(When we left off, our heroine was relaxing in the sun partway up the Passo Gardena after a challenging morning on the bike that saw her tempted to pack it in…)
I’ll admit, it was pretty nice for a while to have no more difficult physical exertion than having to stand up and walk over to the food table a remarkable number of times. And when I could keep my eyes open, the view was pretty great.
Eventually we hefted ourselves and our full bellies back onto our bicycles to finish the ascent of the Passo Gardena. I almost feel it was cheating to count this as a pass–the descent from the Passo Sella didn’t go down very far, and the total ascent up the Gardena was less than 1,000′, with lunch and then a flat section in the middle. Really, it was like climbing a couple Seattle-area hills with an extended siesta in between. But hey, it’s called “Passo” so it goes in the book as the 3rd pass of 4 on the day.
The descent took us into the town of Corvara, where we stopped in at a little Pinarello-brand bike gallery/museum attached to a hotel/bar/cafe. They had one of Bradley Wiggins’ yellow Pinarello’s from the year he won the Tour de France, and other such historic bicycles and items from throughout the years. One of the bikes was Miguel Indurain’s fantastic hour record aero track bike (from before the UCI outlawed such cool space-agey bikes…) Andy leaned in to get a closer look at the monster gearing on it, and joked “sure, I could turn that gear over, no problem… On a downhill…” Then, continuing the jest, he pretended to be not impressed by Indurain and his bike… In being too slow to get a picture of the former, I managed to get a photo of the latter:
After we had been there for a little bit, the proprietor realized who was there–not some schmuck cyclist named Andy, but THE ANDY HAMPSTEN!!! In shock and apology and awe and delight, he dropped to his knees at Andy’s feet, torn between begging forgiveness and uttering effusive praise!
I love Italians!
A little later, we were sitting in the bar area, enjoying espressos and such, when the proprietor came up again, and deeply and sincerely thanked Andy for stopping by. He expressed how much he had always appreciated Andy, that he was a great champion, a “campionissime di bicicletta e gentilezza”–a great bicyclist and a great person. Which is all true.
So to recap, since lunch, we had bicycled a negligible amount uphill, hung out at the Passo Gardena for a bit (it would be a shame to go by a rifugio and *not* get espresso…), rolled ourselves downhill into Corvara, and hung out some more, consuming more espresso, and enjoying more sunshine and great views. The day was suddenly about as easy and laid back of a day as I’ve had on a bike in a long time.
But, the more astute readers may also remember that we had only done 3 of the 4 passes–still remaining was the Passo Campolongo. (Cue ominous music…)
But in the most satisfying anticlimax ever, the Passo Campolongo was mild both in terms of elevation gain, and in terms of slope. I thought it was the easiest of the day, and I was laughing at times with the delight of biking uphill and it feeling easy! I didn’t set any land speed records up the Campolongo, but I had a lot of fun reveling in the delight of cycling up it.
Soon enough, we were regrouping at the top, and then just had 17 miles left to Alleghe (and showers! and beer! and dinner!), over the course of which we would drop from about 6,200′ to 3,200′.
If you are unsure what that means, it means FUN!!!!!
Somehow, I ended up behind Andy as we descended, and this is when the day went from wonderful to I-must-be-dreaming deliriously amazing. Not only is he skilled beyond my ability to even understand how much better than me he is (I can only analogize by thinking about how my beginning dance students don’t even have the experience to know how beginning they are and how much more is involved with getting to a barely competent level of professional ability, much less an exceptional level) (seriously, the pro level of ability is way higher than you think it is. If you’re pretty fast on a bike, and wondering if you could maybe hang with the pro’s on a stage of the Tour or something, just stop. They’re faster and better than you.), he was on a road he’s ridden countless times.
(Really. They’re way better. It’s not just being faster–it’s things like riding along at a good clip, and reaching down to grab a branch off the road and toss it aside so that it doesn’t impede the people behind you. Or riding no-hands down a winding descent, doing airplane arms, as I heard he’s done.) (And I’ve asked around–no one has seen Andy sweat. Or breathe hard. Including when he whizzed past some of the fast guys, going uphill past them like they were standing still, when they were at their limit. And he’s on the record as saying he’s not near his level of fitness he had as a pro.) (So seriously, people on the internet bike forums who like to speculate from the couch about being as good as a pro if they just trained a bit more. Stop it.)
Anyway. As the road twisted its way around sharp hairpins, while sometimes simultaneously dropping precipitously down, Andy just flowed around the corners, smoothly, effortlessly, the picture of delight. I had to push myself a bit to keep up with his lollygagging his way down the mountain, but by just following his approaches to corners, trying to copy his body language, the descent became secure and full of ease for me too. (To an extent.)
I was going way faster than I could have gone on my own, yet felt like I was much more within my limits, taking on way less risk than I would have been (descending slower) on my own. I was essentially getting a private lesson on descending–from a winner of the Giro d’Italia!!!!–and felt like I was a better cyclist by the time I reached the bottom of the mountain.
As I’ve mentioned, I love descending, and am alarmed by descending. Getting to do such a fun descent, and feel that in the course of it, I became a safer, better descender, was almost too much awesomeness for one day to contain.
I finished the day feeling how I did at the start of the day–I’m ready to sign up for next year’s trip.
I also finished the day with more delicious food–are we detecting a theme here? The hotel’s restaurant was legitimately really good (Andy and Elaine reportedly have the hotel restaurant’s quality as their top criterion for picking tour hotels), but pretty much any food at all tastes amazing on days like we were doing. That we got to eat delicious, fresh, nutritive, flavorful, variety-filled food just made the constant “find more food” drumbeat in my brain all the more enjoyable of a quest.
At the end of the day, I had ridden about 60 miles (I forgot to turn my bike computer on until a few miles in, so the exact number is a mystery) and almost 8,900 feet of elevation gain. The only ride I’ve done with more elevation gain was 190 miles long…