Haute Route Dolomites Stage 4

105kms and 3500m of climbing. The thought of climbing Umbrail then Stelvio from it’s classic side would terrify plenty of cyclists. For some though, me included, this stage could turn out to be a relief. A totally different dynamic to previous days. The last few days I’ve been racing, chasing, hurting and concentrating to the max. The nature of today’s course was very different, two very long climbs and nothing else to do. Less tactical and more attritional. This would be a fitness test rather than a test of racecraft.

We rolled out of Bormio for a rather bizarre 5kms of neutral riding around the lanes to the south of the town before coming back to the centre. As the flag went down the pace was subdued. That suited me and many others just fine. No one looking to attack, the peloton was in patient mood. 5 kms up the road and no change. The pace was brisk enough though to have whittled our group down to about 20 but still felt comfortable. I spent 2 or 3 kms on the front. That way I could ride my own tempo and potentially delay any attacks. Sheltering in the pack on a climb has it’s benefits but so does being on the front too. I felt in control.

The Umbrail climb is basically the same as riding Stelvio from Bormio except that we turn left over the Swiss border about 2.5km short of Stelvio’s summit. The climb is about 16kms long, rising 1200m.

10 kms in and the action starts. The strong men attack. Loic, Marc and pretty much the top 8 riders in GC accelerate and gap the rest of us. Daniele (Stelvio Man) is happy to let them go and so am I. I know my limits.

Daniele and myself found ourselves in a group of about 7 riders as we approached the summit. I felt good, the whole effort to this point had averaged about 280 watts for the hour which was pretty comfortable compared to previous days. I had something left to give. I made up my mind to attack and try to take seconds from the guys in the group, particularly Daniele who was lying just a few seconds behind me in the GC.

I waited for my moment and with about 800m to the top I eased past the group as we approached a hairpin. I didn’t look back, just laid down what power I could. Next hairpin meant I’d see the gap clearly, I was clear. Just a question of holding on now. I crossed the timing stop about 15 seconds ahead of the others. In retrospect I wish I’d gone earlier as I think I could have gained more, but anyway, it was a good start to the day.

We enjoyed a spectacular neutral descent into Switzerland before coming back over the border into Italy to resume the race. The timing started about 15kms before we’d start the long climb of Stelvio from Prato allo Stelvio.

I crossed the line with Daniele, Jasper, Thomas and about 5 other riders. A good scenario. Together we would make a good group to get swiftly across the flats to the climb.

Stelvio is 24kms long and rises over 1800m in that distance, that’s a lot. A sustained climb of about 1hour 35 mins for our level of riding. I felt good at the start, Thomas and a couple of others pushed ahead and I went with them. It was just too much though and I decided to sit up and settle with the others behind.

The next 10kms were uneventful. The first half of Stelvio is a bit of a drag. Not much to see, just head down and work. I was looking forward to reaching the first of the famous 48 hairpins from which the ride would become far more interesting in it’s scenery and it’s dynamic. 11kms to go and I’m happy. Daniele is dictating the pace some of the time and so am I. I feel strong in the group. I don’t plan to attack but I’m confident that I’ll do well as the pace inevitably hots up nearer the top.

Most of the climb seldom climbs at more than 8% or 9% but there’s a short, steep pitch of about 12% with 10kms to go. I carried plenty of speed into it and then pushed hard in a small gear to the top. I didn’t intend to stretch the group but it happened. As I rounded the bend at the top I saw the group strung out. I quickly decided to push ahead. This would be a long way to ride on my own but I fancied it. If that ramp had split things like that I felt confident I could stay away.

A few minutes up the road and I look back, I’m quickly 30 seconds up. They’re not chasing. The gap gets bigger and I start to believe. I spent the next 2 or 3 kms just consolidating my ride. Steady effort, making sure I didn’t blow up. I checked the gap and it was well over a minute. I was happy to hold it there. 5kms to go and the amazing stack of Stelvio hairpins rises up above me. 5 kms to go and still 20 hairpins to negotiate. I love hairpin bends. There’s an art to riding them well and getting the maximum speed out of them. Get them right, in the right gear and right line and a rider can easily save a couple of seconds on each one. When there are 48 of them those seconds add up!

3 kms to go and I knew I’d stay away. I felt elated. I’d ridden Stelvio many times but never raced it. I’d made a good job of it. The final bends came at me quickly and although the legs were starting to scream, it didn’t matter. Everyone else’s would be too and I was in a good place on the road.

I crossed the line for 10th place on the day. Very happy indeed. I suppose this day suited me more than the previous ones and I exploited it. I’m still amazed at how my tired body keeps performing after all these days. This was day 11 of the Haute Route double for me and I feel just as strong now as I was at the start. The numbers confirm it too. I averaged 277 watts for my Stelvio effort of 1 hour 36 minutes. That’s good for me in any circumstances but very satisfying to chuck out efforts like that after these two massive weeks and at altitude.

So, just one more day to go, and it’s a small one! We finish tomorrow with an uphill time trail up to Laghi di Cancano. 15kms and about 40 minutes of pain remaining. No problem!

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