15 June 2008

Epic Italy '08 Day 7

Epic Italy ’08 Day 7 – Stelvio

Today started at 6:30am with a leisurely 50-minute run tour of the city of Bolzano.
The Austrian influence here is clear – almost all signs are in both Italian and German (Austrian?). There is quite a lot of new architecture in the municipal buildings too which we haven’t seen too much of this trip so far.
We took in some of the bike paths as well as the cobbled city lanes. There was a farmers market already up and running but for the most part the city was asleep.

After breakfast at the hotel we rolled the 4km to the pool but they weren’t quite ready for us so by the time we hoped in it was 9:45. This complex has 2 new 50m outdoor pools and the one we swam in was another super clean stainless steel one like Brenneco. It was a cool 24.5 degrees C though so most people decided to wear a wetsuit. I’ll be wearing mine tomorrow as I froze and barely made my 3km. Nothing special to report about this swim session! Everyone looked to be going pretty easy.

After a snack we headed out via the bike path system to Merano. Another 30km of magic bike path along a river but today since it was the week-end and a fine day there were a lot of people out. Very few helmets to be seen. We didn’t know you could take a bike path right to the base of the Stelvio and we were kind-of in a hurry so we took to the roads and did a little detour through Merano which probably cost us 20+ minutes. Once we found our way the road continued to climb for the most part the remaining 30km to the base of the climb where Julie was waiting for us with the van for another snack. We’d been riding for well over 3 hours to get there and I was already pretty pooped.

After reading about this climb for so many years I was really looking forward to experiencing it for myself and it really does impress more in person. With over 5,000ft of vertical gain at a constant, unrelenting gradient it wore me down pretty quick and when I finally popped out above the tree-line to view that last 20% I did have a little anxiety attack. It’s a hell of a lot more daunting to view that road after an hour of hard climbing. Its scary!
I knew I had the gears and had been fueling well so just tried to relax and enjoy the view as I went up. After a few more k’s I spotted Newsom just ahead along with Steven a little further up so I figured I was doing OK as they had pulled away well over an hour previously. I was gaining a little but was content to just keep it steady to not bonk before the top as I didn’t want to stop to rest and eat.

At nearly 9,000ft at the top it was cold! The bartender in who served me my café corretto (grappa this time – seemed appropriate) said it was 2-3 degrees C outside and it was snowing lightly so it wasn’t hard to believe. There were some little food carts outside serving bratwurst sandwiches on traditional wheat bread and we all huddled around one of them to top up the lunch Julie had set out for us. Hot food was needed! Anthony ate two of those suckers with the works – mustard, catsup, bratwurst, onions, sauerkraut.
They had a great German wheat beer there too in big bottles so a few of us had those. Gordo bought a souvenir hat that is very Gordo-like. It will be a nice trophy for the trophy shelf back home.
There were literally hundreds of motorcycles out there on the road today and that looks like a nice way to tour through Italy. Not everyone can ride up these monsters. We also saw a good amount of Porches, Maserattis and Ferraris up there. Looked like good fun.

On the original plan today I had wanted to ride down into Bormio and then up the Gavia but weather, lack of time and energy caused a re-think so we put the bikes up on the van and headed back to Bolzano. Jonathan had actually skipped the run and swim this morning to get a headstart and rode solo up the Stelvio and back. About 11+ hours on his bike today! Steve and Jo did descend down the mountain and were commenting on just how damn long it was. I didn’t have enough clothes to descend in that weather. You needed ski gear. Steven actually pulled out a jacket that I hadn’t seen him ride in before and I asked him why he hadn’t used it in the cold rain all of those days and he said he brought it along “just in case we hit some _really_ bad weather!
That made me laugh for the rest of the day.

At the hotel we had 5 minutes to shower before sitting down to dinner which was very quiet tonight. People looked exhausted and satisfied. The Stelvio really did deliver as advertised. What a ride.