Why do you show up even when it’s hard? That was the title of a recent Strava post trying to explain the atlete in you. Reflecting on challenging events is important to moving forward.
A couple of weeks ago, I had again joined the Tour de Tolerance, a group of cyclists eager to climb mountains. The destination this year: the mighty Dolomites in Italy.
As a kind of a prologue, five of us commenced in Innsbruck and cycled across the Brenner and the Jaufenpass to Bolzano (137km, 1964m). Sitting at home looking at the map it had seemed doable. It turned out to be the maximum elevation on a day of the trip. It sure was a good warm up of what was to come.
Vast limestone peaks rise up vertically around you as you ride across the many passes in the Dolomites. Distance wise you don’t cover much yet expect to suffer on many of the climbs. We did around 50km a day, less than I cycle on a regular training day. However, it was well and truly compensated by elevation when speed often would drop down to a single digit and my heart rate would hit the lactate treshold. Hairpin bends would give a few seconds of relief on the way up as to continuously climb is not only very exhausting but, above all, mentally challenging.
After a few days, the many mountain passes quickly became a bit of a blur: Siusi (1841m), Pinei (1437m), Costalunga (1752m), Gardena (2121m), Pelegrino (1918m), Campolongo (1875m), Valporola (2192m), Sella (2240m), Falzerego (2105m), Giau (2236m), Fedaia (2057m), and Lavaze (1808m).
On our last climb day, we had crossed the Kaizerpass. As soon as we reached a pass we would don ourselves with warm clothes and a wind jacket for the often very long and wind-chilling descent down. We somehow missed a turn on our way down and had descended too much only to have to climb the hundreds of metres elsewhere gain to reach the Passo Lavaze. It was nice warm weather. Despite being used to the heat, I was sweating profusely. I had forgotten to take my heart meter along. Perhaps it was for the better not to see how I was faring. Concentrating on my breathing was most important. Towards the summit, the road was long, straight and without any shade. Most of us had been going slow which was good for my morale but did little to reduce the pain. My shoes were wet from the steady flow of droplets of sweat falling down my forehead. You push and keep pushing, occasionally stopping for a minute to drink and to give the heart a bit of a rest. Only to quickly resume the push up the mountain so as to not reach the summit last.
The Pordoi (2239m) and Tre Cime (2357m) I won’t forget as I did not do them. The Pordoi I did not do as the day prior, on our rest day, I had climbed the Pellegrino and my legs were simply not up to it after already climbing quite a lot in the morning. A shame as the route was absolutely stunning. The Tre Cime is a bastard of a climb and I have nothing but admiration for the 8 guys who did manage to climb it. The last 4km have an average gradient of 10-13%.
Last Saturday, a week after the Tour, I once again cycled the Liege Bastogne Liege Classic. It was such a difference as the climbs were much more undulating and the ride never ending. I covered 220km and 3700m of elevation as, unfortunately, one of my rear spokes snapped 30km before the finish.
Give me the Dolomites any time though. You show up because it is hard.