Well… where to start? We decided to plan a somewhat shorter route for yesterday as our 175 kilometre-opener turned into quite the slog. So after much debate we finally made a decision in the morning before we left: we would tackle the Colle delle Finestre, the Giro’s infamous gravel climb, scene of Chris Froome’s legendary attack this year.
Then we’d descend and go up the Col du Mont Cenis returning into France. After Conor’s debacle yesterday, bonking in the last 30 kilometres, I put him to work from the gun. He would do the bulk of the work on the flat, while I would take over once the terrain became more difficult. We realised that we could no longer putz around two abreast on this journey if we want to cover real distance, so we took turns on the front on all roads other than those headed straight up.
After 60 kilometres, Conor requested a stop for food, something that is becoming a relatively frequent occurrence during these long days. No café, just a market, we agreed, and quickly found a place to fuel up for the Finestre.
We walked into a strange shop – the lights were off, without any employee in sight. Someone appeared out of the darkness and when I questioned whether they were closed, he replied by asking what I wanted… So Conor and I wandered around in the dark looking for food.
A crostata for him, a box of crostatine for me, a focaccia, a pizza, two bags of gummy sharks, two lemon sodas, two bananas, a bottle of water, and a little chocolate for good measure. Not quite Team Sky approved. Baffled by how two fit individuals could eat so much, the man sold us our food and sent us on our way. A few minutes on a bench to chow and we took off down the road.
The Finestre started shortly after, and we took the first turn we saw pointing us to the top. Strange, I thought, considering my GPS showed me an alternative route. But the sign clearly showed this was the way. The gradients were the steepest we have met yet, but after a day of adjustment, we were doing just fine.
This is one of the craziest things I have noticed on this trip. While I train hard at home, with plenty of volume and a possibly excessive amount of intensity, nothing could prepare us for the added torque of carrying an extra 20-kilo load. My legs are so sore each day when returning to the hotel, my back destroyed, core smashed, and I have tendons hurting that I never even knew existed. We’re not sure, but we think this NoGo Tour might change our bodies and change us as riders after over 1,000 kilometres slogging up mountain passes with this much gear.
We eventually made it to the top after multiple gravel sections and 18% grades, realising that we took a third side to the climb, one we were unaware even existed. Doing things differently, I guess! After the obligatory photo and video stop, we headed down – down the famous gravel switchbacks that the Giro normally ascends.
Conor took the lead, but after around 300 metres, I quickly realised we’d make it quicker if I was choosing the lines… Off we went, bumping and jumping and holding onto our bars and bikes for dear life. It would’ve been a bit much for a dedicated gravel bike, so on two race bikes, it was unpleasant to say the least. Unpleasant for the jolts coursing through my body, but so incredibly worth it for the view. It may have been one of the coolest stretches of road I’ve ever been on and that was just going down! On a side note, we ran into numerous riders from the Torino – Nice Rally, bike packers like us, just heading the exact opposite direction. Brothers in arms!
We made it to the bottom with an original plan to stop for lunch, but, being after 4pm, we were somewhat strapped for time. Instead we sat down for a quick sandwich and cappuccino, a somewhat inappropriate gastronomic conclusion to our Italian exploration. As we arrived at the cafe, Conor dismounted and looked in shock.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him.
“I think, I think… I’ve lost my flip flops!” First of all, I can’t say I was surprised. And secondly, I can’t say I was too disappointed. Ha. I don’t mean that to be rude, but I told him to bring shoes and trousers before our journey and he declined. We had showed up at a Michelin-style restaurant on the first night in Italy with Conor resplendent in basketball shorts and flip flops. At least they still agreed to serve us the five-course tasting menu.
When we left town yesterday, I told him he needed to fasten the footwear more securely. He assured me they were fine. So when his flip flops flipped and flopped off the back of his bike… You get the point. He dined in socks last night.
Finally we tackled the Col du Mont Cenis, a climb neither of us were all too familiar with. And why we were not, neither of us had a clue. It was the most beautiful asphalt, smooth and pristine as a playground basketball court. No longer children, this was our new playground. It wound and wove, with a regular gradient the whole way.
Conor decided to phone his girlfriend as we tackled the mountain, an odd choice I thought while riding on my wheel. So, I slightly upped the pace, settling into a steady 300 watts for me, meaning plenty more for the big man. And somehow, he just continued to chat away. I was baffled. How could someone suffering at a slower speed just shortly before be chipping and chirping away now? It must be the power of love, I decided, and it’s probably worth at least a hundred watts.
As soon as he hung up, he asked me to slow. I complied. We made it to the top in silence and when we got there, it seems no words could fit the view. The evening sun glistened over the Lac du Mont Cenis, almost as if we arrived at the perfect time. Maybe we should ride at 7pm more often!
We did our last Col photo for the day and eagerly headed down the descent. For food.
Larry and Conor’s Great Adventure blogs
Back to basics: the NoGo Tour explained
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