Naked in the Alps

Photo: Saint Bernard pass. The closest I’ve come to cycling in a fridge.

Three days of naked cycling in the Italian Alps. I’m sure you are relieved to know that I wasn’t cycling in the buff. I was information naked. My Garmin decided to give up the ghost before our “Alpentour”, so I had no ride computer in front of me. I lost count how many times I looked down to check on progress only to see naked handlebars.

As I made my living from selling information I wondered how I would get on without it. Would it be a liberating experience? Would it enhance my ride if I blindly climbed the mountains with no idea how far we had to go? Three naked days would answer these questions.

I signed up for the “Alpentour” with my Pansèr club mates with no idea where we were going, other than we’d see the Giro d’italia along the way. I was both naked and blind.

Our first day turned out to be climbing the Saint Bernard pass. It was a great surprise as the pass was used for the final scene of the original film “The Italian Job”. Two of my fellow riders will join me in London in June for ICC’s reliability ride called “The Italian Job“. Sometimes things just come together.

After 33km and 1,700m of climbing we had to call it a day. We were about 1km from the summit and the Swiss border but we could go no further. We had already gone through the “Strada Chiuso” signs but were determined to climb as far as the snow and ice would allow us:

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The descent was amazing. We picked our way through the ice, snow, rocks, ice melt water and barrier repairs for the first half, stopped for lunch then sped down to Aosta peaking at 70km/h and back to the hotel for a 120km round trip. A great day out.

The following day was a little gentler with only 1,500m of climbing over the Col de Jeux.

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That afternoon we watched one of the greatest moments of the Giro’s 101 year history. Chris Froome’s Maglia Rosa winning 80km solo breakaway. All the Italians in the bar applauded as he crossed the line.

Saturday was an epic day. It was my first time riding some of a Grand Tour route before the professionals took it on behind us. We joined the Giro course at Chambave and immediately started to climb the Col Saint Pantaléone. L and I dropped off the group as we were both suffering from back pain but what stunning scenery. A category 1 climb of 16.1km rising 1,167m:

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Our reward was the fast, twisty descent into Gran-Moulin. A compulsory coffee stop before resuming climbing up to the Giro stage finish at Cervinia. The closer we got to the finish the more road side parties we passed. The last 10km were glorious. Passing the Giro x Kms to go markers made it seem a lot quicker and easier than it was. A group of German fans at the 8km marker were handing out red wine and sausage to any rider making the effort to get up the mountain. A great atmosphere.

The thing I loved about being at the finish was watching the pros on the large TV screen climbing the very same route we had done a few hours earlier. It was like having a kick about on the pitch at Wembley before the Cup Final. The stage itself wasn’t that exciting as Sunweb, unlike Team Sky the day before, had no daring plan. Dumoulin attacked with 8km to go (maybe it was the threat of that German sausage) but Froome easily stayed with him and then attacked him in return. The Maglia Rosa was going to be Froome’s in Rome.

After the race we got chatting with a cameraman from RAI Sport. He advised us to wait by the gate that they use to release all the team cars, media and VIPs so that they can speed back down the mountain. We were the first cyclists to be released and joined the pros returning to their team buses. It was quite embarrassing being mistaken for pro riders as fans congratulated us as we passed them. We did sort of earn it by climbing two Category 1 climbs to be there.

That’s when the day started to go a bit Pete Tong. Descending the mountain amongst the team cars, police motor bikes, and other riders F had a puncture. I stopped with him to help. By the time we were back on the road the heavens had opened up and we were getting very wet. So wet we stopped a few kms down the mountain at a shop and took shelter from the rain, then the hail stones. It was dark, windy, wet and slippery. Way too dangerous to descend in those conditions.

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In a lull in the rain we decided to make a break for it. Only 19km to go, all down hill. It should have been easy. Except it wasn’t. 19km on the brakes, dodging team cars, soaking wet, slick tyres and F’s rear wheel playing up. I was the only one with rear lights so we agreed I would follow F so that the drivers could at least see we were on the road. The rain filled the pot holes so we couldn’t see them. Every now and then one of us would thud through a hole and hope for no more punctures. The rain got worse, our core temperature dropped dramatically. I started shivering. It was either stop or just put up with it. We decided to keep going. We made it ok, but that was quite an experience, not one I’m keen to repeat. So much so we hugged each other at the bottom. Kindred spirits. We had made it down in one piece but in desperate need to warm up.

Things didn’t get better after dinner. We watched the Champions League final. Jan, my wife,  is a Liverpudlian and a very knowledgable Reds fan. She was watching the match with friends back in Marche. “Who is your weakest link?” our friend asked before the match. “Karius” she replied without hesitation. How right she was. We witnessed two extraordinary sporting performances in two days. Froome at one of the scale, Karius at the other.

We got back to Marche on Sunday afternoon. I had my new toy to play with, my Wahoo ELEMNT cycling computer. No more nakedness. I have to confess that, as a control freak and information nerd I didn’t find the computer free experience liberating. I much prefer to know what I’m in for so I can plan for it. It’s just the way I am. Planning is my blood. It’s what I do.

 

Year to date

6,090km / 59 rides / 103.2 km average per ride

62,931m elevation gain (7.1 Everests)

4 comments

  • I feel so sorry for Karius, because he tries hard but he lacks consistency, and that was why I said his name. It gives me no pleasure to have named and shamed him. Hopefully he can be a Froome type hero next season. Because no matter what mistake he made no one deserves death threats for a football match

    Liked by 1 person

  • As a dutchman, I have to admit that Froome was out of category. Dumoulin wasn’t strong enough to beat him. Good to know you are home save and in one piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  • What an experience! In years to come you will look back on it with nostalgia if not incredulance. Well done. A, J and G

    Liked by 1 person

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