Stage 3: 68km, 1270m ascent. Maximum time limit: 13hrs. Time taken: 5hrs 25min
Looking at the route map it looked like an easy day, just one climb and a long descent. I know this race better than to expect an easy day and the 11 maximum time limit was a clue that this was not an easy stage. The race briefing gave us full details, which was that it would be at least 3 hours walking! Our route was around one of Italy’s highest mountains, Monte Viso, which has a peak of 3841m. We were not going quite as high as that, but would top out at 2750m.
At the start of the day we had the luxury of a chairlift out of the village of Pontechienale, then at 2350m we started the first special stage straight away. A short but steep climb, then a traverse and into the singletrack. It was rideable for all of about 500m, then turned savage with big step downs and massive exposure on the right hand side. There were chain railings to hold onto on our left and a several hundred meter drop on the right. At one point we passed a memorial for someone who had died, presumably falling. It was extreme and in no way shape or form a MTB track. It went on for about 4km, then a brief rideable interlude before we crossed a funky narrow bridge and were given the bad news. “It’s all walking from here”. Great.
We were still racing, so I was keen to try and keep moving but any previous thoughts I had on improving my walking/carrying speed were obviously wrong as I was inching up. The track was steep with natural steps on roots and rocks from 1900m to 2700m. It seemed to take forever and reaching the top I was looking forward to a good descent as is usual at Iron Bike, but although most of the climbing was over, it stayed un-rideable crossing boulder fields for as far as the eye could see. We eventually hit a refuge, from which point the map was showing a 500m descent to the end of the special stage. I rounded the corner to even more climbing, then when we started to descent it was just boulders and snow. Not even Danny Mac would have been able to ride down, let alone little and very tired me on a XC bike! After 23km the misery ended, we hit the end of the special stage and I let off a sigh of relief and a few expletives mixed in there. Of the 23km, less than 5km was riding. I was sore and beaten up, my legs had been battered from the pedals, my ankles twisted and my quads were in agony from all the stepping up and down. From here it was just tarmac and dirt roads down hill all the way to the base camp at 60km, the worst stage of Iron Bike I’ve done in all 3 years. Later in the evening we had a special stage within the town of Cavour that we were staying. It was 2 laps up “The Rock” which is a lump, 150m high sticking out of the ground. It could have been lots of fun, but my chain jammed on the second time down the descent and left me even more angry! Later that evening I was able to reflect and although my stage times were poor I was still in 6th place. I always have a bad day at Iron Bike, I just hoped this stage would be the only one!
Stage 4: 86km. 3700m ascent. Maximum time limit: 12hrs. Time taken: 7hrs 5min
Upon waking up, the first thought I had was OMG, my legs hurt. After yesterdays ordeal my quads were in agony. I was reluctant to get moving, especially as we had another run up “The Rock” on cold legs. It was a late start to get the town involved and well past 9 by the time I started with the temperature already 27 degrees! The special stage up the rock went OK, not too crazy but my legs did seem to work at least!
After the fast start to the day we had a long climb up a mountain that I am familiar with after previous years. It was crazy hot, well above 30 and although some of the trees provided cover it was still hard work, being steep and loose in places. Thankfully it wasn’t a special stage so I just tapped a steady pace out. Thankfully there was an extra water stop on the climb and it was very welcome! Reaching the top there was a small descent then another long but steady climb which topped out at 1750m. It was only the top few hundred meters vertical when the cloud rolled over that it cooled down slightly, still mid 20’s though.
A fun, technical descent put a smile on my face from the top, dropping down root and rock steps, passing lots of riders who were walking. It continued for a while, then into singletrack switchbacks and eventually into a fast fireroad descent with lots of rounded drainage channels that made for great jump take offs! Reaching the bottom we immediately started climbing again, from the village of Villar Pellice at 450m to 1000m was all on steep asphalt, the temperature lower down was still crazy and I was stopping at water basin along the way up and holding my hands under the cold water after reading something recently about the British Army saying it was the best way to cool down. It seemed to do the trick, although I was sweating I could cope with it.
From 1000m we started special stage 2, immediately it went to gravel and it was steep and very loose. The first 5-6km were all hard work and I had to stay seated almost the whole time, which was hard for me. It was just about rideable to 2000m, although very hard and then a hike to the summit at 2250m. I knew the climb well, so I was expecting it and also dreading it after yesterday. Thankfully I was able to walk and push the bike for almost all of it and avoided big steps which really seemed to help and I was going as fast as I could. At the top, the first 100m or so was unrideable but then turned into a fun singletrack and then onto a wider gravel road with sketchy corners and switchbacks all the way back down to 1400m. A sting in the tail before the end of the special stage was another steep climb to a refuge, about 150m vertical but it still really hurt.
I was relieved to finish the special stage and hoped it would be enough to keep my position. The final 20km was relatively easy, almost all downhill on a gravel road then a bit of asphalt into the town of Torre Pellice where the locals were out to clap us in. After yesterdays poor stage I felt pretty good and in a much happier place. Hopefully there isn’t too much walking left as thats where I suffer. I’m in a real battle with 2 other people, all fighting for 5th spot but with 4 stages left there is still a huge amount left and anything can happen, and being Iron Bike it usually does.
Current overall position: 6th
Other British riders:
Simon Hawken: 23rd
Michael McCutcheon: 40th
Luke Harrison: 62nd