Mike Simpson

Any Garage in a Blizzard

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The freak weather had made the Giro organisers modify stage 19 the night before, the Gavia that we climbed a few days ago was deemed unsafe. Our plan initially remained the same............Ride the Stelvio and then watch on the mountain finish in the Val Martello. However on route we hear of -14 temperatures on the top of the Stelvio, and it was about 1 degree at the base of the climb with heavy snow forecast in the next few hours. It would have been foolish to attempt, so we headed for the Val Martello instead. It was the mountain finish to todays stage.

As we kitted up in the rain, we heard that the whole stage had been cancelled due to the snow, but we headed off up anyway to see for ourselves. Within a kilometre it was snowing heavily, riding in a blizzard in late May at only 800m elevation is just bizarre. On the early slopes there was a stream of vehicles returning off the mountain, having heard of the cancellation. No riders and not many cars were going up. There were motor caravans coming down with two foot of snow on them! A few drivers stopped to say something to me, not understanding Italian I just carried on. It was cold but bearable, and the snow wasn't settling, so I pressed on. Halfway up and my concern was that it would freeze and the descent back would be lethal. I decide to attempt to make it all the way up and if the roads were frozen coming down, I'll try and get a lift.

Oddly it warmed up for the middle section as the snow fall intensified. Then the snow eased for the last 5km but the temperature was dropping rapidly. I made it to the top as the organisers were dismantling the finishing gantry. The key to staying warm on a descent in such appalling conditions is putting on a dry base layer at the top. Starting the descent it was clear my gears had frozen, the cables were covered in ice and the cassette was full of the stuff. Not really a problem, more a problem was my frozen brakes. They were beginning to seize. The wind chill was pretty painful and that coupled with my bike not really responding much to braking, it would have been foolish to carry on. Luckily some Italian firemen were partying in a garage four miles down, offering beer, schnapps and pork on a spit! I settled for warmth and friendly banter, thank you guys.

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