TCR05 and the Devil – part 3

Posted on Posted in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, Transcontinental Race

Part 3 – CP2 Monte Grappa

While the ride to CP1 and up to Schloss Lichtenstein had been relatively straightforward (if you discount the electrical problems I was plagued with) and had been undertaken in reasonable temperatures, both during the day and at night, the TCR was suddenly about to change dramatically. A heatwave nicknamed “Lucifer” was crossing Europe and temperature records were being smashed in every country we rode into, but it wasn’t just the heat that was slowing us down, another secondary effect was the triggering of violent thunderstorms which were frequent and pretty scary if you got caught out in the open. One rider was actually struck by lightening and by some miracle came away relatively unscathed, but it was a warning to us all to seek cover if possible.

Somewhere along the way into Austria I was treated to meeting my first ‘dot watchers’ out on the road. You’ll have to forgive these (and other) memories as it’s almost impossible for me to remember the sequence of events and so make allowances if I get things in the wrong order. I was just cresting a hill when a rider pulled out of his driveway to join me and once we hit the valley we were joined by his friend. I was offered food and a shower, but explained this was against the rules and I would be happy to have them join me for breakfast at the next cafe. Sadly I didn’t take any pictures (they did) and have asked on social media if they could get in touch as I’d like to thank them once again for coming out and joining me.

Fernpass, Austria

By the time I reached the Fernpass in Austria I was exhausted and so stopped for my first decent meal since Geraardsbergen and polished off a nice bowl of pasta and a couple of litres of cola. Ahead I knew I would be climbing up and over the Timmelsjoch (2,474m) and into Italy, most probably in complete darkness so it was wise to be fully fuelled up. Storm clouds were gathering again and it was more than likely I would have to sit out one of the many heavy thunderstorms as there was no sense in trying to ride through them with a high mountain summit ahead.

Bus shelters became not just a place to spend the night, but also a good bet for staying dry and out of the rain. When the rain did come down the roads were instantly turned into rivers, but you didn’t have to wait long after it ceased for the extreme heat to dry things out. This would be a regular pattern which I quickly got used to and because I’ve spent so many years in the mountains, my experience has taught me when to find shelter moments before the storms. In fact I was so successful at this that I only got really wet once and that was during the night.

Taking shelter from the storm

‘Lucifer’ caused yet another problem for me though and this time it would impact the remaining ride. My iPhone became unstable and switched itself off intermittently, usually a sign that it is overheating. Despite putting it inside my pack (away from the sun) this did not help and in fact it only got worse. I was also having great difficulty charging my Wahoo Elemnt, although I can’t say if this was due to that also overheating or the Igaro d1 playing up because of the heat. I was able to continue because I’d had the foresight to pack a small 12000 mAh powerbank, but it was worrying times. Because of this I don’t have any pictures of my ascent of the Timmelsjoch, or later on Monte Grappa. This was pretty upsetting at the time as it really was a stunning ride and the views from the summit were magnificent.

I think I can honestly say that the ascent (and descent) at night of the Timmelsjoch was for me the hardest part of TCR05. Not being able to see what was ahead, or even what I’d already climbed took it’s toll on my (usually strong) mindset and I remember saying to myself “I’m really not enjoying this!” more than once. By the time I reached the summit I was thinking of stopping and sleeping the night, but it was pretty cold up there so I decided to try and get back down to the valley. It was a ride that I had no idea what would be involved and it didn’t start well, as I found myself cycling through pitch black (and wet) tunnels while also hitting loose gravel at over 50 kph. Pretty damned scary and I genuinely thought I’d be lucky to get off the mountain in one piece. I eventually called a halt early in the morning and put up the bivy in a bus shelter just outside of St. Leonhard in Passeier, some 35 km’s from Bolzano. As I’d decided to take the most direct route crossing into Italy I reflected on whether it would not have been better taking one of the easier (or lower) Brenner Pass to the east, or the Reschen Pass to the west. Then I remembered that I’d in fact chosen to do exactly the same with CP1, riding the most direct (and steepest) route through the Ardennes. Character building I think it’s called.

There was still plenty of downhill left before I arrived in Bolzano and then it was a ride along the river to Campese before the short climb up to the campsite at CP2 in Semonzo. Totally exhausted from the heat, I took advantage of the free shower and washed my kit for the first time, before erecting my bivy on the grassed area set aside for us. There was a restaurant next door to the campsite which was not yet open, but as I’d already decided to wait until the cooler early hours to climb Monte Grappa I was able to chill out and recover somewhat from what had been an incredibly intense few days. I knew it was only going to get harder from here on and maybe it was a good thing that I overslept and was an hour (or two) late for my ascent of the parcour. Please note, the images included here are not my own (see above for why not), but freely available from the web.

Monte Grappa from the air

Mike (Hall) was evil, there’s no other word to describe him. He had chosen the hardest of all the eleven different ways up the mountain, though you could also argue that none of them are easy. At an average gradient over it’s length of 19 km’s at 8.9%, with sections of 15%, it would sap all but the very strongest riders energy. Add to that a temperature topping out at above 40 degrees when I reached the summit and you can fully understand why this was for many TCR riders, a mountain too far. More people scratched at this point in the competition than in any of the previous TCR’s, and it’s not difficult to see why. It was brutal. No amount of training could help you and it would make (for many) the rest of the ride seem easy in comparison. I’m not trying to take anything away from those who endured what followed and continued onto the finish, but I can fully understand why this became the end of many riders race.

The views were amazing and with no working camera to capture them, a quick snack and coffee later I was on my way down. I’d originally planned to ride through Slovenia and Hungary to get to the High Tatras mountains in Slovakia, but a wrong turn and my decision not to begin climbing again after my mistake saw me heading down and into Austria. With a faulty iPhone, I now had to navigate a new route to CP3. Not ideal, but I saw it as just another part of the challenge and I was starting to enjoy myself.


 

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