Italy, where the real climbing began

It has been a while since my last update. I guess I’ve been having too much fun. I’m not going to say much here, I’ll try and upload some photos instead.

So we arrived at Bormio Tuesday hoping for the same sunny skies that we had in Nice.

Well, that was not going to happen. It was raining.

The Hotel that we were staying at, is where fellow Victorian cyclist Danielle Garden works as a bike guide. It was awesome to have a friendly face to pick us up from the station and spend the next 5 days with. Danielle holds most of the QOMs around these parts and is quite the climber. She had challenged me to beat Emillio, another tour guide up the climbs. I wasn’t so sure.

Our first day started in sun shine and ended in torrential rain and a 30km decent home.

Mortirolo and Gavia

Stelvio and Bormio 2000

130km Valley loop

Gavia

Cancano

It was going to be baptism by fire.

Mortirolo and Gavia, a 100km loop with 3000 m of elevation and a climb that averages 10% for 14km. In terms of climbing, Mortirolo was going to be the most challenging. I was looking forward to it. One of our tour guides, Elmillio, a skinny little climber, that speaks no english, had challenged me to this one. I gave him a head start (only because I needed to take some clothing layers off)., then began the climb. This was the steepest climb I’ve done. Relentless gradient, that made the legs burn every stroke. You only couldhave one speed this climb. I had no gears left and my 28 was being used to its full capacity. I came within about 50m of Emillio with 1km to go. But he heard me coming and turned the gas on. I had nothing. I didn’t catch him. He won.I completed the climb in around 1.07. Not too shabby for my first go. The 2nd climb of the day, Gavia, I did with P. Half way up, the weather turned for the worst and we had a wet 30km decent home.

Stelvio was the next challenge. Arguably the most famous of the climbs in this area, it has 30 something switchbacks, 20km but a more manageable gradient of something like 8%. The cat and mouse challenge that Emillio and I were playing was on again. This time he gave me a 30 second head start. He only caught me as we were going through the tunnels, mid way up the climb, as I was bonking. I still had 10km to go. I got on his wheel, for about 1km. Then I was not. 2/3 of the way up, the gradient flattens off. I must have had my second wind, because I caught Emillio and overtook him. Going into the last 3km I had about 500m on him. He was hunting me down. 20m from the top he overtook me and we sprinted for the line. He won, by a tyre. But yeah, he did give me a head start. I climbed in about 1.25. After the Stelvio, we dragged ourselves up Bormio 2000, just to get some extra kilometers and elevation in.

The next loop we did was just a quiet 130km ride down the Valley, and up a small climb. It was a picturesque little look, where we passed through farm land, apple orchids and small towns whilst meandering along a bike path. Again, the weather turned and we had a pretty miserable 80km in the wet. The final 1/2 was up hill. We were happy to get home.

The other side of the Gavia was next. It was about a 14km climb, at 7% or so, with some tricky 14% sections, but also some flatter sections at 2-3%. This was going to be my chance to beat Emillio. He was feeling tired, and I was feeling ok. We started off together, I quickly rode away from him. And didn’t see him until the end. We sat in the bar, waiting for the others when the weather turned again. Thank god that Danielle had driven up to meet us with our clothes for the decent, instead we got in the van and got a dry lift home. This side of the Gavia is my favorite, it had heaps more to look at, was greener and the gradient  more enjoyable.

Our last day. Danielle’s day off. She took us up the best climb so far. Cancano. We cruised up, taking photos along the way. It was definitely the best climb so far. It was not long. It was not steep. But it was beautiful. Numerous switchbacks, tunnels, a lake and even ruins of a castle or something at the top. The view looked over the switchbacks we just rode up, and Bormio in the very distance. This was only a short day like yesterday, but definitely one of my favorites so far.

I swear that I have ridden more in the wet on holiday here, than I would have in Melbourne! That is for sure.

Huge thanks to Danielle for looking after us this week. What an awesome place to ride your bike, find more information on the hotel we stayed at here.

We’re in Lake Como now, for some supposed R&R. I think we’ll find ourselves some cool places to ride, as well as cool places to relax.

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All photos taken on a GoPro Hero 3+ camera, with LCD screen and all the accessories. #vsport #gopro.

You can follow me on Instagram @lowercasev

Nice, Col Du Madone and an epic adventure

So after spending 6 days in the Pyrenees, it was time for a change in scenery. Purdie and I head off on the train, to Nice. Where we would spend some time riding and relaxing.

It was a huge shock in temperature for us. Nice was about 30 degrees! It was great!

Our first climb to conquer was Col du Madone. Made famous by the one and only Lancy pants. He said he knew he could win the Tour if he rode it in 12 minutes. Well, I certainly didn’t ride it in that time. I rode it in 16 minutes or so, in the searing heat!

Our second adventure was going to take up on a loop, which we loaded into the Garmin with the hope that it would direct us – well, we ended up lost, North of Nice, and forever climbing. Lets just say that once we ran out of food and water and were 50kms in the middle of nowhere, I started to panic a bit. The Garmin was telling fibs and lucky for Strava segment explorer – things could have got ugly.

We made it home anyway and spend the rest of the time at the beach or eating delicious  food near the beach.

Our next stop is Italy. We’re headed to Bormio – to ride the famous Gavia, Mortirolo, Stelvio and many many more.

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All photos taken on my GoPro Hero 3+

 

 

The Tourmalet double (epic)

The Tourmalet Epic

The day started off poorly, one it was raining and two my cleats decided to crack it and would not let me clip in. Our departure was delayed as I conducted some roadside surgery to fix the issue while the others stood out of the rain.

We had a horrible headwind for the 24km to St Marie, a little village at the base of the climb. Mike, P and I groveled our way there. Our legs were still feeling smashed. Not surprisingly really, we have covered quite a few kilometers over the last few days.

So the Tourmalet. Many say that this is the hardest climb, as it is the highest mountain pass in the Pyrenees at 2115m. You can tackle this beast from two sides – one starting from St Marie and the other from Luz-Saint-Sauveur.

They both dish out their fair share pain.

We started our ascent from the St Marie side first.

I was going to give this side a crack and then ride easy with P on the other side. For me, similar to my attempt at Luz Ardiden a few days earlier, I’d say rather than the climb itself – that it was the the conditions broke me the most.

I started off hard – we as hard as I could with smashed legs, with the knowledge that the first 4km were relatively “easy” at an average gradient of about 4%.

Once this easy part was over, the real climbing started. I found it hard to sit in a comfortable rhythm, there was a howling headwind and the rain was not letting up. I was groveling, wondering if i’d actually make it up to the top. I just kept ticking along, forever blinking to get the salty water out of my eyes.

As I climbed higher, it got colder and the rain turned to a sleety hail. I was approaching La Mongie, a ski village about 4km from the summit. My mind was playing games with me, I considered turning around, I was cold, but I pushed on and tried to keep a solid tempo….well that was until I cracked and decided it was time to put my arm warmers on, pulled them out of my pocket only to realise they were inside out. Bugger. I tried a couple of attempts at turning them inside out whilst still keeping tempo but failed. The rain and wind was so strong that I was struggling to take one hand off the handlebars.

I decided that I had to stop.

This was going to ruin my Strava QOM attempt. But, the last thing I wanted was hypothermia! A minute later, I’d turned them inside out, awkwardly heaved them up my wet arms and was rolling again. Wow. In that time my legs has seized up and were screaming.

Only 4km to go. Thanks god.

Visibility was not that great,  I was in the hurt box. That was until a car came past me full of a family. They were supporting their dad who I had passed half way up the climb. They drove along side me yelling “allez allez” as encouragement. I was getting my second (head) wind. I had 1 km to go, they speed off, kicking their son out of the car and the boy proceeded to run along side me until I crossed the line! So cute! He was so happy for me to get over the line. One of the great things you see over here is that kids are so into cycling. On every climb you see boys and girls, 8 years old on massive bikes, climbing faster than you. Its great to see.

Anyway. I reached the summit broken and cold. Questioning whether we would actually descend and climb the opposite side, especially in those conditions. I didn’t enjoy the climb at all. Our support vehicle was at the top with our warm clothes and food. I was the first up, so had first pick of the delicious hot chocolate and banana bread that our hosts had prepared for us.

20 mins later P, Mike and I were all huddled in the car, trying to decide if we would risk the weather and go down, then back up the other side. We would make the decision once we descended, and reached the town of Luz.

We were ready to go and bumped into the one and only Jenny Macca! Such a small world!

The decent of the Luz side was breathtaking. The weather on this side was the complete opposite of the St Marie side. The sun was out and there was a crisp, blue sky. I would say that this descent rivals Col du Aubisque in terms of beauty. Because of the change in conditions, the decision was made that we would go back up. This side was slightly longer that the first, and with 100m more of elevation gain. We were still feeling smashed, so we rode together, taking it easy, taking photos and just taking it in.

I’d highly recommend climbing this side of the Tourmalet over the St Marie side. Although less popular, it is definitely the most beautiful.

We got to the top, navigating rogue sheep along the way, and descended back into the cloud on the St Marie side, starting our journey home. 24km home, with a downhill tail wind. Thank god! After 100km and two sides of the Tourmalet, I was not sure if i’d actually make it home.

We stopped off in a little town called Bangeres where we bought some cheese, ham and a baguette and proceeded to demolish our little picnic whilst sitting on a pot plant out the front of the Patisserie! That baguette was the best thing we’ve eaten all week!

Well that was the best way to end an epic week here in the Pyrenees. 123km, 3400m elevation, 6 hours in the saddle. Off to Nice next for some sun, and then to Bormio in Italy for some more climbing action.
Can’t wait!

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Hautacam rest day and Stage 18 of the TDF

So our initial plan was to watch Stage 18’s finish at the summit of the Hautacam. The Tour riders would have to endure Col du Tourmalet and then make their way to the summit to finish at the infamous Hautacam.

Our plans changed on good advice from our host Dom. It was confirmed that it would be a logistical nightmare for us to endure the entire day on the summit without any vehicle or support with us. The road to the summit closes at 11am. The race finishes at approximately 5pm. You are not allowed to descend the Hautacam until 7pm. This would mean that we would stand around in the sun for minimum 8 hours and not be able to leave until late, with limited food and water. We would have anywhere to put our bikes. We sound soft, but we did have a plan B.

We instead decided to ride the Hautacam early in the morning and then ride home to watch the riders pass through Orincles – literally at our driveway. The Cote de Benejacq (2.3km at 6.7%) where the first King of the Mountain points were on offer provided the perfect point for our viewing.

Now Cote de Benejacq is not the biggest burg in the Pyrenees, but it sure is a pinch. It is 2.3km long and at 6.7% certainly would have woken the legs up of the riders who were only 50 or so km into the stage.

So we started the day off early, rode to the Hautacam. Now the climb was hard, well, not as bad as yesterdays Luz. It is a consistent gradient, steep – 13.6km at 8%. Purdie and I decided to ride this one together. The ride up was certainly a spectacle, we could not ride fast, constantly navigating people walking and riding up, standing on the side of the road, painting messages on the road, camper vans etc..all with the goal to get a prime position on the mountain to watch the stage finish. It was madness. By the time we got to the top, we were stopped by the Feds who with 100m to the summit, would not let us through. No Strava segment for us. Oh well. Now descending was a hazard too. On the brakes the whole way down, dodging just the same. We were relieved to get off the mountain. It would be good to ride it another time, without the crowds.

We then got home just in time to watch the Caravan go through. The Caravan we never see on TV in Australia. To put it simply, they are big floats, or cars that are covered in sponsors advertising that drive around the stage before the riders, pumping music and throwing free stuff at us. It is amazing, and so much fun. I waved my arms around like a kid in a candy store at the passing parade for an hour or so – gathering as much junk as I could and fighting kids for freebies!

After all that craziness, we gathered our loot and headed up to the KOM point. It was a 2km hike up to the Cote de Benjacq KOM point. Now I hate walking, so walking anywhere is a big deal. But the reward of the walk would be worth it, I’ve wanted to see the Tour live since forever.

It was awesome up there, hundreds of people lining the road, trying to get a good position to see the riders hurtle past. And that they did. The crowd starts off calm and quiet, then the tooting and sirens from the official vehicles starts. Then the Feds come through pushing the crowd back on the scooters, then the lead car, then the riders, then the crowd screams and yells and cow bells ring, then it is quiet again and the crowds disappear! The riders went through as a small lead group, then the main bunch. I guess they were all together as it was early in the race, so our viewing was over in 10 seconds flat.

It was so much fun. It was great to be a part of the fanfare that you see on TV. The atmosphere was electric and I had a smile from ear to ear all day. I have wanted to watch the race live all my life, and now I have!  We rushed home to watch the rest of the stage on TV, they were on their way up to the Tourmelet… We’ll be tackling it tomorrow – double! Can’t wait!

We only did 65km today, albeit up the Hautacam on our rest day, but heck, it was our rest day and I had a race to watch.

PS. Nibali won.
PPS. Completed Rapha Rising!

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You can follow me on Instagram @lowercasev. All photos taken on GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition. #GoPro #VSport

 

Picturesque Col du Soulor and Col d’Abisque

Today was BY FAR, the best day we have had so far. The view from the Col du Soulor, coupled with the descent and climb to Col d’Aubisque was just magical. The prettiest, most spectacular view I have ever seen. No photo or video could ever do it justice. We had the most perfect weather. Compared to the miserable last few days, todays blue skies were welcomed.

So our day was going to go like this: ride to Argeles-Gazost, then from there start the 20km climb to the top of the Soulor. From the top of the Soulor, we climb 9km to the Aubisque. We then would descend, then navigate our way to Col de Boreres – a short and sharp 4km pinch. There we would make our way home, via Lourdes and the holy water.

The group all rode to Argeles together, then Mike, P and I would head off on another adventure ourselves. Epic it was in the end.

The Soulor climb was tough 20km, 1/2 of it is a mild gradient, the other 1/2 ranges from 6-14%. It hurts. I wanted to do a quick time, so went from the gun. About 12km in, I encountered a tractor. I wanted to pass it, but the old guy driving turned around to me and said something to me in French and pointed at the back. I think he meant “get on”, so I rode up behind the tractor and sat it its slip stream, trying to get a draft. I lasted about 600m of him cheering me on before I blew off the back and he kept tootling on into the distance – waving as he got further away. LOL. I kept grinding away.

That was until I passed a old guy carrying a backpack with about 4km to go. He said to me in French “competition, competition, competition” (imagine a french accent). So the race was on, we started swapping turns, until the sprint finish at the top. Hilarious, because at the end he asked me – I think – how old I was. I said 2 – 6, he said 6 – 2. What an absolute legend. Thats one thing about cycling, everyone is on the same page. We appreciate the effort that goes into riding bikes, especially up HC climbs.

We made our way down the most picturesque decent that I have ever seen. It was a track, on the ledge of a mountain, with endless views, cows on the side of the road, tunnels to pass through. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road, I just wanted to look around! The climb to the Aubisque was tame, P and I ticked up leisurely, enjoying the view. We soaked in the view and the novelty TDF giant bikes at the top and made our way back down the mountain.

We headed home via Boreres, and descended a fast and open loop that took us back to Argeles for lunch. By this time, we were starving. We smashed a pizza each and got on our bikes to head home via Lourdes, to see the Grotto and the holy water. If you want to read about it here , it is actually quite depressing. People that know me, know that I hate crowds. So we got out of Lourdes pretty quick.

By the time we got back, we were smashed crabs, dehydrated, sun burned and exhausted. Let’s just say that the much welcomed blue skies took their tolls.

We ended up doing 6hrs, 2800m vert over 130km, we did not get lost, we got some sun, saw some views and had the best day out on the bike.

Where is the food!

You can check my Strava file out here. You can follow me on Instagram @lowercasev. All photos taken on GoPro Hero 3+ black edition. #gopro #vsport

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En Route to the Pyrenees

Here are just a few GoPto photos from the transit from Melbourne to the Pyrenees.

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Waiting
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Forever waiting
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Hydrators are winners
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Fast train – 296 km/hr… Strava QOM?

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A
rrive!

 

Women’s 100 today… can’t wait!

All photos taken with GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition.