If this is the first page you have landed on then you are stepping into my TCR journey somewhere in the middle, check out what has come before:
There is no alarm this morning, I had decided last night that I was just going to sleep until I was ready. And sleep I did, annoyingly I can’t remember what time until and I’m not in a position to dig into the GPX file to find out right now. I didn’t rouse and leave the hotel late but the sun was definitely up, I’d guess somewhere close to 0730. I grabbed a quick hotel breakfast and said goodbye to my lovely hosts, I would like to come back here for a holiday. It was quiet, small and gorgeous.
Rolling out, the Fern Pass proper was waiting for me. It consisted of a large, busy road with little incentive to stop or savour the experience. I made short work of it as I had ascended most of its peak altitude the day before. The descent down the other side was cold with serious windchill and my road space was being contested by some drivers who don’t really understand that on a winding descent it isn’t really possible for cars to be faster than a bike safely. I encountered another rider somewhere on the pass but other than pleasantries little was exchanged.
Outside of Roppen, I took the right turn to eventually join the B186 instead of heading towards Innsbruck like so many riders did, their goal being to tackle the Brenner Pass. I had chosen to ascend the Timmelsjoch High Alpine Road instead that peaks at 2509m and would eventually drop me into Merano in Italy. For the alpine crossing portion of the race I had prepared two possible routes to give me some flexibility depending on how my body and mind were feeling, Timmelsjoch was one and the Reschen Pass was another which would also have led me into Switzerland for about 8km. When I woke up this morning I had texted back home to say I was taking the Timmelsjoch, or “the big one” as I called it, mainly because whilst I was here I wanted to take a shot at it. I also speculated it may end my race if only by taking longer though also because it would be a lot harder than the Reschen Pass with it packing in excess of an extra 1000m of climbing.
The scenery ascending the alps today was breathtaking and one of the reasons I wanted to climb this high. I just kept spinning and and took it all in, I was in no rush and under no illusions about how far I had to go before I would peak. I stopped for food a couple of times and only saw two other racers all day. I didn’t imagine this would be a popular route, particularly amongst anyone who was concerned about speed. Speaking to riders later in the race it was a route more popular than I had envisaged but not necessarily for the right reasons, a couple of riders reported taking the pass largely through not investing more time in route planning as it was what the routing software spat out. One rider passed me whilst stopped for food, they were not to be seen again unfortunately though I had set a vague goal of seeing them later. The other rider, an Italian looking forward to passing through home territory, was right near the top of the pass whilst undertaking the serious climbing. I had stopped at the time and would go on to catch them up for a chat before continuing on. Writing this now it is clear that in general I seem to be passed by riders when stopped as opposed to passed on the road by riders at a greater speed, this is definitely a lesson to carry forward.
At 1000m the climbing got tough, the next 10km would see me ascend 1100m where I would arrive at the toll station (for passage over into Italy) and a big complex housing a restaurant and motorcycle museum. I had looked ahead at my route and knew that this was not the top though unfortunately it did lure others into thinking they were there. Not only was it not the top but the road went on to descend 150m after the toll booth before climbing back up the top of the pass at 2509m, really the hardest part was yet to come. I grabbed a coke from the restaurant before rolling down the side of the toll booth and started dropping, enjoying the brief respite from the climbing I had seemingly been doing all day. Part of the way down, the road was being resurfaced. Unfortunately this happening on both sides at once whilst it was 40+ degrees. Rolling through these works my tyres were immediately grinding themselves through my forks as they had had only a 3-4mm clearance as it was. I didn’t really know what had happened so I stopped to investigate after getting past the resurfacing work. I thought I would be able to rub off the crap stuck to the tyre and move on but I was very wrong, It seemed like some of the hot, fresh road surface had bonded itself to my tyre and wasn’t going anywhere. What this meant was I completed the last 400m of climbing with some added resistance thrown it. The tyres did manage to clean themselves off by the I had got to Merano in Italy which was very fortunate though for a few days I was worried that I had potentially lost some tyre thickness through it melting but as time wore on I was able to let go of that concern and hope for the best.
The views on this section of the climb were breath-taking and desolate, I lost all of my photos on my phone when it stopped working back in England. It felt like a place where people could come and die but it didn’t stop it from being gorgeous. It was the highest I have ever been, previously my limit had been the Gotthard Pass at 2106m but that had held life and greenery. Up here, there was nothing. Reaching the top felt amazing, this had been an achievement that even I couldn’t deceive myself about. There was a fair few folks in cars up there at the top but the climb itself had been shared with 2 or 3 vehicles at most. I took the obligatory picture of bike with altitude sign and set about dropping off the other side fairly quickly.
It a looooooooooooong descent, switching back and back and back. Very narrow, not a route for anything much bigger than a VW camper van to get over the mountains. Down, down, down, down all the way to Merano that lay 2250m below and 50km down the road. Merano was where I would join a traffic free cycle route on the river that would ultimately carry me all the way to Trento 80km downriver, though I won’t make it that far in this post. Tonight I would put in another 50km before stopping in Bolzano for pizza and then bank another 30km towards Trento. On the way I would bump into Caroline on the river, catching me up whilst I performed chain maintenance and phoned home. I would also catch up with 2 Italian pairs bedding down on some benches by the river just outside Bolzano after. When I did stop for the night I was looking for benches whilst flying down the river in darkness, they would appear all of a sudden and were more often than not already occupied by other riders. An empty one came upon and I turned around for it only to inadvertently swing my light into the face of another rider on a bench I hadn’t seen very close by. I made my apologies and moved one. I did eventually find one not too much further and attempted to bed down. I locked my bike, I was in an urban area now and needed to not be complacent. The bench wasn’t comfortable and after a while I switched to the grass behind it. I didn’t set an alarm.
Carry on the adventure with me on Day 5.