If you’ve not seen the earlier posts, you can catch up from the start of my TCR No 5 journey here: https://mattonabike.com/2017/09/23/tcr-no-5-the-start/
Heading into the Po Valley
I was super hungry after the long climb up Monte Grappa, light was fading and was getting a little chilly. After a short chat with the Pedal Ed guys & Stephane, I layered up, said goodbyes then headed down the hill. It was super steep, and wasn’t all down hill. In fact, a considerable ‘reverse’ got in the way of speeding down the hill and left me peeling off a number of the layers as the hard work climbing again made me overheat.
I eventually found myself at the bottom of the long, twisty and a little bit sketchy descent, and into a small town where I was able to find a pizzeria at around 9.30pm. I should have ordered two, but made up for it with another ice cream dessert.
I was keen to make a little time up, so decided to try and push on to make the most of the quiet roads at night. A lot of folks feel it’s more dangerous at night. I’m not convinced. Traffic is much lighter, more visible, and as long as you are well lit and with reflectives, so are you. All said, I soon felt the long day starting to catch up with me so decided to look for a bivvy spot. I settled in for the night in an old churchyard at the edge of a town to get a few hours sleep.
I managed to get a some decent kip, but my body woke me well before my alarm with the need for a number 2. I’ve never wild pooped before, but I was busting and had to go. TCR diet makes this a difficult process, but I was very satisfied with lightening the load despite stepping in my own poo.
I cleaned up thoroughly, packed up my bivvy and headed off making really good time on the flat roads. I set off around 4.30 am, and was going well until just after dawn when I started bonking so stopped for coffee and croissants, but still wasn’t right. I pushed on anyway, and found myself riding into a headwind. By now the roads were getting busier, and I was again starting to question if I should be on the road. I pulled off onto a side street to assess the route. It was maybe only a couple of km’s before my route turned off, but I could see a route through some back roads, so followed them to avoid the busy traffic. It was ultimately futile, and would do this a few more times through the morning. It gets frustrating and added to my further lack of enjoyment of Italian roads.
I was also struggling for energy, so headed for a small town. It was on top of a hill, perhaps the only in the area, but I needed a break from the busy roads. I sat down in the square, took off my shoes and socks to liberate my feet and sat there for a while watching the town go about its morning business. I wasn’t thinking of scratching but I was at quite a low point. Stopping is a good way to recover energy, and think about the next move. Looking at the map I could see this last stretch of main road wouldn’t last long before it turned into a prohibitive section where I would be able to turn off onto a gravel detour. I dug deep, found a little bit of motivation and went on my way, only to stop briefly at a fountain as I was leaving the town.
The gravel road was in a wonderful valley, meandering alongside a wide river where many locals were already out in the early afternoon using many of the pools and river bed as a beach. My route would follow this river up through a gorge, heading towards Austria. I had a quick stop for a snack and some coke and ice cream in a small town when I joined back onto sealed roads, before what I had hoped was a short climb. It turned out to be a long, hot and in places quite steep. It was around here I started getting a few messages. At times you can get lost in the race, occasionally feel like you’re all alone, then you get a tweet telling you ‘Phenominal work you’re doing! You’ve got this!’ .
The mental boost I got from this tweet out of the blue was better than that stuff Lance said he didn’t take. I also got a number of texts and WhatsApp messages. Seems the dot watchers had got a little concerned by a tweet about some suffering early on, and I was enormously grateful for the encouragement.
After pushing over the climb I found a small town and yet another pizzeria. This wasn’t the fastest pizza place in Italy, but I really needed the refuel so was happy to wait and hide a little bit more from the baking day. It was getting hotter and hotter..
The last few hours in Italy was spent on a bike path winding up towards the border with Austria. It was incredibly hot, but there were a number of tunnels on the bike path which were blissful havens from the heat, super fresh, cool tunnels that just as you were about to feel cold, thrust you back into the hot afternoon.
Once into Austria I made a quick pitstop for water, snacks and some more ice cream, as well as a chance to liberate my hot feet. What I should have done about now is loaded the next route file on my Wahoo, as the one I had loaded would send me about 15 km away from where I wanted to be. A minor frustration, and once I’d worked out a way back to my route, I was back on course in no time. If you plot overlapping route files, make sure they follow the same route!
This part of Austria was dotted with lakes that were popular with the locals enjoying some watersports and sunshine. I made another stop next to a lake to stock up on food, drink and water ahead of a bit of a push overnight. I didn’t really know what I would find ahead so prepared as best I could.
I had a really pleasant afternoon winding through the Austrian hills, but soon came to realise that many of the riders ahead had chosen very different routes to mine. I became convinced my route was no good so looked at re-routing to follow. Then it sort of dawned on me… Who cares what everyone else is doing, this is MY adventure! I threw caution to the wind and headed towards my scheduled mountain pass to finish off the day.
I started climbing the Klippitzterol at around sunset. I was running low on water so stopped in at a hotel in ‘Lölling’ (lol) for some water, and chatted with the bemused barman about my journey and plans for the evening. I was very tempted to stop and have a good meal, beer and room for the night, but was super motivated to push on.
The road was completely empty, with maybe one or two cars passing on the way up. The sound of crickets filled the air, along with the noises from me and my bike. It’s a decent climb, at 1,642m I felt it was quite achievable, however I hadn’t really looked at how steep it was. In the dark, with the moon and crickets for company, it was hard work to keep pushing up the steep incline. Then it happened. It still freaks me out a bit now. I was really struggling. Then in unison, ALL the crickets stopped. Every single hair on my body stood on end with instant goosebumps… I imagined response to silenced crickets meaning some sort of predator was close… I wondered what was out there? Was it me, something in the forest, or was it something beyond that? Spooky!
Then in unison, ALL the crickets stopped. Every single hair on my body stood on end with instant goosebumps..
I’ve no clue what caused it, but the adrenaline rush and the focus it brought was intense. It helped me keep going to the top of the climb. The fatigue may have helped, but I found myself able to imagine the same thing happening and my body gave the same reaction – goose bumps and hair standing on end all over – and a little shot of adrenaline. I didn’t want to overdo it and risk an adrenaline crash and the inevitable fatigue.
At the top I had a quick selfie, added some warm clothes and started the descent. About 15 km of near arrow straight road with maybe one hairpin. I’ve never travelled 15 km so fast on a bike – was an absolutely buzzing descent.
At the bottom, I realise there’s one more hill to go for the night, a long draggy 2%’er. I notice on the tracker that I was on track to overtake two other riders by taking this route, and I was super happy with myself. I maybe got a little carried away and thought up a plan to keep pushing through the night to Slovakia, mainly as I am really enjoying the empty roads. It was only 10.30pm and I was a little confused as to where everyone was.
Over the top, I was flying downhill again, averaging around 65-70 kph when at the last minute I notice a turn off the road on the Wahoo to avoid a banned tunnel. I very nearly flew straight threw it! I continued to make the most of the gradual downhill for another hour or so before fatigue starts to set in. I knew I needed to find somewhere to bivvy, and managed to find a small lay-by to camp in for a few hours.
I could have done with a couple more hours rest, but really wanted to keep moving and maintain this lead I’d created. Silly really as it was no lead at all and there was over 2,000 km to go, but you don’t always think straight in situations like this. I’d applied some Voltarol to my knees, which were still a little sore from the last 4 long days and steep climbs. I made it through to dawn and a small town bakery for some breakfast. I was in a bit of a mess and in need of a shower and proper rest. I promised myself that I would make my way to Bratislava and take a hotel. I booked the nicest one I could find, half expecting that due to my knees I might need to scratch there.
I pushed on through the dawn light, on roads that were hillier than I was expecting until I finally came out of the valley and on the the plains headed towards the Slovakian border. These roads got a little hectic, and was a little uncomfortable riding on them, but there was little choice to re-route here so I carried on for a bit. It was getting hot as well, and I was getting fatigued so when I spotted a small monument at the side of the road I decided to pull over and have a short nap. I was there for maybe 20 minutes before a friend called my phone to see how I was doing. It hadn’t occurred to me how it might look to dot watchers where I’d stopped on the side of what appeared to be a really busy 4 lane road for a nap.
I carried on snoozing for a few more minutes then decided I’d best crack on before I’d have my mum and sister calling to see how I was doing… I’ll choose my snooze locations better next time!
It wasn’t that long before I spied the magical Golden Arches of a McDonalds where I had a big lunch with #131 Robert who was already finishing up his first course of chicken nuggets. We were following a very similar route and it was nice to have someone to talk to for the first time since Monte Grappa (that I could understand..).
It seemed to take forever to get to the border, and I would stop another couple of times for snacks, water and ice cream. A lot of the roads that you would expect to be quiet empty country lanes had a continuous stream of HGV’s. I have no idea where they were coming from or where they were going, but it made for uncomfortable riding.
One last climb and I was rolling down a hill towards the border and Bratislava. I bumped into a really friendly dot watcher who rode with me all the way to town. We chatted, and I think I gave an interview for his vlog – see below. It was the first dot watcher I’d met on the race and was really good to chat, however I was super keen to get to my hotel and get clean, fed and to sleep so we said our goodbyes and I made my way through to the hotel.
Finally found the video – can’t seem to make out a word I say though!
This was a really short day, especially considering I started at 3 am, and it was now only 5 pm. But I really needed the rest. My knees were suffering so I would make the most and recoup some energy before pushing on the following morning.