One more ride. A time trial to finish off this fantastic event and in my case the last of 12 days of hard racing through the Alps and then the Dolomites. Today’s task was simple. Go up a hill as fast as possible. In the last few days I’d pushed myself to the limit and still kept performing to a good level. This morning I was confident that I would go well.
The course was spectacular. We’d start in the historic centre of Bormio, roll out on the cobbles and then head out of town gently climbing. The official start would be nearly 5kms in, meaning that the first section was a very pleasant warm up. We’d then negotiate the 18 hairpin bends of the road up to the Torre di Fraeli, then we’d finish on the banks of the Laghi di Cancano.
As with all time trials we started in reverse GC order, so I’d be the 11th last rider. Riders in the rest of the field would start in 20 second intervals but those of us in the top 13 were separated by 2 minutes to ensure that we would ride individually. It was a good feeling to be in that top group, Fergus the commentator would make a big fuss of how we were the ‘fast men’. I was the oldest in that group at the end by a fair margin. It felt great to be mixing it with all the young guys, some of whom were a third of my age. Plenty of fist bumps between us all, great camaraderie and a relaxed feel at the start. As I entered the start platform Yazz was blaring out ‘the only way is up’ on the speaker system, I tapped my feet a wiggled around to it, always happy to get a dose of my eighties music.
Stelvio Man started just before me, Mitch from USA, was just behind me. I cruised out of the start and eased through that first 5kms at a ‘tempo’ rate, about 250 watts, nicely warming up. As the official start loomed I upped the pace to cross the line with momentum. A quick tap on my bike computer lap button so I could monitor my effort for the next 30 minutes or so of pain.
From this point we had about 10.5km to race. 9km of climbing at an average of about 6.5%, then a finishing 1.5km of flat to the finish. I started steady. The key to a time trial is not going too hard to early, no matter how good you feel. Respect the power numbers and stay at a sustainable output. I was disciplined. I suspected I would be able to do around 315/320 watts for the 30 minutes. 4 minutes in and my average was around 325 watts. Steady as she goes, don’t want any more than that. 4kms up the climb and Mitch caught me. He’d gone over the start line a minute and half behind me and he was flying. Mitch is a far stronger rider than I, not reflected in his proximity to me on GC. I was pleased to see him going well. His performance inspired me to dig deeper. I forgot my disciplined power figure study for a while and just tried to maintain the gap behind him for a while. The power kept coming, I glanced at the computer occasionally to see plenty of 340’s and 350’s. I felt strong though. Mitch stretched his lead on me a little but him passing me had a good effect on me. I’d probably played it a bit safe in the opening kilometres, a little unware of what I was actually capable of.
The hairpins on this climb are flat, line is crucial to carry speed through them and avoiding a power drop. Every inch of the road is required to stretch out each curve and keep on the gas. I sailed through the tunnels at the top of the hairpins. Kevin was there to cheer me on as I entered the hardest point in the time trial, 1.5kms of flat. That’ll seem crazy to some but it’s all about physics. For a fairly light rider like me the hills give me some advantage over the bigger guys like Stelvio Man. On the flats though those big men would be in their element. Their big engines would not be hindered by their weight. All I could do was minimise my losses to them. Stay low, stay smooth and keep chucking out the numbers.
I don’t know yet what I threw out on that last section but it was enough to lift my average for the 30 minutes to 330 watts, my biggest ever 30 minute effort. I finished 11th on the day, just ahead of Stelvio Man and I secured 11th in GC too.
So Alps and Dolomites were done. I’d put in 12 good days. Every day was raced as if it was the only day. I left nothing out there. My body lasted to the end and in fact, going on both my feeling and power data, I actually got stronger at the end. I remain fascinated, puzzled but excited by how good you can get at this sport despite the inevitable effects of age. This pair of events has left me even more incredible memories. The characters and camaraderie among my ride peers have been fantastic. The diversity of nationalities and ages has been wonderful. I loved every minute of the whole thing. Well done Haute Route and well done to everyone who participated in this special race.
Finally a mention of our team. We came third! It felt fantastic to share the podium with Tim, Paul, Mike and Riccardo. The teams above us on the podium were well ahead of us, filled with some very impressive athletes. It was a privilege to share the stage with them.
Our individual GC results for the Dolomites were as follows:
John Thomas 11
Riccardo Clerici 32
Paul Dirks 38
Tim Gray 52
Mike Thomson 99
For those of us who did both Alps and Dolomites, I came 4th overall, Paul was 9th and Tim 13th
Full results available here