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I had signed up to do the Long Course of the event – a mere 148km with 4,348m of vertical ascent and recognizing the significant challenge that this represented I approached Dig Deep Coaching for specific training ahead of the event
Preparation was vital as the GranFondo included the Mortirolo : 11km at an 11% Average (with the last 2km averaging 14%, including sections at 26%) and Stelvio Pass (22km at 7.3% average), as well as the Teglio and three further 4th Category climbs.
Dig Deep and my coach, Stephen Gallagher, were fantastic in analyzing where my weakness lay and setting out specific training sessions to address there areas, as well as general advice and preparation.
All of this meant that on the start line I was quietly confident, with the knowledge that my preparation had been overseen by very experienced professionals, rather than my own cobbled together sessions.
Only a week previously Stage 19 of the Giro D-Italia was cancelled due to heavy snow on the Stelvio Pass but yet, here we were, ready to try and ride those same roads.
To say that the start was brisk would be a slight understatement as we were through the first 40km in just over 50 minutes, thanks to the downhill and strong tailwind (more of which later). This took us to the base of Teglio which is listed as 4.5km at an average grade of 9.5% but, having been well warned by Paul Kane, who had ridden the event the previous year, I knew that the average was highly misleading, as the climb is, in reality, a series of three 12-15% ramps, with short 3-8% grade sections between. Stephen had given me specific session to prepare for these sharp changes in gradient while still keeping effort level under control and this served me extremely well up this climb.
A rapid descent was followed by a 20km section to the base of the Mortirolo, where I was ensconced in a fast-moving group of about 15 riders. As we were lined out in a single paceline at 35km/hr on a false flat heading to the base of the Mortirolo, I heard that little voice in my head asking was I really tough enough and what the heck was I doing, seeing as we were about to start ascending one of the hardest climbs in world cycling!
For four months I had had the profile of the Mortirolo taped to the garage wall in front of my turbo trainer. It was the reason for changing to a WiFli set-up on my Cannondale SuperSix, with a low gearing of 34x32 and we were going up it the worst way of all, which was used for the first time in the 2012 Giro.
Lets just say it did not disappoint! The first 8km was manageable enough at 10.5% and I was able to use the 28 and 25 cogs for this and control things reasonably well. We formed our own mini-group with a couple of Italians and an English guy (who was notable for his disparaging remarks about my 32 cog) but after this first 8km, there was a section of flat and then a short downhill before the huge sting in the tail, the last 2km where the 32 cog was really needed!
While the average was a tough 14%, there were two ramps within this which were simply savage – 400-500m sections of 19% average, ramping up to 26%. Think of the Cornmill from the Hilly 125 – the toughest section of that is 19% but only 100m long and the road surface here was even worse – spalling concrete washed away by the severity of the slope. More than half the riders were off their bikes – it was carnage. Thanks again to both stephen Gallagher and Mark Kane for all his advice on gearing – nothing like men who have first hand experience of the climbs, notably unlike my English friend who was last seen falling sideways on the gradient!
After re-fuelling at the top, there was another fast descent to Vernuga, leaving us 20km from the base of the Stelvio climb. Sounds easy enough, except for that afore-mentioned 40kph headwind that given such a quick start to the day. This was now a block headwind on a 2% grade, all the way to Bormio – tough enough? Just about at that stage, with the training in the bank. Our little group worked its way uphill, into the wind and were thankful to reach the aid station at the base of climb, well within the cut off point (There was a time limit, beyond which you would not be permitted to start the ascent of the Stelvio Pass).
So just that 22km climb at 7.3% left then – still feeling tough enough? Well I really was having to work hard at that stage and there was some serious soul searching on the lower slopes of the Stelvio until I took on my 2 spare Torq Gels (With extra caffine!) and began to climb with some real purpose……and what a climb! Due to the snow conditions, this was the first time the climb had been opened that year and there were 3-4 metre snow banks at the sides of the road on the upper slopes and thank goodness for them as it offered some respite from the 40kph winds, which took temperatures down from a balmy 20 degrees in Bormio to 4 degrees at the top (with a wind chill of -10 degrees). However it was an amazing climb, up through the tunnels, the 46 hairpins and the Stelvio Snake, into the snow fields and finally, finally, to the achievement of finishing at the top.
At the top the heated marquee provided respite from the cold and plenty of food, as well as our dry bags, with a full change needed to cope with the temperatures on the descent (70kph in a minus 10 windchill can get a bit parky!).
It is testament to how well the guys at Dig Deep had prepared me that as we stayed on until the Wednesday, I was still in good condition to take on some amazing climbing, including the Cancano, a first ascent that year of the Gavia, entailing walking through snow for the last 400m carrying your bike and a redemptive climb of the Stelvio on the last morning, in utterly different conditions, with a balmy 21 degrees at the top, where we stopped for coffee and sun-bathing!
All in all it was an amazing trip, with great craic throughout and utterly fantastic cyling – the Granfondo was an amazing challenge and I proud to be member of the #rule69 club on the Mortirolo! (Look it up on www.velominati.com).
My thanks to Stephen and his team at Dig Deep for their tremendously professional approach to my amateur challenge – it really was the addition of this coaching platform that allowed me to perform to the level that I did and approach each element of the day with the confidence of their training programme behind me.