With not much time to spare, I got myself ready, had a quick warm up with one practice lap to see what the course was like (HARD!!!) and then lined with with the other 110+ riders.
I am not the most experienced cross rider, but one thing I know is that having a good start is very important. I got a good place at the start line, but after a massive crash on the first straight, which I got caught behind, left me in the middle of the field. I ended up staying there throughout the whole race, I went back and forth with a few riders but maintained my position. The course was HARD, hilly, technical and long.
As I was going back the next day for round 2, I had a quick warm down on the rollers then we headed to the hotel. Little do the hotel staff know, after my shower I cleaned my bike in the bath.
After a cheeky Nando’s (safest option when not knowing where to eat) and the cheapest round of beer I have ever ordered, it was time to get ready for bed and mentally prepare for the next day.
Sunday. The same course, same off camber corners, same long gravel climb, same stairs and much more mud were there waiting for me and my team mate Alex Blomeley.
I had a great start this time, sitting in the top 10, then after a shit mid race and a better end of the race I ended up 38th out of 88th. Meh! But I still had a blast. Thank you Rapha for putting up a great event! Gutted I cannot make the round 3 in London, but Alex will be there dropping hammers for me.
For the past 5 days, pairs of riders have been battling it out in the first ever London Six Day Race. Well I say first ever, that’s a lie, Six Day Racing was invented in London but it’s been a while since it’s been back.
For those that haven’t heard of Six Day Racing (and that included me), it’s pretty much what it says on the tin. Six consecutive days of racing where teams of two riders compete for an overall classification. The objective is to complete as many laps as possible, gaining points along the way.
Vita Coco were one of the main supporters for event and were kind enough to supply 5thLDN with some tickets (best seats in the house no-less: front row, finish line).
There was a huge mix of riders; in terms of age, nationality and experience. Niki Terpstra was probably the most recognisable name, winner of Paris-Roubaix 2014 along with riders from all over Europe, Japan and the US. There were plenty of GB up-and-comers as well, including Adam Blythe, Germain Burton, Mark Stewart, Ollie Wood and the ever entertaining Matt ‘Legs’ Rotherham. Seriously, his legs were massive. And he’s only 20 years old, wtf.
Madison, derny and keirin are arguably 3 of the most exciting track events to watch so having them back to back in one night was insanely good. Throw in a few sprints and time trials and you get a seriously good night of racing.
Thanks again to Vita Coco for the awesome seats and to TimeOut for the last minute tickets for Monday evening.
Sunday was the first cyclocross race of the 2015/2016 London CX League for myself and Alex Blomeley. I have a feeling it was the last day of summer, store the sun was out, was nice and warm, dry race, etc. I believe it will be a mud fest from now on. #CrossIsHere.
Photographer and friend Jon Baines was there with us and as usual captured some great shots. Click more below for the full set.
After the first three days of unbelievable of cycling in the Dolomites it was hard to imagine somewhere having a more challenging and beautiful environment than Arabba, however Pasquale’s excitement was indicative that the best was yet to come. Despite riding and racing together day in day out in London, the mountains drew out a different set of strengths and weaknesses for each of us. It was really exciting to see who favoured which type of climbs and the subsequent fresh [light hearted] rivalries that formed within the team.
Day 5 – Bormio – Stelvio – Santa Maria – Stelvio – Bormio
Having driven up the Stelvio the day prior, we had a pretty good idea of what we were in for; George and I decided to cruise up our first ascent of the Stelvio (from Bormio) at a steady pace so that we would have something left for the afternoon’s prestigious pass from the North, Gomagoi.
The changing landscape and narrow tunnelled sections broke the climb up nicely. As we approached the final few kms before the summit, the temperature dropped by nearly 10 degrees and at over 2,700m any increases in the pace seemed to have an hugely exaggerated effect on the heart and lungs. As we regrouped at the pass, packs of motorcycle riders and German sports car drivers were also huddling around each other, all buzzing off their own ascent, it was clear that this was a really special climb for anyone on wheels!
The descent back down into Santa Maria (Switzerland) was quick; the long sweeping bends provided great visibility of road ahead as Alex and I were clocking over 90 km/h as we chased each other down the mountain before dropping into town for some lunch.
After a mountain of Swiss priced coffee and pasta we headed for Gomagoi which marks the real start of the Stelvio ascent from the North. The group were pretty quiet as we started to climb, maybe something to do with anticipation of what lay ahead. Just as we approached the first switchback (48 to go), we were joined by four Team Garmin Cannondale riders complete with team car entourage. The team were out to trim up for the Vuelta and were also on their second repetition of the day, something tells me they didn’t have the same 300g pasta lunch that we did!
The concrete turreted sidewalls of the switchbacks gave the road the relentless and aggressive feel of a fortress and the gradient was savage, the only way of varying the difficulty was to take wide lines through corners to either create a shorter ramp up, or skirt around the outside for a couple of easy pedal turns. As we approached the final group of switchbacks, I heard the Garmin rider Alan Marangoni shout “f#%k the Stelvio!”, that seemed sum it up the last 60 minutes quite succinctly.
Our fifth day cycling was planned as a rolling rest day, approximately 80 km with a few rolling hills. After setting off down the valley we descended for most of the morning and as we caught a glimpse of the beastly Mortirolo to our left, suspicions were building that we may well have a full afternoon of climbing on our hands.
After stopping in Tirano for a quick bite, we turned west [and more relevantly, upwards] towards Miralago. The gradual ascent through the valley provided some welcome variety to the aggressive climbs that we’d been hitting all week, and as we passed through some of the small villages, we took every opportunity to stop for a snack and fill our bottles with cleanest and coldest fountain water imaginable.
With about 30 km to go, the heavens opened and we had to don the spray tops for the first time; thunderstorms in the mountains seem to elevate you up into the heart of the thunder and lightning, creating a charged atmosphere, it was pretty exciting.
The Mortirolo is 12.5km long and an average gradient of 10.5% however some of the kicks go as far as 18%, it’s a giant. We were all in high spirits and feel fairly fresh after our easier day previously, and it was also great to be joined by Pasquale’s friend Diego De Francesco who joined us for the day. As we hit the foot of the Mortirolo the excessive gradient becomes immediately apparent and each of us bunkered down for what was to be a brutal climb.
There was some relief as the quite narrow road was shaded by overhanging trees provided a complete contrast to the open and exposed mountains we’d been scaling all week.
There was still some residual moisture on the road from the day before and I could feel the rear wheel slipping on the steep sections. As we passed the 1500 to go, road began to flatten off and the trees opened out and we each gave it our all in a final dig across the finish line. Unlike all the other climbs covered that week, the summit was perfectly sheltered from the elements by the surrounding forest and it provided the perfect place to sit and debrief on the hardest sections before headed down to Vezza d’Oglio for lunch.
The final climb of the day [and the week] was the Gavia, there was no need to hold anything back on this one, the route from the summit would be downhill all the way back to Bormio. The ascent was a steady 8-10% and with the narrow road having no barrier in most parts, it provided some unbelievable views of the mountains and valley below as we knocked off each of the switchbacks.
As we approached the final kms it was so challenging to prevent yourself from mentally preparing for the finish and subsequently the legs began to stiffen up in anticipation. Turning the last hairpin bought the summit restaurant into view and with a final 250m push, we were there.
As Luke mentions in Part I, it was an amazing place to go for training but the trip was really all about incredible food (and booze), extravagant places to stay, beautiful scenery, iconic climbs and above all riding with your mates.
A huge thanks to all our supporters for helping us up and over the mountains – in particular Workshop for coffee, Vita Coco keeping us hydrated and adidas for the awesome kit, we put it to the ultimate test. An even bigger thanks to Angus Sung. Not just an amazing photographer and friend but support driver, soigneur and mechanic – we couldn’t have done it without you.
‘Beating the sun’ normally involves getting out of work sharper than usual and hauling ass over the George W bridge, go as far as you dare and make it back over before the light drops completely.
CX season being around the corner we did with a twist hitting some walking and therefore pretty techy trails that skirted above the usual blacktop below. The result was that the sun won. Though we’ll take losing if this is what it looks like.
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.