Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 5: Spooky Cobbled Tunnels

On our fifth day in Italy, our ride leaders gave the group two route options, gradually climbing to Pratto allo Stelvio, or taking a serious side excursion over two passes as planned. The group split half and half, as many were tired. I of course, wanted the full treatment. I didn't travel all the way to Italy to ride a bike path between towns.

The two passes were Mendola and Palade. We were starting from the lowest elevation of our tour, around 200m. It was very warm and muggy with threat of storms later in the day.  Mendola is essentially a Whiteface/Alpe d'Huez style climb, maybe bigger, at around 1150m vertical. After cresting Mendola, the course drops a bit before climbing 400-500m to Passo Palade.

View from Mendola climb. Haze hints what is to come.

There were great views climbing Mendola, as the road is bench cut into essentially a cliff. Hurting at this point in the tour, I took it easy on Mendola. We briefly regrouped at the top and pressed on. Seems everybody was in a talkative mood, so I hit the next climb solo at at firm tempo pace, cresting several minutes ahead of the others. We had lunch at Passo Palade.

Mendola bench cut road.

The 1200m plummet from Palade was a hoot. Crazy fast and many tunnels. Descending never seemed to end. We'd pop out in an area with a view, and the valley floor still looked thousands of feet below. A good ways down, we hit this tunnel after a long straight away, going over 70kph (44mph). Light could be seen at the far end of the tunnel, so no problem, right? Not quite. The tunnel was unlit, and it was cobbled!

The cobbles are limestone, and inside of tunnels are typically wet. Wet cobbles are slicker than snot. To make matters worse, the cobbles were extremely bumpy and uneven. At the speeds we were going, it knocked you around a bit. I dared not hit the brakes, fearing skidding, going down, and having 20 other riders pile in over me in the dark. I could not see the sidewalls at all. With all the jostling around, I had no idea how close to the walls I was getting. Tunnels follow the same grade as the road. This meant you do not slow down unless you grab the brakes, which you couldn't do. I nearly messed myself.

The tunnel briefly ends and goes right back into more of the same. You could see light at the other end and just prayed you could hold a line to the light. As the final exit came into view, to my horror, there was an abrupt left hand turn with guardrail. I thought surely this was it, tumbling over the guardrail at 70kph into nothingness. Somehow I managed to keep it together. Neema, with his GoPro running, was just ahead of me and stopped after the tunnel to capture our reactions. Around the 7min mark, I can be heard saying "That was F'd!" as I went by. My roommate Joe said something about his balls.

Neema's video below nicely summarizes our trip. I appear several times, sometimes in NorEast kit, others with Thomson Tours jacket on. Footage from most climbs and descents is included.  Neema is one smooth descender!  View in full screen for maximum effect.

Thomson Bike Tours: Trans-Dolomite Challenge 2011 from nader assemi on Vimeo.

When we bottomed out near Merano, the storm clouds were fully developed. I ditched the camera in the van.  We narrowly escaped one cell, only to get clobbered by another one a few minutes later. It poured mightily. Rain mixed with mountainside orchard soil made a chocolaty mix with small apples bobbing in it. It was running so deep down the street I could not pedal without my feet going into the interesting mix. Good thing it wasn't cold out.

After some bits of climbing in urban environment, we made it to a bike path that follows a river for 30km. Too many other path users foiled any attempt to get a paceline going. When the bike path ended, we had to take extremely busy SS38 the rest of the way to Pratto allo Stelvio. This was the only part of the tour that kind of sucked. Euro roads are narrow to begin with, and this one was equivalent to major state highway with zero shoulder and non-stop cars and trucks. It was imperative we all held our line single-file. Thomson does not shuttle riders to locations. We ride to them. This is perhaps a small price to pay to avoid van shuttles.

View from hotel in Pratto allo Stelvio

I was pretty cooked after this ride, tallying 129.9km, 2500m in 5.6hrs. We had Passo Stelvio to look forward to the next day, a big climb, but only 47km total.

I may post once more on this trip with some comments on food, hotels, Thomson Bike Tours and plans to try another tour. A couple days back to reality and it already sucks.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 7: Mortirolo and Gavia

The best was saved for the last day of our tour. On Friday, our 117km loop would be taking us over Passo Mortirolo and Passo Gavia, another day with 10,000+ feet of climbing. The Mortirolo climb is one of the hardest in Europe. It gains over 4200ft at 10.5% average gradient. We did a single pass the previous day, and being the last day of the trip, I planned to give whatever my legs could offer to Mortirolo.

The morning started with a chilly 30km descent to Valtellina. It wasn't all downhill. To bypass a lengthy tunnel, a 150-200m climb was required. Many highways in this part of the Alps spend about half their distance underground. Really amazing. Sometimes I suspect this is to avoid avalanches that would almost certainly be common on the surface. The descent with modest climb was a nice warmup for what ensued.

En route to Mortirolo on tunnel bypass (no cars!)

I sensed a little tension in the air at the base of Mortirolo. All three riding groups arrived together. The Mortirolo is ranked the most difficult climb on our trip at 186 difficulty index, while the Stelvio and Gavia climbs are ranked 172 and 147 respectively.

Shedding layers for Mortirolo climb, which goes over wall
in background.

The A group rolled off. Neema, Kurt, Lucky and myself soon separated from the others. Neema, who is half my age, set a blistering pace and wanted us to work together to maintain a steady effort all the way up. The problem was, I was riding at something more like a 20 minute pace, clearly unsustainable up this near Mt Washington sized climb. Kurt peeled off for nature stop and Lucky soon faded back. It was just Neema and I.

The grade rarely dropped below 12% for the first several kilometers. When it did, Neema's power dropped a little. I quipped he shouldn't accept these little "gifts" and to keep motoring. I guess I was treating it like a time-trial.

The grade kicked up to 14-17% for long sections at a time. Glad I brought a pie-plate MTB cassette on my bike. Even a 34x32 ratio was hard to push in the saddle. About 20 minutes in, I wished Neema good luck and said I was pulling the plug. He pleaded with me to not give up and back off just a tad. Great, I thought, he was intent on maximizing my suffering and ensuring I would spectacularly implode on the much bigger climb coming up, Passo Gavia.

At the time, I thought Mortirolo was only 1000m for some reason, so I was relieved to reach what I thought was the halfway point. But when we passed the 1000m gain point on my GPS and still had 10 numbered switchbacks to go, I thought WTF, I'm done here. Neema again implored that I continue.

The last few switchbacks came rather quickly, and then finally the summit. Neema graciously let me claim "the win."  I recorded a lap of just over 65 minutes but forgot to hit the lap button right away at the summit. Pépé, the next rider to summit, was just a couple minutes back. It took a long time for riders to trickle up this beast. In the midst of TBT riders summitting, a classic rollerskier came up. He did it in 90 minutes, faster than several riders in our group. I couldn't imagine rollerskiing up that beast of a climb.

Pépé, myself and Neema. Pépé was up to no good I'm sure.

I wonder who this skier is? He did not speak English.

That effort utterly destroyed my legs. I knew full well the ride would degenerate into a monstrous death march for me. This was the only pass that did not have a restaurant or lodge up top. In fact, much of the road is barely one lane wide. It essentially was a driveway rising up out of town and was hard to tell it was even a road. For these reasons, very few motorcycles come up this one. On other passes, it is non-stop crotch rockets blowing by at 10x speed differentials. I liked Mortirolo. It has limited views, but it was off the beaten path and beat riders down just like some of the climbs here in the northeast do.

View from Passo Mortirolo

After a 1000m plummet off the back side, we climbed a false flat to our lunch stop before beginning Gavia. No amount of pizza and high octane Italian coffee was bringing my legs back to life. Probably just as well. I heard Gavia would be one of the most scenic passes on our trip, so I'd be stopping to take photos anyway.

Our group started easy enough after lunch. My legs actually felt pretty good. Joe and I rolled off the front on the false flat leading to Passo Gavia. Once the grade started pitching upwards though, Joe promptly dispatched me off the back. It didn't take long for the rest of the A-group to steam-roll past me either. I was done. Only problem was, I had another 5000ft to gain before bombing down the other side back to our hotel.

Curtis on the lengthy skinny portion of Gavia climb. Precipitous
drops in many places with no guardrails.

The road simultaneously necked down to no wider than a typical bike path and pitched upwards at double-digit grades. It was so narrow that motorcycles had trouble passing us in spots. How our vans made it up is beyond me. My riding had degenerated to linked track stands. The bike pretty much came to a stop between each down stroke of the pedals. Fortunately, I wasn't cramping up. I was just super-bonked. I wasn't surprised this happened, but I was surprised how badly I was suffering. Of all the 6-gaps or D2R2 rides I've done, climbing the Gavia became the mother of all death march rides for me. The incredible scenery all the way up helped sooth some of the suffering.

Lucky catching up to me, looking back down the valley.

No shortage of scenery like this. Looking westerly on Gavia climb.

Eventually I reached the tunnel about 3km from the summit. We had been asked to ride up with a light so we could see and be seen. Some riders did ok without lights. Guess I'm glad I hauled mine all the way up there. Inside the tunnel were riders walking bikes in both directions. You'd hear them but not see them. My batteries were nearly spent, having failed to replace them since skate skiing with this light.

Just above the tunnel. I was tempted to walk too.

View from one of the last switchbacks.

Approaching summit there were mountain goats, the real kind,
not the human kind.

Out of the tunnel, several switchbacks above taunted me with how bad I was sucking and how much I had yet to suffer. The terrain was looking very much like New Hampshire's rock pile, Mt Washington. No trees, just moss covered rocks. I passed a rider not from our tour walking his bike. I supposed things could have been going worse for me.

Soon the summit came into view. I think most of the A, B and C groups were up there already. It was now 30km back to the hotel, all downhill. Some kind of race was coming up that side, and the support drivers for the riders were quite obnoxious. They rode along side their riders, leaving zero room for descenders to pass. The road was still barely a lane wide. I stopped to take a couple photos. The scenery was just as good as coming up. Because I stopped, I ended up alone for most of the descent.

Second highest pass of the week.

Looking over north side of Passo Gavia

I finished with 117.6km, 3277m (10,750ft) in 5.6hrs moving time on the Garmin. The day was mostly sunny and the warmest day of the trip with temps breaking 21C (70F). Any warmer, I would have been in trouble.

Upper portion of Gavia descent

People sometimes compare Mortirolo and Mt Washington. Using the ClimbByBike difficulty index, there really is no comparison. Mt Washington is much more difficult with a rating of 239 vs 199 for Mortirolo. Washington climbs further and at a much steeper average grade. Summit elevations are comparable. Mt Washington takes me 65 minutes to climb, the same it took me to climb Mortirolo with 40,000ft of climbing in my legs over the prior days. I would like to ride Zoncolan and Angliru some day, other climbs that are compared to Washington.

I plan to put a Day 5 post up after I can link video captured by Neema. He caught our reaction exiting an unlit tunnel that was paved with cobbles. We went into the tunnel at 70+kph, unaware of cobbles inside the tunnel. Every one of us thought surely we would die. Good stuff.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 6: New Favorite Climb - Passo Stelvio

The Stelvio did not dissapoint, folks. It is a superb climb. The weather was less than ideal with temps just above freezing and sporadic rain and sleet up top, but I still managed to capture a few good photos. I'll let the the photos tell the story. Many photos are posted in higher resolution than I usually post, so be sure to click on them and view in full scale to maximize viewing pleasure.

Prep at the hotel. Sunny skies were a surprise, as forecast called for
dreary, wet, cold day. It was just a teaser.

Rolling out of Prato allo Stelvio.
The object of our destination in the distance.

Year round skiing at Passo Stelvio on the glacier.

Little white sign says 48 with degree symbol. Switchbacks are numbered
here. Means there are 47 more to go to the summit.

Only 24 switchbacks to go, many of them visible on the headwall.
Shortly after taking this photo, it started pouring out with sleet
mixed in for good measure. I was in shorts and short sleeves with
just a light wind breaker.

The rain let up just enough to take this photo from switchback #4.

Also from switchback #4 to show steepness of box canyon wall.

From switchback #1 just below summit.

Shortly after reaching the summit at just over 9000ft,
we were socked in with clouds.

There were skiers walking about. Kind of sureal seeing spandex
clad cyclists and full winter geared alpine skiers intermingling.

Part way down the descent to Bormio. Intermitent rain kept this
descent "interesting."

View from Bormio hotel room. It poured buckets with thunder
shortly after getting back.

It was so cold up top some riders chose not to ride down to Bormio. Can't say I blame them. The smaller, slow twitch riders just can't make enough heat for a 5000+ foot descent in rain at temps just above freezing. I essentially wore full winter gear with plastic baggies inside my shoes and just barely stayed warm enough.

The wet descent was quite trecherous. There are numerous tunnels on the way down, and with heavy overcast, it was pitch black in some of the tunnels. They are little more than one lane wide, curvy as heck, with quite a number of cars and motorcycles coming through. There were some monstrous waterfalls coming down the canyon walls too. It was too wet and cold to stop and take pictures. I bet one dropped 2000ft, but not free fall.

The Stelvio has been on my bucket list for at least five years. I've stared at webcams, reviewed it in Google Earth and day dreamed of the day I could finally ride it. I was crushed last year when I broke my ankle and would have to wait at least another year.  The Stelvio is not the steepest, tallest, hardest or even pretiest climb I've done, but it has the most unique cycling appeal when you round switchback #25 and see that wall towering thousands more feet above you. Looking back down on those switchbacks from the top gives you great sense of accomplishment.  I love Alpine riding. That is one reason I travel to Colorado most summers.

Our most difficult day is on tap for Friday, the last day of our trip, when we hit the Mortirolo and Gavia climbs. Hopefully today was sort of a recovery day with only 48km and 6200ft of climbing. I may have to put another new stet of brake pads on my bike.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 5 brief

No time for proper post. Today's ride from Alleghe to Prato allo Stelvio was epic in different kind of way. Unlit tunnels with cobbles at 70kph, lightning storms, rivers of chocolate milk with floating apples flowing across the street to ride through. Thought I was going to die multiple times. Thursday: Passo Stelvio... in the rain, forecast of -1C at the summit.

Day 4: Passo Fedia

With 20,000+ feet of climbing in the legs over the past two days, Tuesday's ride was going to be interesting. A short ride was on the Itinerary, but with the toughest rated climb of the trip so far, Passo Fedaia. The ride is a point to point, leaving Alleghe, ending in Bolzano.


There was negligible warmup before the climbing began. Once it started, it didn't let up. We took an alternate route through a rather spectacular gorge. Reminded me of the Flume Gorge in New Hampshire, except it had a narrow one lane paved road through it. The grade was rather heinous. I was in my 34x32 most of the time. Stopping to take pictures, I was soon off the back of the pack.

We popped out of the gorge into a open valley. It looked flat, but my Garmin said otherwise, rarely indicating less than 10%. I asked our ride guide if it got steep again, and the response was "oh yeah!"
HEading up to Fedaia

Eventually the headwall to Passo Fedaia comes into view with switchbacks cut into it. It looked really impressive, but given the state of my legs riding with the "A" group the past three days, I was scared. The grade kicked up to 15% again and pretty much stayed there for the next couple kilometers.

Looking down Fedaia

Our riding groups are ad hoc formed each evening after the ride briefing. Depending on how we feel, we can choose which group to ride in, with A's being the fastest. A handful of us have ridden in the A group for each ride. I wondered how much longer I could pummel my body on this trip.

The descent from Fedaia was swift and furious. It didn't last long enough. For once, I didn't need to don the long layers for the descent. It was quite pleasant out. We dropped down into Campitello di Fassa and mingled with heavy traffic for several kilometers. For the first time, we had a stiff headwind to push into. When we reached Pozza di Fassa, our final climb of the day began, Passo Costalunga. We were told this one was pretty tame. It started out as anything but tame.

View on Fedia descent

Kurt immediately rolled off the front. The talking stopped. We dug in. This was supposed to be a semi-recovery day. The pace of the rest of the A group slacked off a bit. The next thing I reallized, I too was riding by myself off the front. My legs felt spooky ok considering what they've been through. I soon was pushing a full-on threshold effort pace. Kurt came back into view and eventually I caught him, just after the heavy work subsided. The summit comes after several kilometers of false flat. After shameless drafting Kurt for a km, I resumed TT mode and drilled the last couple km to the pass. It was a completely wreckless thing I had done. Wednesday's ride is 130km with big climbs, then the two hardest days of the trip come after that. No recovery, ever.

We took a long outdoor lunch break at the summit of Costalunga. It was gorgeous out, about 19C, sunny and breezy. Towering peaks loomed to either side of the pass. The break did my body good. I ordered a Tirollese Pizza. Tirol (spelled different ways) is thinly sliced ham, almost like bacon. It seems to be very popular in sandwiches and such. When the pizza came, it was way more than I could possibly eat, and for about 8 Euro. Totally hit the spot.

Lunch stop on Costalunga

The descent from Castalunga lasted forever, nearly 30km long with negligible pedalling. It went through many tunnels, several of which you could not see the other end. The longer tunnels were dimly lit. Of course, the tunnels followed the same 6-8% downhill grade. Our pack broke up a bit on the descent, since not all of us are fearless descenders. I was with three other riders in the back group. I nearly broke 80kph in one tunnel. Very spooky in tight, curvey tunnel with oncoming traffic that buffeted you with turbulence. You dared not take your eyes off straight ahead.

When we bottomed out at the outskirts of Bolzano, all three groups joined for the procession into town to our hotel. Several riders said that was their best descent of all time. I'd say it makes my top-three list. Wish I had more cojones to carry speed around the switchbacks and stay with the lead descenders. I keep thinking back to Bill's and Alex's wrecks on descents back home and don't want that to happen to me. We did have another minor crash today, the same rider that slid out on a switchback two days ago. Tires crossed on a steep uphill grade with tumble to sidewalk. I litte more minor road rash and tweak derailleur hanger were the result.

Bolzano is a wicked cool town. We went into the center, which is a vast, carless shopping area. Hundreds of shops. All cobles, with bicycles everywhere. I regret not taking the camera. We were on our own for dinner today, so my roommate Joe and I had dinner at outdoor cafe, as many cafes here offer outdoor seating. Really cool people watching, like chicks on bicycles.

View from hotel in Bolzano

At our next day's ride briefing, we were offered a "bail-out" option to skip the two mountain passes and just ride a slightly rising 80km route to our next town. At first almost everybody took the easy way out. Most were beat down. Much cajoling ensued by those that wanted to do the planned route. I came here to ride mountain passes, not a bike path between towns. The ride leader penciled Joe in for the long ride despite his desire to bail. We both complain about each other's whining about how the rides are kicking our asses. I don't want to hear it from him. He trains about 18-20hrs per week and spent time on three different Canadian national teams back in the day. He's got a motor, even though most of his training hours are spent trail running these days. Hopefully the weather continues to hold up. Other than a soggy first day, the weather has suited me well these last three days.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 3: Passo Giau

Today was the mother of all beat-downs for me. The ride was incredible, but I barely survived. Our 117km loop hit four major passes, including Duran, Staulanza, Giau and Falzarego. For my New England readers, the ride went something like this. Climb Whiteface as an opener. Then tackle Greylock. After you've been softened up by those two, do Equinox. Just in case that didn't kill you, climb App Gap from Waitsfield. All told, today's ride tallied over 11,000ft, ringing up a two day tally of over 20,000ft.

Our day's go like this. We get a next day's ride briefing the evening before, including hazards to watch out for, expected weather conditions at the passes, etc. We have dinner after the briefing. Sleep, then meet for breakfast at 7:30am. The ride departs at 9am. We were told it would be very cold today, just above freezing at the passes, and very cold for the ride start which consisted of an 18km gradual descent.

I kitted up in near winter gear, went outside 15 minutes before ride start, only to find it quite comfortable. Most of the layers came off. I chose to ride with the B group today, since all groups do the full 117km ride, and I feared the slow twitch guys in the group, which is everybody, would kill me in the A's. The A's go off first, then B's a minute later, then C's. The B's caught the A's at the base of the climb to Passo Duran. They took off before we stripped unneeded layers. After a couple kilometers, I found my legs and began bridging up to the group of six A-riders. This went against all Hill Junkie wisdom.

Climb to Passo Duran

Fortunately, the prior day's ride took them all down a notch too, and they were in a talkative mood. The vertical meters ticked off on my Garmin. Duran is a pretty brutal climb to awaken your legs. A sign halfway up said 15% grade. My Garmin never went that high, but it stayed 10-12% for much of the 3300ft climb.

Climbing Duran, never saw 15%

Duran summit

We replenished fuel and bombed the descent. I let my speed run out a little more between switchbacks this time, still holding way back from the California guys and Thomson ride leaders. I think it was Dan that hit a bump coming hot into a switchback, lost a water bottle and rode over it, kicking his rear wheel over, and left him with no choice but to go right off the end of the switchback. Fortunately it was just weeds. He pulled a perfect Lance maneuver and rode right out of the dicy situation and back onto the road. I slowed down again after that. We were warned the Duran descent would be rough. Actually, it would be considered a good road in New England. The roads in general here are in near perfect condition.  I liked Duran. It is a one lane paved road to nowhere with no traffic on it.

Me and Nick in Dont

We dropped down into a town called Dont. The next climb began immediately up to Forcella Staulanza. This ride litterally has no flat sections. The profile looks like a saw blade. Fortunately, Staulanza wasn't as steep but still gains 2700ft. When we hit the top, my legs were reeling. I thought there was no way I'd survive Giau after that. I had to somehow. Passo Giau is one of the more famous climbs in Italy and is often included in the Giro. It was the Cima Coppi of this year's Giro (highest point) at 2236m. We rocketed down to Selva di Cadore and promptly began climbing.

Looking down climb to Stualanza. Heli putting up cell tower.

I must add that touring with Thomson is the balls. Their organization of daily rides is first class. With big climbs come big temperature changes. The valleys are warm and no layers are needed during climbing. But the descents are frigid. It is nice to have a van to swap layers on and off and to quickly top off water or throw down some calories. I would definitely book with Thomson again.

I kicked it into survival my gear heading up Giau. I was deeply concerned I would sieze up before the summit. I was getting those cramping early warning signs on the last climb.  Not good when you have a double-digit grade 3000ft climb ahead of you.  Somehow I managed to keep most of the A-group guys in sight all the way up. Giau was a soul crusher. Once above tree line, the pass still looks impossibly far away.

Climb to Passo Giau

We had lunch at the summit restaurant. I went for a salty ham and cheese sandwich and caffe americano. I find Italian food good for a weak taster like myself. Everything is strongly flavored here, whether it be coffee or cheese. Sandwich meats can be very salty. I needed the sodium.

Passo Giau

Eating a lot necessitates leaving more deposits than usual. When I visited the men's room, both hip flexors siezed up on me as I sat down. I had to jump right back up. What a predicament. I was in worse shape than I had thought. That last 800m climb was going to be a bitch.

From Giau, looking towards Pocoi

We had some nice descending off Giau. Went forever. Of course, once we reached the bottom, it was straight into the next climb, Falzarego. This would be the tamest climb of the ride. We had passed by the summit on the previous day's ride by coming into from a different way, a 3-way junction. Then it was 25km, all downhill, back to Alleghe.

Bicycle weathervane at Passo Giau

My roommate Joe and I were first two to summit. Guess the others weren't feeling too chipper anymore either. Joe is one of those slow twitch mutant types. He rides a bike once or twice a week and could dominate a tour like this. His primary sport is running, doing those 30 hour, 100 mile body destroying kinds of events. Guess it carries over well to cycling.

Falzarego Summit

I carried considerably more speed on the descent back to town this time, knowing what was coming. I almost managed to keep the fastest few descenders in sight and was mid-pack this time. The day before I learned the leaders like to townline sprint coming into Alleghe. I thought I'd go for it this time, but didn't remember exactly where the sign was. It came too quickly and our ride leader took it.

The ride ended with 117.7km, 11,100ft and 5:32hrs on the Garmin. The climbing is way more dense here than in New England. We net about 100ft per mile there, while in the Dolomites, it is closer to 100ft per kilometer. I had to be careful how I moved after the ride, as any wrong move sent my legs into spasms. Tuesday will be an easy day with only half as much climbing as we ride to the next town we'll spend one night in. Hope I can survive that.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 2: Ronde Sella

The day that just days ago was forecasted with heavy rain brought anything but. It poured buckets overnight, possibly inches of rain. It stopped by 4am.  When we got up, it was chilly, breezy and mostly sunny. Perfect climbing weather. And climb today, we did. We rode the famous Ronde Sella, perhaps the most scenic ride in Dolomites.

Our rides are split into A, B and C groups. I started with the B group last night, as I thought I would stop to take pictures, but heavy rain prevented that for the most part. I rode away from the B group and right through the A group. Had to really, short sleeves in bone chilling rain left me no choice.

Today I decided to ride with the A group. We started with a nearly 4000ft climb. The pace was quite brisk at times. I tend not to hold up well in multi-day events if I go too hard, as I'm a fast twitchy kind of guy. I went along with it anyway. Once we got above treeline, the scenery was quite spectacular, like something you'd see Glacier National Park.

In my years of riding with DaveP, I still haven't learned my lesson. I'd stop to take pictures, then hammer to catch back up. This burns matches the rest of the guys are not burning. I did cool it after a while and just hung back. I took nearly 100 photos on today's ride.

Many of the guys in the A group are very good descenders. After witnessing bad wrecks first hand over the last few years, I've lost my nerve to carry 45deg angle lean-over speed around hairpin switchbacks. I drifted off the back of most of the group on the descents. Later in the ride, somebody did go down around a switchback. Only minor road rash resulted.

Many of these roads are little more than one lane wide. The Italians do know how to mingle with cyclists. You have to be comfortable with cars coming crazy close. They aren't being dicks about it, there just isn't more room. Plus, you often have long lines of cyclists passing in opposite directions with cars coming in between.  It's guardrails to handbars to car to handlebars to rock face. I got comfortable with it after a while. Perhaps because it is a nice weekend, there were a lot of people out.

Just like on App Gap on our 6-gaps rides, there are motorcyclists with a penchant for speed out here. Actually, motorcycles probably outnumber cars 4:1 on some of these roads. We'd overtake cars on descents, but not motorcycles.

I finished the nearly 70mi ride in just under 5hrs with 9400ft of climbing. Waiting for dinner, I'm completely wrecked. My legs were cramping taking my shoes off.  Monday will be an interesting day, as we go longer and with much more climbing. I'll leave you with a brief photo dump.

Looking down Passo Gardena towards Corvra, our
lunch stop.

On way to Passo Sella (I think)

Passo Valparola