Distance today: 122 miles less the last descent!
Ascent today: 16,800 feet
Calories so far: 53,900
Distance to go: 240 miles
Ascent to go: 28,900 feet (just one Everest left)
Phil says: “There may “only” be four climbs on this stage, but each of them are Legends unto themselves and put together make up a massive second day with the Giants! At 2800m the Bonette is naturally our highest point of the ten days and the desolate landscape will underline this for us. From the Lombarde to the Larche (Colle della Maddalena) we are in Italy for the first time.”
What a day! So we started with the highest road pass in France and according to the signs on the way up, in Europe. Now I checked this out before I came and it’s complicated. It depends on whether it’s a pass (goes over the top and down the other side) or an up-and-back, whether it needs to be fully paved and so on. It turns out the Bonette probably isn’t the highest pass in Europe but at 2,700m or around 9,000ft it’s high – higher than I’ve ever been on a bike. It’s twice the height of Ben Nevis. We were worried about the weather the night before, this is serious mountain stuff and you don’t want to be out exposed on a bike that high up in bad weather. Phil checked it out. “There’s a 1% chance of rain before 9:30am” he said, “we’re going”. So we did. I think he may have had a spec of dirt on his screen so that 100% looked like 1.00%. Or it may have said “1% chance of rain but 99% chance of sleet/snow”. It was ghastly. It started raining almost immediately then it became snow. The temperature at the top dropped to freezing. The wind speed was gusty and high. I got to the top fine but wet and knew what was coming. I layered up with base layer, Rapha pro-team softshell (normally worn as a single waterproof solid outer layer), gillet, the Rapha hardshell (the expensive waterproof). I had hat, waterproof gloves and shoe covers. Frankly it made no difference. Off I went. There was sheets of water everywhere, the road was a river, braking into bends a nightmare as the brakes were almost ineffective and within a minute I was shivering so much the handlebars were bouncing. And the descent was 45km (30 miles) long! It took about 40 minutes. Goodness knows how I survived. At the bottom I put the bike against a wall and headed to a café. Well, tried to. My feet were totally numb and legs could hardly move. I almost fell down the four steps to the café. When inside I ordered hot chocolate but was shaking so much I couldn’t lift it off the table and had to slurp it. Four of us had made it down, all in similar shape. Others were rescued by the van and came in slowly. As far as we were concerned that was it. We were not heading back out on the bike again especially as the forecast was for rain on the other climbs.
Slowly I came to life wondering what plan Phil would have to get us to the hotel. He arrived, made a few calls, and told us it was clearing on the other peaks so the plan was to get back out and ride. That took a bit of getting my mind around! But we’re here to ride 100 cols so out we went clasping every bit of clothing I could lay my hands on. Predictably, I turned onto the next col and overheated immediately. Without a normal jersey (I’d been wearing the softshell) I ended up climbing in just my baselayer. So within 10 mins I’d gone from mild hypothermia to massive over-heating. Actually, the next col went well. Another massive one with over 1,200m or 4,000ft of climbing and I climbed well, shooting over the top and down to lunch. But even the dry descent had taken its toll and I was cold again. A quick lunch and back on the bike for col three.
Col 3 was a long steady climb, not my kind of thing. My legs objected and I trudged up. It stayed dry and life was OK. But clouds were gathering as I started the final col. By halfway up it was raining, by three-quarters it was torrential. Back to multiple layers but this was really not what I needed. I was swearing to myself a lot! Just as I got to the top of the last col and was preparing myself for another bout of hypothermia and brake block destruction one of the vans pulled by. “Are you OK?” they asked. “I’d love a lift down the descent”, I replied. And miracle of miracles, there was one seat left. I couldn’t have been more relieved. So in I jumped. Did I quit? Well I did all the cols, and I did the sensible thing, and that’s all that matters.
As might be expected there was massive attrition today. A couple of people had stomach upsets, many didn’t want to re-start after the first col and the loss of time in the café meant many couldn’t finish in time. Van after van went to and from the hotel carrying bikes and people. I suspect about 6 of us climbed all the cols.
And we do it all again tomorrow with another four massive climbs in Italy – if it’s wet again they’ll be a lot more swearing from me.