With Stage 19 in the bag, the Grand Tours Project team went onto Stage 20. Here’s a look back at the highlights of my #giroproject.
Stage 20 was a chunky day. With over 4000 metres of climbing over a relatively short course, the day was set to be a true challenge. Following the “warm up” Col du Vars came the mighty Col de la Bonnette, wild, exposed and entirely moonscape like. You may not have seen much footage of the Bonette from the Giro itself on that day, as the helicopters were prevented from going over the summit to protect the spring activity of the marmots (the alpine mammal king)…but it did mean they also missed out on the caravan freebies…
My #giroproject for Stage 20 was to ride the Colle della Lombarda in a respectable time. Having done Vars and the Bonette previously, and wanting to stay on the road before it was closed, I started my day at the halfway point in the race.
The descent on the southern side of the Bonette is pretty special, as it winds its way down long flowing loops, with corners you can see around so you can take them at speed. There was hardly a soul on the road, a handful of riders coming up and a few police cars, but apart from that I had the road to myself. Magic.
Hairdryers and Orangina
As the road started to come into the narrower part of the valley, the warm headwind made things pretty tough. Think hairdryer on face at 50kph. Again, feeling cheated by a descent I had to pedal hard on, when reaching the town of Isola I managed to find a cold can of Orangina (sugary drink of champions) before starting the Colle della Lombarda– 1500 meters of ascent over 20kms.
The climb started steep. Everyone’s favourite… It was hot without shade, and my legs were shouting at me from the off. With jersey unzipped, and gloves off, I stopped to rest under any small patch of shade or next to any waterfall I could for a few minutes at a time. I broke the back of the hard bits which was good, because just as I found my rhythm again a cyclist pulled up next to me and we got chatting. Turns out it was Geoffroy Lequatre (aka G4), former pro cyclist for teams including Credit Agricole, Radioshack and Confidis. Lucky I had found my legs…act cool Rodney.
Creeping up towards the ski resort of Isola 2000, I had a car full of Luxumbourgers pass me a few times, hanging out of the window and asking me if I wanted a lift. Tempting on a few occasions, but even more satisfying to put your legs to work!
The final 3km: trying not to look like a chopper
Regrouping with Tim, Steve and Graham at Isola 2000, we then set off on the final 3km of the climb, where the crowds were gathered around each hairpin, watching us (the only cyclists) as we climbed up the closed road with interest, ‘who are these people?’ I could see them thinking. So best foot forward and trying not to look too much like a chopper we paced it up to the finish line, only to be stopped by yet another gendarme! The advice we received was as follows:
Mr Gendarme: “La route c’est ferme. You have to now walk”
Me (sad face): “But you don’t understand!! We can’t possibly walk!”
We tried to explain, so he called his boss who was a few hundred meters down the climb, and voila, we were let through! A wobbly start clipping in on a hill in front of a crowd (no pressure!) but we were off, sprinting towards the finish as the crowd cheered us through…INCREDIBLE!
We were into Italy, and with the sound of the helicopter looming in the distance and the race closing in behind us we sped off down towards the stage finish, enjoying smooth freshly laid single track roads, zipping into the forest and down towards the bottom of the col. Descending is clearly better for me than ascending, as I picked up the official descent QOM, averaging 48km/h and maxing at 64.8km/h. I’ll take that.
Stopping at the intersection for the final 2km climb up to the stage finish, we settled in on the bank with a picnic and a great view. It was wonderful being surrounded by hundreds of Italian fans and seeing the route lined all the way up to the monastery hill top finish. One of the official Giro cars was parked nearby and we could hear the race radio loud and clear, it was incredibly exciting hearing the time differences. The Italians started to go crazy- Nibali was leading and was going to win the Giro!
After the race we hopped in the van and continued down the valley to our next hotel along with the thousands of fans on foot, bikes, and the pros also weaving their way down the mountain ahead of the final day, Stage 21. Another incredible day.
Part 3 of my #giroproject to follow, the final day review: Stage 21, Cuneo to Turin.