Four stages down, four to go...
(linky if you missed part one, or Rachel's review of her expectations)
Stage 5: Alleghe to San Martino di Castrozza
73km, 3150m climbing
In all honesty we hadn't really looked into the profile of the latter stages of the race before we'd headed out so it wasn't until they were upon us that it dawned on us quite how big these days were to be. The day started pretty well with an undulating profile rather than one or two big climbs until the final mammoth climb which passed through an incredibly picturesque valley. To our surprise we were also making time up on the teams in front of us in the overall ranking as well as putting time into those behind, maybe everyone else was feeling even more tired than us.
104km, 2800m climbing
On paper this stage didn't look too bad, there was considerably more downhill than up and a long road section in the middle to eat up the kms. Or so we thought.
We reached the bottom of the main climb of the day at 3hrs in with temperatures in the mid 30s. We then preceded to climb a 10% average gravel trail for 10km before another 10km of more undulating trails in which we gained another 400m elevation. I'd run out of drink about half-way up the climb, although Ant had manage to conserve a few mouth-fulls for nearer the top. The lack of fluid alone was a killer but it also impacted on how much we were able to eat. Over two hours later we finally reached the feed station. We were absolutely exhausted struggling from the heat and lack of fluid and food and limped slowly back on a gravel descent which included over 100 switch backs. Amazingly we finished within a few seconds of our closest rivals, we weren't the only ones who'd had a hard day. A delayed transfer to our hotel and lost driver just about finished us off, the toughest day by far.
Stage 7: Crespano del Grappa to Roverto
I was still suffering from the heat and dehydration of the day before when we were on the start line of stage 7. The fact that it was over 30 degrees and not even 8am wasn't helping and the 3000m in 120km ahead was seeming insurmountable. I had to have a very big chat with myself that morning. Luckily for me Ant is nothing if he isn't a team player and after we got started decided to make me feel better by having an even worse day on the bike than me. We were very glad to see the end of the stage. With just one short stage to go we were pretty much there.
Stage 8: Roverto to Riva del Garda
39km, 1300m climbing
Today was more about the finish than the stage itself with less than 40km of riding to do, just one up and then one down. If you'd made it this far - and over 25% of starters hadn't - then you were as good as done. The route headed out through town for a few km until it kicked up the road for the climb, a natural point for a quick change down through the gears. Or, if you prefer, to snap your rear mech, break a spoke and puncture. We couldn't believe it, we'd made it this far and with just over 20 miles to go we were risking not making it. We set about bodging a fix the best we could whilst the rest of the field rode on by. Then the marshals collecting in the direction signs rode on by. And then, after stopping for a bit of a chat, the sweeper bus went on by. The final insult. Eventually we got rolling again, or, in Ant's case, wobbling on a very wonky rear wheel on a newly built singlespeed. The sweeper bus team, who had stopped ahead to point us in the right direction given the removal of the direction signs, applauded as we went by. We gradually began to pick off the back markers and eventually made it up to somewhere reasonably respectable in the field.
After 680km and over 20,000m of climbing we finished 29th out of an original 58 in the mixed pairs. Not bad but lots and lots of room for improvement, if only we had some hills to train on....
It was a pairs race but we're indebted to the help of many for getting us there and helping us through:
A Quick Release coaching - we can only dream about emulating Kate Potter's win
Cotic - if only our legs were as strong as the bikes
Torq - our bags were a lot lighter on the way home after we consumed all those gels, bars and drink to keep us going
And a special thanks to Sally and Dave at Topeak-Ergon who looked after our recovery drinks each day so we could grab at the finish - it's things like this that make all the difference.