I spent the rest of the evening night being furious with the bike and myself for using a known problem saddle but knew I didn’t really have a choice. I was hating on the hotel and their lack of food. I was hating on everything basically because I wasn’t supposed to be in this much pain this early in the race. Leg pain from riding hard, sure, but not pain that stops you from riding properly. My knees were getting trashed due to all the standing up riding I was doing. Knees are something you do not want to have issues with as a cyclist! But, I’d already decided I would do anything required to continue, I wasn’t going to pack yet. Running food calculations through my head I thought I could just about scrape through the hardcore 70k/4000m climbing parcours with the food/drink I had plus I’d looked for shops on or below the climbs and reasoned that something would be open.
On the road around 4am before sunrise and through Grindelwald town to begin the first climb. Having washed off all the chamois cream, I’d taped my blisters with micropore tape – it was helping. The race required riders to head to Furkapasss (made famous in a James Bond film that I can’t recall) via Grosse Scheidegg and Grimselpass (using tunnel alternatives). It was actually quite amazing to think that I was riding a bike and watching the sunrise over some of the biggest mountains in the world. I grew up in a flat, desert landscape so any mountains are spectacular but Switzerland takes the cake for me. A badger ran across the road in front of my wheel and I almost crapped myself. The cowbells tonked as I continued climbing in and out of the saddle, conserving energy for the climbs to come.
Eventually I crested the top and descended, very conservatively. I was pretty cold by the time I got to the bottom so made a mental note to put on my Rab rain jacket and my long-finger Rab gloves for the next descents. I remember checking a hotel to see if they were open for breakfast but no such luck. Into a valley and I found a hotel that was open so I stopped and the woman agreed to serve breakfast. A short while later Michael Wacker, another racer, appeared for brekkie. He had stayed here last night, something I should have done. We had a catch up about the race while tucking in and I left before him, full and ready to start the next climb.
The sun was up and it was again stunning scenery. Once again it was just a case of tapping out what I could, managing the saddle pain and eventually the top would appear. Lots of counting switchbacks, calculating altitude and trying to occupy time until the top and a rest on the downhill.
Garmin’s stupid Virtual Partner finishes the parcours hours before I do. I vow to punch him in the face when we meet. Somehow, what I thought was the last climb turns out to be only the second half of the second climb so I’m heading out of a town and up the final bastard ascent. Some old guy passes me on an MTB – he has his missus in tow on an assisted electric bike. I pass him later when they’d stopped and when he repasses me and I say “allez!” he says “oh no no no”. Glad it wasn’t just me that was finding the climb tough. Finally finish and grab some junk food from a guy in a small booth at the top of the mountain. Along with the Snickers, Mars and Coke, he gives me some free energy gels/bars that I presume he can’t sell to anyone with their full mental faculties. I do a well dodgy pass of a motorhome to get a clear run at the descent. It’d warmed up now so I was being less conservative. Half way down I have to stop and tighten my headset again though and plug in my Garmin to the external battery pack so they pass me back and I just sit in for the remainder of the bendy downhill.
This is where it gets interesting for the dot watchers because I have a “cunning plan!”. I head up another climb but unlike everyone else, I’m heading into the 35 degree heat and due south. Some army guys cheers me on and I pass a cycle tourist loaded with more kit than me. My plan is to head right down to Brescia, Lake Garda, Como, etc. and then head north again to get to Passo Giau (CP3). It removes 4500m of climbing but adds 120k compared to my mountain route which headed directly to CP3 in Italy. I’d decided to include it last minute and then decided to take the southerly route while climbing. Although I would miss the mountain scenery, I love riding my bike fast. Riding at 8-10kph in the granny gear for hours isn’t great fun for me. Tapping out 40kph for the same wattage is FUN! After the race I saw all the discussion about whether my move was idiotic or brilliant. I think a bit of both. 🙂 I left the race and returned in about the same position after getting some sleep so I think it worked out in my favour although I’ll never really know for sure.
“Injuries you can’t plan for: left thumb sprain from jamming bottles under framebag.”
This route was beautiful. It was endless descent, such easy riding tailwind-assisted loveliness. On the aerobars on nice roads at speed I was totally in my element and loving life! It got a bit lumpy when I hit Italy but nothing like the mountains the other riders would be on.
The Italian roads are in a lot worse condition than the Swiss and I spend the night dodging potholes. This gets easier as it gets later as with fewer cars around I can ride all over the road to dodge the crappy surface. I stop for another pizza around 11pm I guess, filling up for a long night.
In the early hours I almost crack and ride through a McDonalds drive-thru. Pulling myself together I ride on and come across service station vending combo where I refill water, maybe food and surprisingly nice coffee!
“That’s 18hrs on the saddle that was killing me yesterday. Maybe it was that loose thread. Same shorts I wore on pbp too. Hmm.”
“You know you’re wrong in the head when last night’s 3:30 alarm warning is showing and you haven’t slept yet
“Going loopy with boredom and tiredness. Verona. Checking in to hotel before I wobble into something harder than me
After breakfast and a quick clean and another insufficient sleep waking hours before my alarm, along with some USB device charging (thanks to the front desk guy) I head off again, soon heading into a northerly direction. It’s mid-morning, maybe approaching lunchtime and the traffic is mental.
“Dunno why but woke after 1hr though set for 3. Traffic fucked. Saw bike under car. Trying to route off 70kph road, no shoulder
I freak out after something from a truck hits me and decide to reroute but after a while stopped and failing to find an ‘easy’ alternative I get back on the busy road and continue. Sod it, it’s faster anyway.
I start to see mountains again. My fast, flat, fun times will be coming to an end soon. Having lost my toothbrush which had the micropore tape wrapped around it I look for a pharmacy. Of course I don’t find one and continue into the mountains. I do find a supermarket and look for scissors to cut my other possible ‘gooch tape’. Instead I buy food and drink only (crisps, iced coffee, mineral water?) and continue towards CP3.
Lots of false flats and even some decent descents which surprised me along with a couple of tunnel bypasses that I had to query the correct route for with some locals and eventually (late afternoon?) I make it to the hotel acting as CP3. Here I refuel, do an interview and find out I’m still up with the same guys, around 14th place, maybe 6hrs behind 10th. It’s still taking a lot of effort to manage the saddle pain but I’m just getting on with it now, resigned to the fact I have to keep going to finish.