Saturday, 1 August 2009

Day 4 - The Turn of the Screw.

Brixen to St. Christina.

On paper, this one looked like trouble. 84 kms with nearly 3700m of climbing. There are 4 very distinct climbs with one or two blips along the way. The day starts with a fast peleton out of Brixen which grinds to a messy halt at a handlebar-width footbridge 5kms out of town. Lots of riders sweep up on the outside to jump the queue which leads to a lot of shouted insults. We now know how to say "bawbag" in 40 different languages.

It's nice to get a fast, easy warm-up but we're soon into the climbing for the day. It takes about half an hour of puffing and panting to establish the climb's rhythm; to reach the point where the breathing is nice and settled and the legs don't hurt. After this it's more a psychological battle to keep the pedals turning and to focus on keeping the body fuelled with food and drink. By now I've got this bit sussed - unwrapped Clif bars in the back pocket to nibble on and a couple of litres of water with Nuun hydration tablets keeps me going to the first feed station where supplies can be replenished as we gorge on water melon with the decadance of Caligula.

The second climb is a tough proposition and it's steep right out of the feed station. It's a very hot day so shade from the trees is a welcome relief. Dave is ticking off the kms on his bike computer and after what seems like hours of continually steep gravel switchbacks he reckons the climb is almost over. Sure enough, things start to level out a bit and we've emerged from the trees and it has the feel of an Alpine pass just around the next corner. But my mental fortitude has buckled under the strain of hopeless optimism and I've forgotten the golden rule - every summit is a false summit until proven otherwise. Round the corner lies a sight that knocks the wind from our sails. The trail rears up at an impossibly steep angle and zig-zags up to a pass seemingly up in the heavens. It's maybe only 2kms away but it will be a push for much of the way. Dave rides what he can because walking hurts too much. I walk most of it because riding hurts too much. We get back on the bikes just before the Schlutterhutte and ride to a stile which marks the high point. I'm dizzy from the effort and need Ibuprofen to soothe the pain in my buttocks and shoulders.

From here the scenery changes dramatically. We're no longer in steep-sided tree-lined canyons where we get the occasional glimpse of the scenic grandeur around us. Now we're up high on open grassy alps with impossibly dramatic Dolomite peaks crowding the horizon. It really is breathtaking. There is a short section where walking is compulsory (park rules) then it's onto a mental-fast descent on gravel tracks and tarmac all the way to Campill where the locals cheer the riders on and we get a cheery "Bit hotter than Scotland!" from an old lady.

More climbing, more descending and we get to a fast uphill bit to the feed station. Chain-gang time again. I'm struggling to stay on the pace until most of the riders break off to fill water bottles at a drinking trough. We keep going. The feed station isn't where it should be. We press on. I've no water left and I'm feeling pretty done in. No sign of the feed station. Have we missed it? Eventually it comes into view. There are a lot of busted-looking riders lolling in the shade of a wall and we join them. I'm finding it difficult to walk and the all-over body pain washes over me once I'm off the bike. Dioralyte and Ibuprofen are needed, but we don't resort to Heather Graham just yet...

There is one more big climb ahead of me and I'm having big doubts about my ability to manage it; to shake off the fatigue and keep going. Somehow it all falls into place. Better than that, I feel really strong on it. There's some fireroad, a bit of singletrack then miles of switchbacking tarmac up to the Passo Gardena. Dave and I get on the back of an Italian pair but we soon leave them behind. We overtake lots of others too, climbing fast and well in the middle ring. From the top we have a road descent for a few kms then it's off road for some steep, loose gravel and chuckies. The day finishes with a steep singletrack section where the only technique is to hang off the back and drag the brakes. Most people are walking it so we pass lots of teams. Dave punctures but it seals quickly enough for the final tarmac run in to St. Christina. It's been 7 1/2 hours in the saddle with some very tough climbs and some stunning descents. I'm pretty done in but manage to recover enough with the aid of water melon and pizza to do it all again tomorrow.

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