Sunday, 2 August 2009

Day 5 - this just might be possible...

St. Christina to Sarnthein.

Sore legs this morning. Today's stage would look easy were it not for that yawning chasm in the middle. 82kms, 3300m ascent, much of it in one mofo of a climb over 30kms. The first climb is over fairly quickly and it leads us up to some stunning high Dolomite pastures with some beautiful singletrack riding. We get to the first feed station at Seiser Alm in short order then it's a fast road descent. I like these bits; I can almost relax. We pass lots of people and then there is no-one ahead. A sense of unease begins to set in - have we missed a turn off? The penalty would be an agonising extra climb back up a steep road so we slow down. Other riders catch up and before long we spot the reassuring orange arrows sending us off the apex of a bend onto fast singletrack where we see the "unfall" warning triangle - rider down with two medics in attendance. Not a nice sight but they are in good hands so we keep going.

The downhill gets very steep and it becomes progressively more painful on the hands. As usual, there are lots of riders walking down perfectly rideable terrain. We barge on past, gaining ground but probably losing friends - "Excuse me!", "Rider left", "Rider right", "RIDER!!", "Get out of the f***ing way!", phrases understood in most languages. The terrain is fantastic for mountain biking. Steep zig-zagging trails littered with rocks and roots which is a joy to ride. It goes on for so long that I have to swap braking fingers to alleviate the pain in my hands and my toes are sore from the pressure against my shoes. Eventually we are spat out onto more steep tarmac taking us down to the Brenner highway at Waidbruck. This is the major road between Italy and Austria but the race is so well organised and marshalled that we just sweep on through to the start of the climb while the traffic is held at bay by the Carabinieri.

The next climb almost defies description. It is relentlessly steep and the sun is cooking our brains inside our skulls. Locals hose us down as we pass which helps for a few seconds but can't disguise the pain and suffering. Sweat is pouring out of my helmet. There is a brief respite from the torture when my back tyre explodes. We're inching uphill when there's a loud bang like a gunshot. Sealant is fizzing out and there is no chance of any of it plugging the two inch gash in the sidewall. We lose 5 minutes in tearing off the tyre, emptying the remaining sealant, cleaning it up enough to stick a tyre boot inside it and the re-inflating it with a tube inside - how primitive! Then it's back to the grind. After what seems like hours, with the valley far below in another realm, we get to the feed station. There's still a long way to go before we get to the top. How do you train for these climbs in Scotland?

The remainder of the day is a bit of a blur. I remember a fast but short downhill on gravel before another climb then some magical singletrack late in the day, alongside a river, with some utterly brilliant trails. The hand pain can't detract from the sublime riding. There are some tough wee uphill bits before some more superb singletrack. We miss a turnoff down off a gravel track and waste a couple of minutes before we realise and turn back to pick up yet more technical stuff down to a meadow on the edge of town. The day finishes with a fast ride through narrow streets to the finish line in Sarthein. This is the town I was most concerned about beforehand for accommodation. We'd sent many emails but had not a single reply and had envisioned an Italian Royston Vasey, but not a bit of it; it's a beautiful Tyrolean village full of life. It has been an amazing day's riding. Utterly absorbing and intense through fairytale mountain scenery. I'm too happy to be tired.

We drink beer that evening.

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