We are a group of friends who enjoy cycling together - every three years we find a new way to torture ourselves on bikes and then decide to get sponsored so that people can watch us suffer.

So after LEJOG (Lands End to John O’Groats) in 2004 and LeKnees (The Atlantic to The Mediterranean along and over the Pyrenees) in 2007, we are now asking you to support our L’Express ride: Paris to Venice in 2010.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Day 11: Langerfeld to Saltusio

Low tech post delivered by whispering into a mobile to avoid waking to exhausted cyclists in adjacent tents, so please forgive any misspellings!

We woke up this morning to mist clearing to blue skies, which was a pleasant surprise. It also meant we were treated to beautiful views of the mountains all around us, some with fresh snow on their peaks.

It was very cold as we packed up our stuff, but the glorious view took our minds off it. We got away by 9.30, and restarted our long climb to top of valley.

 Blue sky and mountains on the way to Solden.

At Solden the mountains that will accompany us for the final part of the climb show themselves.

This valley is a major ski area, so everywhere it set up for skiing with lots of hotels and guest houses everywhere, and shops selling skiing stuff.  We stopped at Solden - where the climb started in earnest, so we got a bit of extra food for lunch and put on sun-creme in honour of the better weather. Solden doesn't seem to be our sort of place, we decided, as we noticed that the fashion shop our bikes were proped against was selling designer-torn jeans for 229 Euros a pair, and t-shirts at 140 Euros each! Jeremy thought that for 229 E, they could at least have mended the jeans...

Solden is 38km from where we'd begun the 60km climb. Up until then, we'd been treated to mostly gentle climbing with just the odd steep bit, and climbed 1400m quite gradually. The sting in the tail is that the last 22km rises 1100m. As we left the rather soulless town the road got steep immediately, then then there was a brief drop and it flattened out, just to tease us before we started climbing in earnest. The way the road is laid out meant that it disappeared from view but we could see where it re-emerged a huge distance up the mountain, and just how steep it was! Fortunately for us, the climb was testing but not soul destroying. It also had some enforced rest stops - when we reached bit we'd seen from below, there was a customs point just short of the border - at over 2100m.

Looking back towards Solden from near the customs post. Our road up is just visible on the right.

After that, the road made a very cruel swoop down 100m - before settling into a fairly steady 10% slope for the last 4km or so. We'd have settled for something flatter, but it wasn't as bad as we'd feared. The base of the 100m drop also had a curious bit of sculpture, a massive cube - with maybe 5m high sides, which held the impression of a human form - maybe someone who'd thrown themselves at the thing in frustration at losing 100m height?!

Jeremy and John C took just over 2 hours to get from Solden to the top of the Timmelsjach Pass. Roy took a little longer, but his team mates didn't mind, as they were happily enjoying the fare in the cafe at the top. All together again at the summit, the three of us realised that, at 2509m, we were higher than we'd ever been on bikes before. Even when we were in the Pyrenees, our highest point on the Tourmalet was lower than this.

As well as the cafe, the summit had a funny little concrete building which has been made to look as if it's almost floating and in the shape of a crystal. This had an exhibition about the pass, so we had a quick look before the long downhill.

JR and John C at the col cafe. We are happy, both to have reached the top and to find some warm shelter and food there!

Roy reaches the top. The crystal-shaped building contains an exhibition on the history of the pass.

A view into Italy from the crystal room.

The descent was utterly spectacular, giving clear views of the road below falling in multiple zigzags down a near vertical face with amazingly close and huge mountains all around. It was actually almost overwhelming in scale and an experience we won't forget.  The slope eventually calmed down, and gave way to a more gradual downward meander through lovely little villages and farmland.

 Here comes the descent, John C upper left.

The descent continues more gently further into Italy.

Then we came to the village of San Leonardo where we came across a huge traffic jam. We cycled past the cars for a while before realising that we hadn't had lunch, though it was 4 o'clock by now, so we sat on the grass next to the road and enjoyed our food. In all this time, the traffic didn't move but some emergency vehicles sped past. We packed up again and overtook the jam until we found the problem. There had obviously been a horrific accident. It looked as if a vehicle had become pretty much embedded in a wall, though we couldn't see for sure as a tent had been put up around the vehicle, though we could here the sounds of cutting tools from inside it. On reflection, we were very glad we'd decided to do the cafe stop and potter around the exhibition at the pass. (Sad note: a glimpsed headline on Day 12 reported a fatal crash with the car having been crushed in to a wall by a lorry).

The police started directing traffic through, but obviously the road was narrow and everyone was in a hurry now, so this didn't really leave room for us on the road. Fortunately a local cyclist turned up and showed us a nice quiet cycle-route we could take instead. We followed if for around 8-9km, some parts a bit rougher than others, but not bad, when suddenly there was a loud banging from Jeremy's bike hub and he ground to a halt. Fortunately his iPad showed that there was a campsite close by - only 400m away, in fact. So we quickly went to plan Z and stopped here for the night at Saltusio which is just north of Merano. Now we're in Italy, of course we went into the town for a pizza (very nice, and reasonably priced), and the clear night meant that as we walked back along the river, we could look up the valley and see the scattered chain of lights marking the settlements strung up the mountainside and showing us where we've come from. It all looked quite magical.

So - we're elated but we've got a problem. Essentially Jeremy can't free-wheel with his broken hub, so he's got to keep pedaling as if he's riding a fixed wheel. This pretty much rules out any more really steep routes, which means we probably need to ditch the diversion into the Dolomites that we had planned. Truthfully, this doesn't dismay us completely as we are all fairly exhausted after so many days in a row of hard climbing, and the early stop left us a long way short of our goal for today anyway. Our current plan is to see if we can get the hub mended or made more usable, which might work, since this is the country of Campagnolo equipment, and they will probably be delighted when they see the Englishman with the severe Campag fetish coming through the door. Jeremy's main worry is explaining the need for a working solution when he doesn't have any Italian, and only a smattering of German. We're all so glad that the hub didn't die at the top of the mountain!

Vital Statistics
78km / 50 miles travelled (short due to abrupt stop), climbed 1155m (started just short of 1200m this morning). 4627 calories used, 4 hours 32 in saddle, average speed 17.2, max speed 55.2kph.

1 comment:

  1. eek - fingers firmly crossed for quick resolution of hub problem.... at least you still have brakes (quick - touch wood!)
    the cube with the impression of a body makes me think of Wile E Coyote.....

    viva Italia!

    verification word:
    reldsob: an under-the-breath snivel