Doing back to back Haute Routes is a daunting prospect for many who take up the challenge. With 900km and 22000m of climbing in our legs from last week, a few of us have made our way across the Alps to start Haute Route Dolomites. 5 stages and plenty of spikey profiles to keep us busy. A day of travelling and a day settled in Cortina have effectively meant 2 days of recovery for the legs…bar a short warm up ride yesterday near Cortina just to remind the legs of their day job.
Going into this second week some riders will be hugely fatigued and others will be riding into fitness. I’m hoping for the latter but never ignoring the signs from the body that would tell me things have been pushed too far.
On the morning of Stage 1 my resting heart rate is back down in the 40’s which is a good indicator that I’m in good shape. In the last few days of the Alps that rate would be in the high 50’s as my body worked hard to recover.
Stage 1 is made up of two major climbs for a total of 102km and 2900m of climbing, stats that are becoming increasingly normal and unalarming!
We lined up in beautiful Cortina, a smaller field than the Alps, about 200 starters. Still some great riders around me though. The sharp end of this race was still going to have some big hitters. Loic was there, second in the Alps; Spanish Marco, a recent winner of the Pyrenees edition and the likes of Simon and Rashid who’d put in strong top 10 performances in the Alps. And then, of course, there were those mystery men. Those ones at the front looking cool and confident, Italy has a lot of them! How good would these people be?
We rolled out for a short, brisk, neutralised tour of the cobbled town before hitting the lower inclines of our first climb. The flag went down and the early pace was firm but steady. We had 17kms of climbing ahead, up to Passo Giau. The first 5kms created a selection of about 30 riders. It was a great start for me, a steady pace and the legs felt good. A brief flat section at Pocol saw an increase in tempo and speed. We hit the final 9km section to the top with about 20 riders.
Around 10 riders moved up the road to form a front group and I settled in with Tom Cooling, Rashid and a few other riders to find a good rhythm for these tough few kilometres. I knew there were at least 10 riders up ahead and I suspected that some of them would drop back later with the pace too hot. I was patient. With 2kms left on the climb I was feeling good. Everything functioning well. Good power numbers and a reassuringly high heart rate, another indicator showing that my body had recovered well from it’s Alpine exploits.
With 500m to go I pushed to the front of our small group. I knew the following 10km descent pretty well and I wanted to be first down on a clear road. In that 10 kms there are about 25 numbered ‘tornanti’. They are all different and previous knowledge is a big advantage to ensure getting good lines and speed out of the corners.
Rashid descends really well, he went past me and ended up taking nearly 30 seconds out of me at the bottom. I stayed well ahead of all the others though and Rashid and I both caught several of those who had topped out before us. There was a timing stop at the end of the descent which I crossed in 8th place overall. Next we had the chance to soft pedal for 10km of neutralised riding, roadworks and traffic lights forcing the organisers to cut this section from the race. Next challenge would be the 10km climb of Falzarego and it’s 6% average gradient. As the timing resumed I’d already made my biggest mistake of the day. I’d eased off too much in that section. I didn’t stay with the strongest guys and by the time we restarted they were all about 45 seconds up the road.
I was one of the strongest riders in the group I restarted with. Great for the ego but useless for getting from A to B quickly! The ideal scenario is to be riders a shade stronger than you. Riders that will pull you along. I pushed hard, with Tom, in a vain effort to bridge the gap to the leading group.
I pushed hard all the way to the top of Falzarego but we couldn’t close the gap. Maybe we could on the long descent towards Cortina? Over the top, fresh bidons from Kevin and off I went. I was hungry to catch the group ahead. We came across heavy traffic on the way down. Traffic that was being forced to wait for the lead group but we were mixed up in it. The roads are controlled for an event like this but not closed. We still have to deal with traffic issues sometimes. I got past most of the traffic pretty efficiently but behind me the rest of my small group were struggling. I was all alone. I forged ahead and through Cortina with no sight of the riders behind me.
I was frustrated with the traffic and with my own decision making. Now I was in no man’s land. Stuck in the middle with no one to ride with. My legs still felt strong as I started the final 30km loop of the race. The next 15km would be gently uphill, terrain where a group will make much faster progress than a solitary rider.
I kept the pace going, using up more energy than if I’d had sheltering options in a group. But the pace was ok. Every time the road opened up and I could see ahead I hoped to see riders… but nothing.
Then, a positive development. Tom and Kenyan Evan caught me. Strong riders. 3 of us could make good progress. My heart and hopes lifted that this could work out well. The three of us made good progress taking turns on the front, piercing the air.
With about 15kms to the finish we faced a stiff climb of about 4kms up to the spectacular lakeside village of Misurina. I quickly lost touch with Tom and Evan, they seemed super strong and I had a feeling of fading slightly. 2 kms up and I regained my head and legs, Tom and Evan had never got more than 20 seconds on me and I clawed it all back by the time we topped out at Misurina. It took big efforts to get back but those efforts seemed to come on demand.
Not long to go now, a fast rolling few kilometres and then a 1 km kick up the finish line. Tom was just in front of me as we went into the hard right hander for the road up to Tre Croci. He braked too late and locked up, so nearly highsided. He kinked and wobbled and could think himself very lucky to stay upright.
Into the final kilometer. 8% gradient all the way. The three of us were all ready to empty ourselves up here. With 400m to go I put in a dig that lost Tom. Evan was stuck to my wheel though. Another big effort and I still couldn’t shake this young Kenyan. With me spent he took 3 seconds out of me as we crossed the line with Tom coming in a few moments later.
So, all in all, a good first day. I finished 9th overall which I’m very happy with. Just a little frustrated at the unnecessary energy and stress I’d put myself through to get to that point. Anyway, I’ll learn from that and I’ll not make the same mistake again.
Our Alpine Cadence team is off to a flying start. We are in 4th place as a team with 3rd place just 6 minutes away from us. Individual results as follows:
John Thomas 9
Riccardo Clerici 30
Paul Dirks 46
Tim Gray 58
Mike Thomson 106