Terminal velocity, Mr Happy and a day without wine
Tuscany -> Florence -> Chianti -> Milano ->Bolzano (read: lots of driving) Monday morning I woke in Montalcino to see the sun shining, which was a welcome change from the previous day’s rainstorm. I decided that it was a good day to check out of the hotel and continue on to a new place. Before leaving Montalcino I was certain to stock-up with some local wine which has become my favourite over the past year. Reaching Florence (for what I thought might be lunch), it became clear that there were 2 problems, 1 being in a car in Florence is just wrong and 2, I’d skipped the Chianti region on the way up. Solution: drive around looking for parking in downtown Florence and then decide enough was enough and head back to Greve in Chianti for tastings and lunch. Am I ever happy that I decided to check out Chianti... of course I also bought some wine there too...
Hitting the road it became obvious that I need to head back to the mountains for a good challenge and some better weather than I had in Tuscany. So another long drive ensued, stopping briefly in Milano at the STRAF hotel and then continued on to Bolzano for some riding in the Dolomites. Damn, am I ever happy I went for the Audi A4, S Line Avant this trip; been in the car FOREVER.
Decided it would be good to get out first thing yesterday and see what these Dolomites are all about knowing the Giro d’Italia visits them every year. Spent the first hour looking for a road that went up (a mountain), instead ended up riding around the city aimlessly searching for an access road. Finally I found one and the climbing began...
Now the great thing about France is that there are these little markers on the side of the road that tell you how far you’ve ridden, how far you’ve got to the summit and the highway/road you’re on. In Italy however, they like to keep you guessing, so guess you do. Started this climb (somewhere) and ended up climbing this monsterously steep-ass climb of some unknown distance and unknown grade to God knows where. I was sweating, pedaling up this thing and I was dying. My smallest gear is a 38x26 and I could barely turn the pedals and I later learned that my speed dipped to 9 km’h (good thing I didn’t know that when I was climbing, how humbling) and that the climb was 10 km long, the grade somewhere around 15%. Unfortunately, my GPS showed a location but none of the maps that I’ve seen online or store bought show this road. Awesome. After reaching the summit I turned around and plunged back down to the valley. When I say ‘plunge’ I can’t be more accurate with that description. The whole time I descended I kept thinking to myself, ‘terminal velocity’. I was hitting ridiculous speeds between short hairpin turns/switch backs and later learned that I hit 83 km’h in one stretch without even trying. After 3 hours a ridiculously hard climb that made both Alpe d’Huez and Platzerwasel seem easy, I found my way back to the hotel; mission accomplished.
Bolzano has some of the most amazing trails I’ve ever seen anywhere for cyclists. I’ve been to Rotterdam, I’ve been to Strasbourg and I have to say that I am beside myself with the hundreds of kilometres of bike trails they have in this area. You literally would never have to be with cars EVER in this city on a bike. The number of people on bikes here is astounding. Young, old, mothers with children, families, recreational, transportation, racers, everyone. The people here are actually quite fit; everyone is relatively thin which is pretty unfamiliar to me. Everything closes here at 1:30 and everyone takes to the trails to ride. I’ve never seen so many middle aged men riding bikes all decked out in/with the latest and greatest. One thing though, NO ONE smiles. Everyone seems to have a scowl on their face when they are riding on the trail. Now I’m nowhere near Mr. Happy but I thought to myself if these people could go ride in the smog centre of downtown Toronto and play chicken with cars every time they ride, THEN they would have a reason to be so grumpy. So I made it my mission to start smiling at everyone when they rode by, even initiating conversation as I rode by them. I’m sure some of you are pissing yourself laughing at this but hey, when in Italy...
After having eaten like a king in Montalcino, Tuscany, I was less than satisfied with anything Liefers (just outside Bolzano) had to offer. This translated into one thing for dinner last night: gelato. Then it hit and hit HARD, I hadn’t drank any wine ALL DAY. Day 1 of no wine on my trip. Unacceptable.
Let’s talk about my hotel room for a second. Having come from the straf I landed myself in this 1950’s, never been renovated amazingness with carpet floors, a built in stereo (in the headboard), the ugliest bathroom you’ve ever seen complete with toiletries that had been there since the place opened and a TV on a swivel arm that MIGHT be 10”. Best thing about this room is the modular chair that I’m sitting in which I’m sure is the original fabric that has enough ass sweat in it to give me some kind of disease. Other than that, it’s completely charming and offers a sumptuous breakfast of eggs, any way.
Yesterday I met Thomas, a Swedish guy who’s here to do the Giro Dolimiti (Saturday). Saw him at breakfast today so we hooked up for a ride, an easy 4.5 hour spin up 2 passes. This is the first time I’ve ridden with someone in France/Italy and it was good to know that I’m as impatient as everyone says. From the word go, I was hammering away at 36 km’h towing along Thomas all the way to the base of the climb in Lana. When we hit the climb my initial reaction was to ‘jump’, find a rhythm, hitting my training heart rate of 165-175bpm as quickly as possible. Well this wasn’t going to be this kind of ride today. It became abundantly clear that this was going to be an ‘easy’ day. So I climbed this AMAZING climb at 133bpm in my easiest gear and the whole time I wanted to be redlining... Since Thomas was gracious to show me a route to ride I didn’t want to be a jerk and ride off so I met his pace for the duration, up Gampenpass, short descent (where I pushed my heart rate to 154bpm) and then Mendelpass.
After sucking diesel fumes for nearly 2 hours on the way up, it was finally time to dance down this descent and have some fun. Started off well with Thomas right behind me holding my wheel, drafting (he has smaller gears – a compact so can’t go as fast when you CAN pedal) and then I took off. Encountered a row of 5 cars that were being led by a small RV and were sucking the fun out of this; BIG TIME. So waiting for the right moment I started passing the first car, and then the second and then I had a bit of a straightaway where I thought I had enough space to overtake 3 cars before the hairpin coming up... Slammed it in my biggest gear (53x11) and got out of the saddle and gave it everything I could to pass these 3 cars before the hairpin. All was going well until it started to rain. There’s something not so fun about descending at God knows what speed playing chicken with oncoming traffic, passing traffic in your lane (making sure they aren’t about to do the same thing) and then hitting a hairpin at full speed 200 metres away when it starts pouring rain.
Well, since I’m writing this you all know how the story ends, ultimately. Yes mom, I was wearing a helmet and yes, I did manage to overtake all 3 cars, stay upright and avoid getting hit by and oncoming car or going over the barrier and into an undisclosed wooded area a 100 meters down the mountain. Life is about experiences and I have to say that when it starts to rain and you’re going 60+ km’h downhill into a hairpin, you get really excited when you come out unscathed. With all of the cars behind me for the rest of the descent I had another few kilometres of switchbacks, hairpins and rain to contend with and then it was dry and clear sailing all the way to the base; fun times!
As I waited at the bottom for Thomas, I thought, he must think I’m crazy. Instead, when he made his way down (with the traffic I passed) he says to me “you’re fast going down”. I tell him, “it’s my favourite part”, we both laugh and continue onward.
Lesson learned; when you wear a helmet you are infallible and you have super-human powers. ;)