Photo: Struggling towards the summit
“Time is of the essence”. A legal term expressing the need for timely completion. This dominated my thinking for the first 150km of the 300km RandoMarca Delle Dolomiti. The challenge wasn’t to complete the audax within the 20 hour limit, but to get half way round in less than 10. Why? A small matter of starting at sea level, climbing to 1,200m at Cortina D’Ampezzo then climbing another 1,000m over the Passo Giau.
The world has changed. So has audaxing. No mass start, no paper brevet card, no organisers at the controls. For my first audax since the pandemic, we could start at anytime between 05:00 and 08:00 by scanning a QR code to start the clock on a phone app. The same at the controls. Bar owners were happy to host a QR code in return for lots of thirsty and hungry cyclists passing through. The app works out if you made the cut off at each control and then posts the results for all to see. Friends and family can also track you on your way round. I suspect the technology is here to stay, though it does exclude the old school riders who don’t use a smartphone.
Salvatore, who I met in a PBP 2019 qualifier messaged me a few weeks ago to ask when we’d ride together again. Hardly the easiest way to resume audaxing but I signed up. Salvatore’s friend Giorgio made up our little trio.
“Beep” the app timed our arrival at the first control (37km) at 1 hour 27 minutes. Thanks to the pan flat first 25km we had an hour in the bank already. Next up was the 90km to the control 1,000m higher in the sky.
Every 15km I compared the time allowed against our actual time reported by the app. We were slowly adding time to the bank.
The route frequently switched between the road and a cycle path. As they were so close together our navigation sometimes struggled to distinguish. At one swap over Giorgio turned off the road for the path. I was so busy looking at him and the navigation that I drifted into the gutter and lost my front wheel. Crunch. The sound of knee, hip and shoulder hitting the tarmac. School boy error, completely my fault. The embarrassment was worse than the pain. We also lost some time checking me and the bike. Tick tock.
The next QR code beep revealed we’d built up a 2 hour cushion. We were going to need it as the next control was in the valley the other side of Passo Giau. From Cortina D’Ampezzo to the summit it’s 17km and just over 1,000m higher. No way could we manage the audax minimum speed of 15km/h so we’d be dipping into our time bank. Hopefully we had enough credit to cover it. Tick tock.
Passo Giau is a real challenge to climb. It’s relentless. I didn’t have the mental capacity to check how much time we were using up, it was all about keeping the wheels turning, sometimes very slowly. About half way up a young man overtook me. I just focussed on my ride. Imagine how surprised I was when he stopped to walk up a steep section. He overtook me again, then walked another section. I left him behind as he continued to walk. I didn’t see him again until the summit. The Giau can do that to you.
With about 4km to go I felt my legs getting wobbly. The fuel tank was near empty. I carry an energy gel for emergency use. My upper body started shaking. This was an emergency. The gel did the trick. Just enough to grind my way to the 2,236m summit. At the top I slumped over my bars waiting for my heart rate to come down and the shakes to stop. I had at least made the climb without stopping.
A few minutes later the prized photo.
The view from the top is stunning:
Sitting in the bar I worked out that we’d used up all but one hour of our time bank. The same amount of time we’d put into the bank at the first control. Just as well we rode fast along the flat at the beginning. As the next 71km were all downhill we were free of the tyranny of the ticker. No more tick tock.
After the descent of the Giau the next control included a panino and a drink. This is the drink I chose, I felt I deserved it.
Audax organisers often like to put a little sting in the tale of long rides. This was no exception. This one was called Passo Boldo at 219km in. It was a 10km category 3 climb, a short descent then another 4km category 3. That doesn’t tell the story as the first part included 10-15% sections. It was hard. I think I know why they chose it though. It meant we descended through the fabulous tunnel complex from San Boldo.
One more smaller climb and a final panino and beer, we headed downhill and along the flat to the finish. Our final beep clocked us in with two and a half hours to spare. It was just before midnight. Just a small matter of a 346km drive home to finish the day and collapse in my bed at 4am. Quite a day.
Thank you to Salvatore and Georgio for the company and making sure I got round in time. I really don’t think I would have made the summit within the time if I’d been on my own.
One final thought.
One of my cycling buddies left this message on my Strava ride that brilliantly summarises climbing the Giau:
“One of our riders still says her sense of humour still rests somewhere near the bottom of the climb”Mike West