Mike and I were always going to go our separate ways in Livigno. For Mike, this is a special place overlaid with memories of gypsyish Euro-tripping bikefests of day-long, epic rides over high passes and into wild valleys, all of which he wants to relive. For me, this is the last chance to get in some quality training and adaptations before World XCO and XCM champs in two and three weeks’ time.
So today it’s my turn, and it’s a very different story from Mike’s training diary, which is all about the places we went, the trails we took, the views we soaked in. For me, this week has to be a little bit about balancing all those wonderful things with rest and recovery sufficient to allow my body to make tonnes of new little red blood cells.
We’re here at nearly 1,900m, together with, it seems, the entire World Cup circuit of pros, hoping that the altitude will force our bodies to produce more EPO (the natural kind) and boost blood volume. A few weeks at altitude can boost your blood volume, and as a result your VO2 max, by several per cent, but there’s a caveat, and it’s big: you need to balance this with fatigue, and an inability to train anywhere near as hard as you can at sea level. Plus, you sleep worse, you dehydrate easily, and you’re more likely to pick up infections – altitude definitely has its downsides.
With all this to keep in mind, I set off for an easy endurance ride today while Mike took in another epic. Yesterday’s ride, which you can read about in Mike’s blog, was a pretty big one. A slow, slooooow, slooooooooooow big one. Riding above 2,100m for most of the day, and with a few lung-busting hike-a-bike sections and a couple of significant climbs, plus photo opportunities, snacks, hunger flats, encounters with other friendly bikers, marmot-spotting, and more photos, we hadn’t been moving our fastest. Still, a 4.5 hour ride is a 4.5 hour ride, so today called for something pretty chilled so I could recover. Plus I had a really rocky start to our Euro travels with serious health problems that nearly had me back on the plane home. While I’m over all that, I’m more worried about staying fresh than doing high-intensity intervals or big rides at this point. Like many before me, I’m relying on the thin air here to work its magic, and just doing the best I can with my legs in the meantime.
Mike suggested a nice route that took in some cool trails. I was after something flat but we set off together up the road climb to the Passo d’Eira (400m in the first 20 minutes Mike!) before I turned off under a ski lift and Mike went on his own adventure. All was peaceful and serene for a while. I particularly enjoyed having nobody to half-wheel me and riding at an embarrassingly slow endurance pace which, at 2,100m, still feels like threshold. Then I heard a strange roaring sound. I rounded a corner and saw, stretching out for about a kilometre in front of me and completely obscuring the trail, a sea of enthusiastic, multicoloured, rabid, screaming, flailing Italian children waving walking sticks.
This posed a problem and over the next 10 minutes I tried weaving through them but after a few blows from their sticks I chose to overtake the horde by riding in a wet, cow manure-filled ditch on the side of the service road. By the time I’d passed them all I’d also passed the trail turnoff, which they’d also missed, to the usual Italian displays of operatic emotion. So, my ears filled with the jeering hilarity of an audience of 1,000 Italian tweens and teens, I dragged my bike down a rocky, wet mountainside and deep into the pines until, stumbling and struggling, mercifully obscured by trees from my tormentors, I managed to find what I supposed was the trail, remounted, and rode away as fast as I could, the roaring of the masses disappearing behind me. I reached max heart rate in three seconds, but I’d escaped. Phew!
Pretty soon a sign confirmed that I was back on route 121, and my life improved considerably. There followed a pretty cool section of exposed trail at about 2,200m, with views down to Livigno and distant mountains topped with glaciers. I wove around the contours and trudged up the occasional hike-a-bike (you said this would be easy, Mike!!) and pretty soon was descending a rocky, exposed, and fabulously fun ribbon of trail with the occasional switchback or ledge thrown in, all the way down to a T intersection, where I paused for some photos of the incredible upper end of the valley Livigno occupies before setting off further up on route 119 along an undulating gravel road.
Once I crossed the little bridge at the end of the valley and dragged my bike up another hike-a-bike section (I swear I could ride this at sea level!), things really got good. A techy descent of swooping corners and rock ledges followed, interrupted only by a chance to cheer on the Australian Junior and U23 men’s XCO team in the midst of some efforts, climbing up towards me. Back on, the trails soon dipped into the forest and got steeper, even (thrillingly) a little gnarly, before spitting me out not too far from Livigno. After another section of downhill forest trail I bombed down to the road, and found myself just minutes from home.
A cool ride 1:40 (20 minutes of which was spent trying to pass the kids!), and I have to say that by the end of it, and for the first time in a few weeks, I felt quite myself again on the bike. This can only bode well, and with a little more intensity planned into my riding tomorrow, I’m hoping I can keep picking up momentum as the Really Big Races get nearer and nearer. In the meantime, I’ll keep breathing this wonderful thin air and letting my bone marrow do the rest!
Mike will take over tomorrow, then I’ll check in on Friday. Ciao!