Wednesday 3rd September – Stage 4: Tolmezzo to Cortina d’Ampezzo
Approx Stats: 190 km; 6,200 m; 10 Cols
Main climbs: Sella Monte Zoncolan, Forcella Valcada, Passo di Luis, Passo di Razzo, Passo San Antonio, Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
The Queen Stage (i.e. best and probably hardest), aka ‘The Beast of the Challenge’ is dominated by the first climb that comes 20 km after breakfast and is obviously the main feature of this epic stage: welcome to the Monte Zoncolan, with sustained gradients of up to 22%. Phil says all other notions of steep will become relative after this one. We then head back west via the c.30 km climb to the Forcella di Razzo, before hitting the Passo san Antonio with its 6km of 10% over 16 hairpins. Together with the Beast early on, this stage is book-ended by a second climb that re-defines steep, but this time in a setting that is pure magic: the Tre Cime di Laveredo – the viscious climb that Eddy Merckx described as the finest performance of his career, when he won there in the 1968 edition of the Giro d’Italia.
Sorry folks, but by necessity (i.e. too little time), this is just going to be a stream of thoughts:
Stage 4 completed, but I didn’t get in until almost 9.00 pm; in the dark. Again. And the rain, again. Just me, Loren, Phil (Obi-Wan/The Good Shepherd) and Dale. 188km and 6,000m of climbing. Biggest climbing day I’ve ever done and both the Zoncolan and the Tre Cime hurt like hell. My knees feel like they just went 12 rounds with Mike Tyson. My throat’s sore from gasping for air all day (and some of the night). My hands have blisters from wrenching my bike up 20%+ gradients. The Zoncolan is the hardest climb I’ve ever done. About 15 guys out of 27 starters are still on track for their cols, but so many things could close you down in a heartbeat and I know my own success chances hang by a pretty meagre thread. Phil’s clearly not got any cols in hand for us, so the pressure is constantly there to see every day through to the bitter end. I go through a myriad of emotions every hour: I can do this. Or maybe I can’t. The pressure is immense. I hope my body holds up. I’ve bee trying to cut my finger nails for four days, but never seem to find the time. I’ve run out of clean kit – again, there’s no time to wash it. Yet another big day tomorrow – the Sella Ronda and a bunch of other things. Just three pics for you. I need to stretch and sleep now. SGL.