usual.

After a short stop, we head down. Andy is in the lead. We pass a water fall, beautiful. We go through several tunnels which are really dark, I can hardly see the flashing light on the bike in front of me. I don’t have my lights on the bike and we slow and I follow the bike ahead of me. Man, it’s really dark in these tunnels. Thank god it’s all downhill to Bormio.

Well, it’s been a long day, little sleep but one mountain pass down. Legs are fatigued. I wonder how I’ll do tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Stelvio Bike day when they close the roads to cars and all the biker dudes/dudets climb to the summit. Tomorrow, we retrace the downhill and go back up to the summit, an out and back.

Yes, Angelo, I put my feet to the ground many, many times. (ed. note: this refers to the saying that my Verona cycling club, Gruppo 1, has: "If your feet touch the ground you can't say you did the climb." Ouch.) It was the only way to survive. This was one tough climb, 27 Km of almost continuous elevation gain. Maybe in the 6-7% grade range but 27 Km’s worth!!! It took me 3.5 hours. I think the hard core people did it in 2 hours.


Photos: on the way from Verona to Prato, Pietro (red jersey), on the Stelvio, a few of the hairpin turns, Pietro and Andy Hampsten, shops at the summit

Stories, including cycling trip stories, for the Italian Cycling Journal welcome; contact veronaman@gmail

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