3 days done, that’s the halfway point and we are on the run in now… except when its 3 days with elevation profiles that look like sharks teeth!
On paper it was only 61km to Grächen, but within that it contained 3000m of climbing. How is that even possible?! On a road bike back home in Wales I have to do a minimum of 140km to get over 3000m – and that is by doing “The Monster” route I devised, ie. up every big hill there is.
After a few days of not quite getting the pacing right as a pair, today we tried something different and tried to go steady at the start, pushing hard towards the end. There was the usual climb soon after the start, but instead of a 400 vertical meter sufferfest, it was a more manageable 200 vertical meter climb. I pushed on, knowing the climb wouldn’t take too long, but there was no sign of Stu. Every other morning he smashed the start, so I was expecting to see him soon enough.
Into the first downhill, I was among the top 15-20 teams and feeling good. The descent was pretty good, lots of fast singletrack, some technical riding but by no means the most technical of the week so far, but had some fun sections and weaved through alleys in small hillside villages and vineyards.
At the bottom I waited for Stu and we soon got a move on, along the fast tracks in the valley. We joined a few riders, then were joined by a few more behind us and before long it was 30 or so big. We knew what was coming, so our plan was still the same – go steady at the start, push harder at the finish.
As we hit the start of the climb, at the valley floor, 600m above sea level I knew it would be around 2 hours of near enough continuous climbing to the peak at 2160m. That is one HUGE climb! It started on tarmac, so we settled in, letting a few teams go by and also picking up a few teams within a few KM’s. We told ourselves that those passing and blowing hard were pushing too hard and we would see them again and were full of confidence.
The climb went on for ages. From tarmac, to gravel, to forest doubletrack and singletrack. It was pretty special and I have to admit that I enjoyed it and the amazing views that were appearing all around us. Finally at the top, where we refuelled and ate some solid food, knowing there is a big descent to come. It was another descent that wasn’t super technical, but had masses of flowing singletrack and a few faster, open sections. It brought us from 2100m back down to around 1400m, then we had a short tarmac descent through a village where I took a hairpin just a little too tightly and slipped across the tarmac. No damage done, just a bit of pride dented as plenty caught a glimpse!
As we were riding along a gentle section we glanced down to the valley below, looking at the distance remaining and joked “It’s probably straight down to the bottom, then up to that village over there”. It must have been about 1000m below us to the bottom, and the village was the same height the otherside. It couldn’t be…
The next descent was super steep. One section they made everyone dismount and it was easy to see why. A fair sized drop-off, which was rideable in itself, but if you got it wrong would have been a 100m fall to the left. No thanks! The remainder stayed steep, switchbacking down the mountain with loose, tight corners. Hitting the valley floor, there was practically no flat section. We crossed under a road and into a feed station. I looked at the Garmin and it was showing 60km, when today was 61.5km – but I knew we had a big climb left. Another rider said, 4km to go!
We set off, knowing that in that distance we could pull back lots of places if it went well. It started well enough, gradual on tarmac, but then we were ushered off, onto a narrow hiking trail and the grade went skyward instantly. I realised then that we were heading to the village at the top of the hill. Oh crap!
The climb was steep enough to have me in smallest gear and cursing myself yet again for being too tight to buy anything but a 34t front Rotor chainring! Occasionally there was a section too steep to ride and the rear wheel would break traction from time to time, but it was mostly a very painful ride. 3km in, we came a sign. 5KM TO GO. What!! That would make it 68km total. Stu had pushed pretty hard and I could see this hit him, so I tried to put a positive spin on things “This is great! More distance to catch and pass people.” I think he saw through that instantly.
We managed to pass one pair and had a few more in sight when it turned back to gravel with 3km to go, the gradient relenting and I pushed hard to try and claw back places. Stu was digging deep and although the gaps were coming down, it wasn’t quick enough and we eventually crossed the line in Grächen. Both were relieved to finish, but both felt better than yesterday, which might perhaps explain why we finished 30th on the stage, a big drop down.
Tomorrow is a longer stage, 75km with a claimed 3300m climbing. It’s back to plan A for us. SMASH IT and see what happens!
Stockli won again today, and so did the Specialized Women – great riding by these leading teams. Full results are online.