In July, we – #5thLDN – set off on our now annual ‘training camp’. I use the words training camp lightly, as although this is about riding our bikes (hard) as a team, it’s also about riding as a group of friends. Eating together, drinking coffee (and beer) and sharing an incredible experience.
This year’s location were The Dolomites – an infamous mountain range in North Eastern Italy, known for it’s rugged, imposing rocky landscape and being home to some of the greatest cycling roads in the alps, if not the world.
As with last year’s camp, we had the pleasure of being joined again by Angus Sung – 5th Floor long term friend and photographer to document the trip.
The trip was split into two halves, 3 days near Corvara before transferring to Bormio for the final 3 days.
Day 0 – Getting there
I won’t go into too much detail of the stress getting seven riders and bikes to a remote house in Italy but highlights included cars not big enough for bike boxes, arguments with taxi drivers, two people missing their flight after spending too much time in the business lounge (cough*George*cough*Reece), long wait for car hire, swapping drivers, paying more for insurance, swapping drivers again, closed supermarkets, re-scheduled flights, more car hire and late arrivals. Phew – anyway, we all made it.
Bikes assembled and cleaned.
Kit laid out, ready for the mountains.
Day 1 – Go big or go home
The route planned for day one was the ‘Maratona dles Dolomites’ – The Dolomites Marathon. Each year thousands of riders from across the globe travel to Northern Italy to ride this famous Gran Fondo – but today it was just us. The route takes in seven mountain passes over 140km with 4000m+ of climbing. Nothing like taking it easy on the first day.
After the stressful day of travelling, an hour transfer from the house and the inevitable first day faffing, we were all more than ready to get on our bikes. Suited up in our adidas 2015/16 racing kit and with the sun shining on us – we were literally bouncing our front wheels with excitement. Straight out of the car park, right up the road and – bang, there was the first climb. No warming up, no spinning of the legs – straight into it.
The first part of the course is called the Sellaronda – a loop made up of 4 passes; Campolongo (5.8km, 6.1%), Pordoi (9.2km, 6.9%), Sella (5.5km, 7.9%) and Gardena (5.8km, 4.3%).
Full of excitement, we of course set off too fast. With myself, Alex and Daniel starting to test each other on the Pordoi, the second climb of the day. We soon calmed down though when we realised how much riding and climbing we still had left.
I knew this trip would be ‘hilly’ but I didn’t quite realise was that there would literally be no flat. It was either up or down. Slow or fast. No in-between. As soon as we’d reach the bottom a descent, the next mountain was right there, staring down at us.
After the completing the Sellaronda loop, it was back into Corvara to refuel. We were all feeling the heat – and the hills – so plenty of water and pasta before saddling up again for the second half.
We’d been warned that the second half was going to be even tougher than the first but could never imagine just how tough. There were still 3 climbs left – Campolongo (again), Giau (9.9km, 9.3%) and finally Falzarego/ Valparola (11.5km, 5.8%). There was talk about cutting the day short but in the end we all kept going.
Giau. This word now fills me with dread. The sixth and steepest pass of the route. And with 85km already in our legs, we weren’t exactly feeling fresh.
I can’t actually put into words how difficult climbing Giau was. I remember shouting to Angus as I rode past ‘THIS IS THE HARDEST PHYSICAL THING I’VE EVER DONE’, though I’m not sure just how comprehensible I was. Out of water, legs barely turning the pedals and I still couldn’t see the top. At times I thought I might have to get stop and get off. Stop and get off? I haven’t done that for years. So on I plodded, one pedal stroke at a time.
Rudy and Pasquale fill their bottles
One by one we made it to the summit. And after a quick breather and Coke, we were just about ready to go again. All we could think about now was getting back but there was still one last climb.
Reece pushes on
Last km to the summit
Day 2 – Let’s take this easy
After such a big first day, we made the collective decision to take it easier on the second day – plus it was George’s Birthday so BBQ and beers were awaiting. A more reasonable 70km with just under 2000m of climbing, going over Passo Fedaia and Passo Pordoi (from the opposite direction to yesterday).
Adistar training kit and vintage Oakleys were order of the day.
Alex leads the way up (again!)
Pasquale with the lookback.
Day 3 – Tre Cime
Time to step it up again. 4 passes today including the legendary Tre Cime di Lavaredo – the three peaks of Lavaredo. Legs were definitely starting to feel heavy all round so the first couple of climbs were taken at a steady pace.
Working as a team on the lower sections of the first climb.
The adidas team gillet was a stand out piece of kit for team. Perfect to throw on the for the descents and whip back into the pockets for the climb.
Not only was Angus our team photographer and support car driver but also awesome soigneur, chef and mechanic. Filling bottles, making rices cakes and fixing bikes (he stopped at the massages though).
I think Tre Cime might have been my favourite climb of the trip. It’s 5km long with a 9% average gradient but it’s the final couple of kilometres that are killer – ramping up to over 20% in parts.
Once you’re at the top, the only option is to turn around and go back down. No where else to go. There’s something I quite like about this – the only reason to take that road is to reach the top.
You vs mountain. Nothing else.
It’s almost impossible to capture the steepness in a photo but these two certainly come close
After buying a new cassette with some sensible mountain gearing, George quickly proved himself not only to be a strong track rider but climber as well, breaking into the 7th place on Strava for Tre Cime.
Pasuale’s dinner leftovers never went to waste.
Rudy shows us how it’s done.
Final climb of the day out of Cortina.
So that was Part I of #5thDolomites. It’s almost impossible to condense so many experiences into one blog post but hopefully it gives you a taster.
For most people reading this, the names of these climbs – Pordoi, Fedaia, Gaiu, Tre Cime – the percentages and the kilometres won’t mean much. And it was the same for me before the trip.
But after experiencing them, they each hold a different feeling. I remember exactly how I felt on each approach, on every tornante, reaching the summit. When I felt good and when I felt shit. When I was alone and when my teammates were with me.
You can look at maps, graphs and gradients all you want, but nothing prepares you for the real thing.