What's Cool In Road Cycling

Grappa d’Italia: Stelvio Worship

It’s already Day 3, or 4, or 5 – I don’t know really – here at the Giro di Pez- ermmm – d’Italia – ! As my brother, Big Red told me (yes – my bro’s actual nickname…) – “hey man, life’s an adventure and you’re living it.”. True… true. So much, and so little has happened that this can only be Italy…

Dude, Where’s My Bike?
The trip got off to a rocky start when a key piece of equipment failed to arrive avec moi – yes – my bike was M.I.A. This naturally put the kaibosh on my early departure from Milano to the Dolomites… but then again – when in Milan join the fray. So instead of building up my BMC, I instead enjoyed a lengthy dinner at a local trattoria, stuffing my gut on risotto Milanese, Bistecca con Rucolla, and spinaci al burro – plus a bottle of the local vino rosso, an espresso and of course the capper to all my days here in Italia – a local grappa.

Grab as much as you can carry! (safely, of course…) Vino, espresso, and grappa – all part of the complete Italian experience.

Day 2 was spent waiting for the bike to arrive (it finally did), and getting a jump on the list of items Mrs. Pez assigned me to acquire (while on a trip to Italy without her). After several hours spent in women’s clothing and accessory shops (the things we do for the women we love – yeah that’s what I’m talking about.) I was building up the bike albeit several hours behind schedule. So finally I was off – headlong into Milanese traffic hour…

Gappa di Pez
I’ll be doing my darndest to cap each day by a sampling a different grappa. As of this writing – I’m 2 for 2. Night #1 was an exceptionally smooth grappa – whose name escaped me, but it went down mighty easy. Tonight in Bormio, I sampled a Grappa Noninno – consider it the Michelob of grappas.

Tonite I’m bunking in at the fabulaous Hotel Derby in Bormio. Now, Bormio is a winter town, a ski town- they had a winter Olympics here, and the mtb scene here isn’t quite as developed as back home, so the town is a wee bit sleepy in summer. How sleepy? Well I’m the only guest in the hotel. Yup. Can you say “The Shining”? Of course you can.

Actually, the hosts here are super – super friendly. They don’t speak any English (at least not to me…) but are always smiling and keen to see I’m comfy. Unfortunately I speak just enough that Italians think I actually understand them… Tonight when I got back from my dinner of insalata pomodori e mozzarella, and pizza con funghi e prosciutto (Dominos, Little Ceasars?… forget about it.), I found the front door open, but all the lights out, except for the sound of a tv playinjg in a back room. I followed the sounds to find the Signor of the operation set back in his Lazy-boy, half asleep, and the family German Shepard (aged around 46….) snoozing on the floor. My greetings went unanswered so I called it a night.

View from my room at the Hotel Derby, the Passo Stelvio is out there somewhere…

It’s now around 11:30 Italian time – I’m planning to awake at 7:30 to get a jump on the Stelvio – my 120km epic – so I’d best hit the sack. Stay cool, stay tuned, and more to come.

PEZ Rides the Stelvio
After waking up at 3:00 AM local time, I was good ‘n ready to get outta bed a actually do something that would tire me out even more – in hopes of actually getting more than 3 hours straight sleep. So 7:00 AM I was up and ready to tackle my much bally-hooed Stelvio epic – 120km, 60ish of climbing – ooh yeah. Here’s how the day turned out:

About 1/3rd up the climb, the tunnels start – pitch black in places, water dripping from the exposed rock ceiling. These are cool if you’re in a car. On a bike they’re just damn scary. At least you can hear the cars coming from a long way off.

Who can resist a self portrait on an epic climb? Certainly not me –I’ve got plenty more if you wanta see ‘em. That stupid look on my face is the proof of my current lack of sleep, being at 1800 meters on my first ride in 6 days, unable to breathe, plodding along in 36×25 (thank god for that FSA MegaExo Compact Crankset) and hoping my form would kick in at any moment.

Look up… those badboys look like the top, but the cyclometer tells me we’re only half way. Doh.

It pays to make friends on the way up – how else you gonna get cool shots of yourself? The road was closed to cars, so it was virtually empty. It actually got a bit eerie climbing into the high alpine region solo.

Somewhere around 3/4 up, it leveled off to 4% grades. I was psyched for the descent until the locals mentioned the wild marmots that bolt across the road. Yesterday a rider got taken out by one – broken bones and a hospital trip. No word on the marmot.

That’s the road to Switzerland. Obviously I’m not on it. After 2 hours of plodding uphill, I was forced to go with Plan B – just get to the bloody top and shut up.

I finally made the top 2.5 hours after I started. Here’s the fearsome look down the front – the race will approach from this route Sunday. Glad I found some common sense and didn’t take that left turn for Switzerland, lest I’d be stuck at the bottom of this!

The day was amazing – great weather – a bit chilly but so perfect. I reached the thin air and roof of the Dolomites at over 2700 meters. The descent was 40 minutes of riding the brakes. Forget about lettin’ ‘er rip – I quickly realized how tricky descending these big passes and switchbacks can be – not to mention the marmot-dodging. You gain soo much speed in the blink of an eye – thank god there was no traffic and the whole road was mine. You gotta try this sometime.

Ciao for now – !

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