Woke up with a problem… I literally could not open my eyes. Initially dismissing it as just being tired, I had to prise my eyes open. Upon inspection in the bathroom, I realised that my eyes were looking a hell of alot more tired than usual - I'd had an allergic reaction to something (most probably dust), my eyes were swollen and nose blocked… or maybe it was just nerves as today, after only 20 K, we had one of the most feared climbs - Monte Zoncolan. Everyone was nervous at breakfast. This whole event is a humungous challenge but this one particular climb had everyone panicking - it has been known for pros to use a triple for this one! Through the town of Ovaro, I knew the start of the climb was imminent. Apparently the locals had taken down the sign that had marked the start of the climb - it had read 'welcome to gates of hell'. The 1st 5K were the steepest - I can't even begin to describe it. My breathing was awful, nostrils still blocked I was making a horrendous wheezing and it was, naturally, the 1st climbed time of the day so I had no option but to go for it. Lucklily my legs were fine as I was working balls deep. There was very little respite during the 10K from the incessant gradient but just before the 3 big tunnels at the top I managed to get up into the big ring to get some speed up. The last 500m after the tunnels were child's play compared to the rest of the climb. Needless to say I was totally screwed at the top, breathing in pieces and chest really strained. 46 minutes for the climb, please with that but with 122 miles still to go it was going to be a very long day.
We are now at the most easterly point of our journey as we circumvent the wooded Forcella. With such an early effort in the bag the following few climbs were a real grind. I spent most of the remainder of the day riding with roomie Dave Ward - I've really landed on my feet with room mates at the Cent Cols and this year was no exception (don't get jealous Matthias!).
We did make a slight mistake on this stage, however, misjudging the final climb before lunch - we thought the Razzio was a 23k climb, turned out it was 29k. We were out of fuel and rather comically within 1k of the lunch stop we both stopped to flag down the Rapha film crew to beg for food - in our state apple and chocolate was the best food combination we've ever had. Mechanic Andy drove past as we were sat at the side of the road shouting' it's only 1k to lunch' to which Dave replied ' yes, but we wouldn't have made it'. The homemade gnocchi at the restaurant was wolfed down in seconds despite our odd pre-lunch amuse bouche, no wonder we were so hungry we'd covered 77 very mountainous miles before lunch. Revitalised the restaurant staff got lots of 'grazie mille' - although it transpired that a slight communication mishap meant they were expecting 100 riders instead of 30.
It was a spectacular afternoon of climbing on the Antonio, Monte Croce and Tre Croci as we came in sight of the Austrian border. My chest was still sore for the 2nd timed climb but the legs were feeling ok. Feeling generally pretty screwed by now luckily Dave was doing the lion's share of the work and after the 2nd feed I felt refreshed and strong until the end of the stage. We were still climbing the last summit at 19.40 as the course kept going and going. With lights on we formed a pack of 4 and finished with a fast descent in to Cortina. Long, long day, amazing amount of climbing - over 6000 meters- eyes sore, legs screaming but feeling so alive.