Italy

Packed Train and Lost Bikes

Our adventure to Milano to catch our plane to Tallinn was a long journey. We bought our train tickets that would allow us to take our bike boxes on board the train to Milano. The train was just a regional train, and today seemed to be peak our to go into Milano. I almost felt as if we would have to go it Indian style and hold onto the side of the train all the way to Milano.

We were in the cabin where the carriages joined the two trains because it was that full so we stood up holding out bike boxes up from falling over slowly melting in the hot cabin. Every stop we managed to fit more people into packed carriage. The area we were standing seemed to be the highest traffic area for people heading to the other completely FULL carriages. I thought it was never going to end on this 3hr train trip. Luckily the worst of it only lasted 15-30minutes and the rest of the train trip was just hot and tiresome.

Alex and I even made a friend with this lady from Slovakia who lived on cigarettes and vodka and loved her american staffy. She was a comic relief almost to the whole train trip. Saying it how it was. She spoke really fluent english and took this train trip at least once a month. Dedicated.

We eventually took out last train to the airpot. We had pre-purchased our bikes to go onto the plane as excess luggage. Yet they still asked us for a 10 euro check-in fee to put them on the plane! Then they pointed to a random spot on the ground and told us to wait for 10 minutes for a security guard to take us to check them in. So we waited for about 20-30 minutes of this mythical security guard who eventually showed up after a call from the lady at the checkin counter when we said we had been waiting for awhile and wondered if he was ever going to show up.

The flight was fine although the connecting flight through Riga to Tallinn was painful on my knees. The seats were so close together that even when I push my behind back into the seat my knees still were ground up against the one in front of me. I was glad it was only an hour flight.

Then what happened is something you always fear. Our bikes didn’t arrive. Standing in the baggage collection area, 12:30 at midnight. Maybe we should of payed more to check them in? So we will see if they arrive tomorrow.

My apologies for the delayed updates but internet in Feltre was patchy and slow so it was a little tricky posting. Everything seems to be going well besides having trouble sleeping. Stay tuned!

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Monte Grappa

Monte Grappa. This mountain is huge! The climb is long and steep in the earlier stages of the mountain. Today I was feeling far better than I did the previous day. The way we climbed Monte Grappa it was about 34km with about 30km of climbing. I think it was about 1100 meters in accent. It took us 2hrs from our place to the top of the mountain and only and hour to get back.

Climbing up was absolutely gorgeous. The slopes just fell away at the sides, the pine trees lined the road with areas where some trees had been felled for houses and you could see out into the valleys where the mountains stood tall. Gorges that cut deep into the mountains the hill sides with villages scatted across the grassy green slopes. It was quite magnificent climbing.

My legs felt great so I could look around and soak up the atmosphere easily and ride well. Before the ride I wanted to pack some sandwiches or get some muesli bars for the climb but I wasn’t able to do so. So for the whole climb I had one nectarine. That nectarine was so nice though, about half way up when I consumed it. I didn’t have long to enjoy it because as I pulled it out and took a bite I was faced with a steep section and I had to devour it in 10 seconds.

On the top of Monte Grappa there is an old World War One monument where you can go up to and see the battlements and canons. We weren’t allowed to take bikes up there but Alex knew this and told me to bring my lock so we could go and have a look. I will try and post some up eventually.

There were heaps of road cyclist up at the top sitting around the lodge. It was nice seeing so many old school frames, with funky colours and the steel frames that looked like they have had that frame for their whole life. We were the only people up there with mountain bikes for awhile until a few came past. Still, we were the only 29’ers. We couldn’t find any taps or drinkable water on top of the mountain and we didn’t really want to buy water so we had to tough it out heading back down the mountain.

The last three posts were posted when I got into Tallin at 1 am. So I haven’t proof read any of it. I hope it makes sense.

Post pizza update. Sunday Alex and I went out to climb this mountain close by. Getting a smaller ride with a mountain in before we did Monte Grappa the following day. Today was not my day for the bike. Either the Pizza had weighed me down in the legs but I was getting dropped by Alex, and he claims he was sitting just under a hard pace. I struggled up the mountain side holding his wheel most of the way until the very top where he did an effort for a few hundred metres to the top. I was glad that the road didn’t go up any further. It was terribly steep and wasn’t consistent in gradient.

After riding back down and finding this gorgeous little cafe we say down and ordered our coffees. A much needed coffee for me. When we were talking about the climb this older gentleman came over and started to speak to us in some english. We invited him to sit down and talk. We told him we were from Australia and he mentioned that he had family and sons living over there. He had also been over there himself seeing all the iconic sights Australia has to offer. Eventually he had to go about this day and bought us a round of coffees before he departed. We thanked him kindly.

Lately the internet has been a shocker hence why there are multiple updates coming in all at once. Our little pocket wifi we have has started to slow down and we can barely open google without having to wait for a good minute. So for now there will be just text posts every now and then.

Saturday Alex and myself bought train tickets and caught three trains up to Feltre. At first I thought this was going to be stressful, having to jump off trains and catch another. Also it might take ages for trains to arrive and we would be waiting. In the end it was quite easy and stress free. I think the worst part was finding a toilet that wasn’t super unhygienic. The seven hours of traveling passed quite fast. Every time you looked out the train window the mountains would be growing taller and as the train neared Feltre. So hats off to Italian trains for being easy to use.

We are staying in some student apartment accommodation that Liz has rented. It worked out to be around $220 AUD. Which is pretty good considering the location and the facilities we are given. The streets are gorgeous and the people are kind. It’s a very welcoming city.

When Alex and I went out for dinner for the first night we went to this Pizzeria where we ordered two “maxi” pizzas. The guy behind the counter double checked if we wanted maxi and gestured that they are quite large. We got maxi sized pizzas anyways.

As we were waiting out side we saw a family that had obviously pre-ordered their pizza. It was a mother a father and their three children ranging from about 3-6 years of age. They walked out with just ONE large pizza box. Alex and I looked at each other and were kind of worried yet enthusiastic about getting such a large meal.

They came out with these ginormous wooden pizza trays and you couldn’t sit them across from each other on the table because they were too big. The pizza must of been about a metre in diameter. This pizza was going to be a challenge, but we hadn’t eaten anything all day. Needless to say it was delicious and I finished it off, feeling fairly full. If it were a cartoon I would of been waddling away from the Pizzeria.

We thought it was best we do a big walk before heading back to the apartment. Even after the big walk I felt quite stuffed, but it helped greatly. Just not enough. That night I could feel my tummy grumbling and turning trying to break down the pizza.

Stormy Weather

Since the Pinorolo ride it has been a fairly relaxed few days of training. It has also been difficult to train due to some circumstances restricting me to train.

Sunday I paid Mont Blanc a visit. Very beautiful and stunning mountains. It was unreal how high they went and the sheer cliffs that loomed over the valley road. You get a sore neck just from looking up all the time to soak in the beauty. But my visit was short lived and we had to drive back to collect people from the train station and sit in the humid town of Mazze’.

I am still staying with Liz Randall who is competing in the World Masters events for road cycling. (She is doing very well, winning her age group in the Crit and the TT) She needs the car to get into the events to race, understandably. So that means all of my rides have to be from where we are staying. Meaning a lot of road riding. Flat road riding. Boring road riding. I brought my MTB over to ride trails, but I have done one ride in two weeks on dirt and it was just a fire road climb. A very nice ride and I enjoyed it immensely. I just feel like I am not getting the most out of my mountain bike.

The days are hot and the weather forecast has been for rain and thunder storms. Which has only been increasing the humidity and making the sky very hazy. It has only been storming a little bit at nights. Nothing that local to us.

Getting to sleep has been extremely difficult. The town has a loud bell which is right next to us and bongs every hour and half hour. When its 12.30am you can hear constant bell ringing after it has stopped. The house has loud wooden floors that makes it sound like an elephant is walking through the upstairs living room. I am lucky to get to sleep before 11pm.

On Wednesday Alex and I put in a solid ride because it was forecasted that there was definitely going to be rain the following day. So we went out and did a solid 80km ride out to Biella and back. My legs felt fairly tired after some solid riding into the wind and then another solid return effort.

Each day I find out something that I enjoy about Europe, and that day I found some more things I like about Europe. The amount of lovely little villages you pass through whilst out on a ride. The villages break up the some of the boring country view and also provide you with shops and water springs if you need food or water. Back in Australia you need to almost have a small bike trailer if you want to do any serious long rides or know where all the “secret” water spots are hope you ride past a petrol station.

On Saturday we head up to Feltre which will be nice. Surrounded by mountains and hopefully surrounded by MTB trails.

Pinerolo

Hot, humid, steep, historical and exhausting.

Pinerolo. Some of you might remember that stage in the 2011 Tour De France where Alberto Contador attacked with Sammy Sanchez over the last climb of the day on stage 17, where Cadel Evans and Thomas Voeckler chased after him. Bosen Hagen won the stage and many riders fell off the side of the road on the descent. Including Voeckler who was one of a few people who went off the corner and dropping into a residents car park.

Well Alex and I got to ride over and descend that road, then turn around and do it in reverse. The climb isn’t that long really, but it isn’t constant or easy to climb it if you had to put time into people.

We started to climb it at a solid tempo pace where the gradient of the climb was around 4%-6%. At multiple points on the climb it has easy 1% gradients. Then right after it kicks up to 10% then up to 13%. About half way to two thirds of the way up. I really got stuck into the climb and into the spirit of that stage.

Trying to push my self hard up the climb, holding a good rhythm and pace. It was not easy at all. When you think you are nearing the top you’re just getting to a short flat section then hit with more climb. This is fine but it’s mentally tough and I couldn’t imagine riding this after doing Sestriere.

Finishing the climb you roll up to an old building that has been abandoned. A little sad to see it so empty. It was a little surprising since there were lots of lovely homes on the earlier section of the climb.

The descent was insane. We saw each spot where the riders came off and the car park corner which caught a lot of riders off guard. I can truly understand why there were so many close calls. The road at times has a gradient of 22% and a minimum of about 14%. The corners are blind and you can’t see how tight they swing around.

After descending down into the village and taking a few pictures of I giant Tour De France rider cut out we made our return journey back up over the hill, a steep one at that. I was glad I was on my mountain bike. I didn’t have to click down out of my 38T chain ring but it was such a tough climb.

We crawled back up the steep road taking some more pictures of the spots where it caught the riders off guard. I sat in my own rhythm has Alex pulled away. But as we grew closer to the top we were riding together.

This would have been far more enjoyable in the 23 degree heat we have been riding/climbing in but it was over 32 degrees that day and so humid that when you looked down at you bike computer a waterfall of sweat would pour out of the helmet and join the already rapidly dripping sweat from your face.

After the cautious descent down the narrow and blind corners of the climb we initially rode up we arrived back at the car. I felt as if I had jumped into a pool and my clothes just stuck to my skin as I was trying to change out of them.

Tomorrow is a rest day where we are going to take a look at Mont Blanc and be a little touristy for the first time of the trip. The next is the week where Liz will be racing in the World Master games in Torino. The Crit on Monday and and the Time Trial on Tuesday.

Windy Valleys

This Thursday Alex drove us to another valley that looked nice to ride along and up. The plan for this ride was to ride up the valley at pace that was just under tempo. So we weren’t on the limit but we are not just cruising.

Alex lead off for the start at a nice and steady pace. After a kilometre or two, I took the front, at the moment, seems as if I climbing a touch easier than Alex. I sat on a easy to medium pace and he seemed comfortable with it.

I lead us right to the top. Briefly passing a road cyclist but as soon as we past Alex dropped his glasses and the roadie went past us. No worries, we caught him again.

This road just went on and on like Sestriere but not as steep in the earlier stages of the climb. We climbed up this valley to this gorgeous mountain that was baron but sugar coated with snow.

The gradient picked up and we faced a couple of switch backs but nothing too severe. Getting close to 30km mark of our ride we pushed on a little further up this steep section and we stopped at this lone building on the side of the road and turned around and made our descent.

On the way down we were faced with another powerful headwind. Although on the way up it felt as if we were riding into a light head wind. So it was going to be another slog down the valley.

I tried to keep the pace up by putting in hard efforts and tried to cycle the turns frequently. We were absolutely pinning it, as hard as the MTB tyres would let us that is.

When we had about 3km to go our legs were fairly tired and it was a false flat for the last kilometre. It looked as if it was going down but it was hard to stay above 30kmph. So we just plodded along the road back to the car.

I can surely say we earnt our pizza and coke well and truly that day. We didn’t have much time to sit and enjoy it because we had to be back at the accommodation that we were staying at to go down to the train station and pick up Liz and her sister at Chivasso.

Friday will be another personal trip for myself to head into Turin to pick up my damaged camera. That was going to cost me 200 euro to get fixed and it was going to get sent to Milano so I wouldn’t know when I would see it next.