Updated: Jul 8
I have a good mate in Lanterne Rouge called Mark who likes to remind everyone that 'outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens'. In fact, he likes this so much he saves memes of variations of this theme to send to us all on a regular basis. He's right of course. Progress requires a little pain. On that basis, I must have made huge progress this morning. I climbed almost a thousand metres just to get to the foot of the real climb today, the Tremola. What I hadn't thought about was the effect of the wind. Of course in a valley, you are always riding into a headwind which makes the climbing even harder. By lunchtime, I was running on empty already. The gentle start over the first 15km had lured me into a false sense of security. At the sign for 27km to go to my lunch spot at Airolo the road rose up. What followed was two hours of tortuous climbing mostly between 4-8% with some light relief of 2-4% but more often a punch at 10%. If it's possible to love an inanimate object, I love my Campagnolo Potenza 32 tooth sprocket.
When I arrived at the restaurant for lunch, I wondered momentarily if getting stoned would help me get over the afternoon task, but on balance decided not, even with my 10% discount coupon from my lunch menu. After a massive pizza and yet more Coca-Cola, I was about to set off when a German guy rolled in on a very heavily laden bike. We chatted for a while and he couldn't believe I was doing two weeks with so little kit. I couldn't believe he would get over the mountain with 40kg of kit! But he gave me extra motivation - no way was some fat bloke on a mountain bike beating me up the mountain. There are two ways to get over the St Goddard pass, the Tremola and a newer road. They start together and diverge after a few kilometres. I was opting for the new road as I was told the old one is a mixture of tarmac, gravel, cobbles and dirt. No thanks. Much to my own surprise, I was in control the whole way up, stopping when I wanted to rather than having to. The climb was brutal, averaging over 7% for 12km. But the views were so spectacular the pain was worth it. Corner after corner gave me more amazing views and for once I was glad that Rachel was not with me. We would die of exposure on the mountain with Rachel 's final words being "let me get one more photo". I even coped well with the cobbled sections, although I decided there was no way I was going downhill over them on the other side. About 2km from the top, I had to ride through a freezing cold tunnel, being entered by the wind. When I emerged, I saw to my right the old road with its amazing switchbacks. I had more than a pang of regret as it looked beautiful. But within 5 minutes I had reached the top and was elated. A German guy arrived at the top simultaneously from the other direction and we took photos for each other. He seemed to think this is hilarious in a sort of 'what are the chances' type way. Pretty good I thought as there were bloody loads of cyclists out. We chat for a bit and I tell him it took me an hour to climb up. That shut him up and off he rolled. OK, it was childish, but it made me laugh. If yesterday's descent was scary, today's was flipping terrifying. Not just the speed, but the wind buffeting me and pushing me close to the barriers. The brakes were squealing and I let them off. Within seconds I hit 87kph and I had one of those moments where you imagine the mess if you come off. At one point I pulled into a passing place on the side of the road to calm myself down. I think I would take the familiar pain of climbing every day over the terror of descending a mountain.
Thankfully I negotiated the last two sharp bends without incident and rolled the last 5km into Andermatt. I had only covered half of the distance I rode yesterday, but it was every bit as hard. Today's numbers that count; 1. Time in the saddle - 5:47 and most of that was climbing 2. Meters climbed - 1,894 3. Cokes drunk - 3. Plus a Red Bull and 6 bottles of water 4. Germans overtaken on the climbs - 3 5. The number of people who overtook me - 0 (ha!)