"Crap," I (Brandon) said to myself as I woke up to the pitter-patter of rain as it fell on the balcony outside our hotel room the morning of stage 5. For the second time in three days, we were going to start a stage in the 2011 TransAlp in the pouring rain. We were also going to climb above 2000 meters, into the snow, and descend again, which meant we were going to freeze our asses off.
My teammate, Pete and I are woefully unprepared for freezing rain, and for that matter snow. Sure, we have arm and knee warmers, long-finger gloves, light jackets and vests, but we just didn't anticipate it to be so cold.
Since we were so ill-prepared for such horrible weather, we had to use some small plastic bags we purchased at a local market to make sock covers and over-mittens. We also had to ask for trash bags, which we wore as ponchos for the start of the race when there is so much road spray. We also pulled hotel shower-caps over our helmets, and loaded wool hats and extra jackets into our packs.
Our feeble attempt to stay dry and warm was fruitless. By the time we reached the top of today's first major climb, I was soaked like a drowned rat and therefore I suffered badly on the long, cold descent. If you are a cyclist, you know that light jackets, knee warmers, and other basic gear is no match for a 45-minute descent in freezing rain. My body was frozen to the core, and all I could focus on was not losing grip on my handlebars.
At the start of they stage the announcer mentioned they may cut the stage short of the summit of the second huge climb for safety reasons. The second mountain went even higher than the first climb which meant it would be even colder with more snow. As luck would have it, I was just starting to recover some tiny bit of warmth when we passed through the first feed zone and a woman was holding a tiny, hand-written sign that simply said "Finish 20k." This meant no second mountain top, and it was the first time I smiled all day. (Insert from Pete: Actually Brandon smiled all morning and during the first hour of racing, as usual. It was only on the downhill that he became grim -- and hypothermic.)
My smile didn't last too long because after we finished the abbreviated stage, we still had to ride to the finish town which was 30km away... including climbing over and descending the Passo Falzarego. For those of you at home who do not know the Passo Falzarego, either Google it or just think big-ass-Giro d'Italia-climb. The ascent was not too bad because we were still cold and wet, so hard pedaling warmed us up. (But really hurts the legs.) What nearly killed me was the descent. I can't get over how long some of the road descents are here in Italy. They seem to go on forever -- and are even longer when your lips are blue and you can't feel your fingers or toes.
Pete Continues: The epicness of the weather was thankfully accompanied by the beauty of the region and the finish village of Alleghe. We are here in the Dolomites, and for me these are the most stunning mountains in the world. Massive spires of rock erupt skyward everywhere you look, and beautiful towns nestle in deep valleys. Today we passed the Cinque Torre, or 5 Towers, and the view of these vertical fingers of rock helped Brandon and I crawl over the Falzarengo and make it to Alleghe.
We also passed thru the famous olympic town of Cortina during the stage, and a glimpse of the legendary ski runs and bobsled track gave us some motivation.
What amazed me most about today was the flat-out toughness of the racers. Brandon and I have suffered thru our share of really cold days on the bike, and I like to think I'm tough, but after today I have a renewed respect and awe for how tough many of the TransAlp racers are. Most riders had similar kit to ours, and many had less. Yet they pushed on without a word of complaint. One rider even blazed passed us on the downhill with only shorts and a short-sleeve jersey for insulation!
Today we finished 12th, and slipped one spot to 7th on the G.C. I think. We backed off our pace to preserve whatever warmth we could, and made a handful of pit stops to shift clothing. We're a bit surprised we didn't lose more time, and are glad to be hanging in the top part of our class. With the top 3 places way out in front, we are happy to ride without fighting for every minute. Three stages still remain, and I'm sure they will be as taxing as the five completed so far. Let's just hope the sun comes out!
Today's stage on Strava is here: http://app.strava.com/rides/975958
Ciao from the Dolomiti,
Pete and Brandon