Monday, July 21, 2008

Mountain Mama Prep: A Real Long One

Well, as preparation for the Mountain Mama on August 2, I went north to PA, to find some real mountains...not planning to do too long a ride....I found myself gettingup at 6:00 am and then suddenly some 85 miles out of State College, in a little place called Selinsgrove PA, after 3 climbs, including the ugly Ulch Gap, with grades of 15 to yes, 24 percent in spots, short but is the route

Was doing fine after some lager (no hefeweizen) at the Selinsgrove microbrewery, pretty good place:

but left knee started to give me some problems around mile 105, on a hot hot stretch heading the time we got to Hickernell Well, I was in serious pain, but our spirits had been buoyed by the arrival of Kurt K, who had slept in and started out at 1:30, 45 miles out from SC. Kurt numbed me up with four bottles of ice cold Hickernell Well water, and we chatted with a couple who were going to spend 30 minutes at the well filling up water jugs, they claim the water is the best in the state....back in the saddle and another hard climb, then downhill and rolling into Spring Mills, where the acute pain forced an abandonment after a meager 135 miles. Think it may be an inflamed tendon, will be taking it easy before Mama..rescued by Dad and son Nic, whisked back to town and some tall beers at the Autoport...what a ride...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Post Tour Ride, Looking Ahead

Back on the road Sunday after a two day layoff, the legs were still kind of sore, as were shoulder and back. Did quick 16 mile loop with Phil, and provided fuller download of Alp and Dolomite stories...looking forward to ride this weekend in State College, PA with northern peleton, further warmup for Mountain Mama in early August. Its not too late to sign up:

Monday, July 7, 2008

Next Installments?

On the plane back from Rome, I met another cyclist who had just completed a 10 day tour through the Abruzzo. He said the climbing was good and there were not as many motorcyclists as in the Alps. Already thinking about a possible European jaunt next year, the intrepid cyclist is considering a possible French classic week, the Abruzzo, Sardegna, or some other good climbing venue to bring the peleton.....

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Further Plug for Massimo and GFC

Here is the website for Massimo's business, gardaexplore:

He teaches all sorts of cool stuff, like Nordic walking, mountain biking, etc. and can arrange special tours for specific places and interests. He is an excellent tour leader and I highly recommend his services.

Keep in mind GranFondo Cycling for great tours like the Italian classics, granfondos, and particularly the Maratona del Dolomiti; they have special in for entry applications, which are done by lottery otherwise.

Tour Data: Part III, The Full Monty

OK, here are links to the stages (click on or copy whole link and paste into browser window):

Stage 1:

Stage 2:

Stage 3:

Stage 4:

Stage 5:

Stage 6:

Stage 7:

Note: I forgot to reset the Garmin unit before starting Stage 6, so Stage 5 is a bit hosed, showing straight line from Bormio to La Villa (start of Stage 6). If you zoom in on the excellent map for Stage 5 near Bormio, you can see some of the switchbacks, etc. and follow the entire climb. On Stage 5 you can also see how close we were to the Swiss border. The group which did both sides went down into Switzerland, then back into Italy and up the other side.

Tour: Data Dump, Part II

OK, the full data is in:

Total miles ridden: 215
Total feet of climbing: 30,000 plus (all real climbing, no rollers)

Highest elevation:

Stage 1 (Valpolicella, Fosse): 3228 ft
Stage 2 (Madonna di Ghisallo): 2479 ft
Stage 3 (Passo di Gavia): 8587 ft
Stage 4 (Passo di Mortirolo): 4296 ft (this should have been around 7000 ft)
Stage 5 (Passo di Stelvio): 9014 ft
Stage 6 (Passi Valparolla, Campolongo): 7236 ft (Valparolla)
Stage 7 (Sellaronda): 7359 ft (Pordoi)

Max speed:

Stage 1 (Valpolicella, Fosse): 41.7 mph
Stage 2 (Madonna di Ghisallo): 35.3 mph
Stage 3 (Passo di Gavia): 43.2
Stage 4 (Passo di Mortirolo): 35.6 mph
Stage 5 (Passo di Stelvio): no descent
Stage 6 (Passi Valparolla, Campolongo): 43.9 mph
Stage 7 (Sellaronda): 38.9 mph

Note: Those who completed the full Mortirolo and the "doppio Stelvio" did another 10,000 ft of climbing!! Now that I feel better and am down at 400 feet, I feel ready to do the doppio Stelvio...will have to return to do the 48 switchback side, hopefully with some members of the missing peleton....

Friday, July 4, 2008

Tour: Data Beginning to Come in....

Seven days of riding: every day 2000-6000 feet of climbing (details to follow)
Clif Shots consumed: 20
Hammer Gel Perpetuem consumed: 15 scoops
Bananas downed: 10
Gatorade gulped: too much to count
Pasta: molto

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Tour: Thanx to GFC in General and Massimo in Particular

At our final dinner together at the Boffenigo, we toasted our guide and leader Massimo, who really made the difference on this one, teaching us about the local cycling culture and more, encouraging us on each tough climb, arranging all the meals, the support van and troubleshooting our minor and major problems with good humor. We salute you Massimo!!! Massimo is involved with a local business that organizes sporting related tours of the Garda area and other locations in Italy. Will post more information about his site later.

As we sat around during the final dinner, it was hard to come up with something to complain about on this trip, other than the untimely weather on the first day in the Dolomiti. A big big plug for Gran Fondo Cycling, which organized a great program, with a mix of climbs including around Garda and Como, and an excellent mix of Alpine and Dolomite passes. The hotel and meal arrangements were all excellent and the support was superb. Thanx to Mike Elmer for joining us in La Villa and riding the Dolomite portion, he was a great addition and added to our knowledge of Italian cycling. Thanx to Tobias and Carrie Panek from GFC for a great trip, and hope Carrie will soon be back on the bike....

Finally, a special thanx to Dan, Bruce, Steve, and Michael for sharing the rode, all the meals, including the sausage and sauerkraut panini, inspiring one another to keeping going on hard days, for their great senses of humor, and for making this trip a truly memorable experience! Saluti!!!

The Tour: Back to Garda and Beyond

Though we still dreamed of more climbing and descending, our leader Massimo insisted that we load up and get on the road for the return trip to the Hotel Boffenigo. We loaded the cycles and then downed amazing forno cooked pizzas at a pizzeria near the Hotel Diana. Pizza had never tasted so good....
The drive out of the Dolomites revealed further beautiful scenery, as we wound our way down through Bolzano and down to the north side of Garda, Massimo pointing out great climbs along the way...this area would be a great place for a summer residence....

Stage 7, The Sellaronda, Passo Gardenia, Cowbells at Last

Finally, the top of the Gardenia reached, but only, I must stress, with the assistance of once again, cowbell, encountered here about midway on the ascent.....At the top, purchased some nice Dolomiti "chum", including a Gardenia patch. I should have gotten one of these on each of the passes, but did not realize they were for sale. Will ask Massimo to perhaps obtain from each of passes we finished...The long ride back down through Corvara to La Villa was excellent, if a little chilly......

Stage 7, The Sellaronda, Passo Gardenia

Another fearless descent down the Sella and another right hand turn, this time for the final ascent of the Sellaronda, the beautiful Passo Gardenia. We had driven this pass the day before, and thought it didnt look so bad, but after nearly 5000 feet of climbing, including reaching well over 7000 feet several times, this last climb was anything but easy...

Stage 7, The Sellaronda, Passo di Sella, Near Top

The scenery on the Sella may may have been some of the best we saw in the Dolomiti...climbing out of beatiful pine forests, surrounded by sheer rock faces rearing up high into the blue sky, surely this was where climbing on a two wheeled machine under only human power was meant to take place.....

Stage 7, The Sellaronda, Passo Sella

Just as you scream down the Pordoi, mojo roiling, you realize that you face another very tough climb, this one the Passo di Sella. Massimo had been warning about this one, and it turned out he was right again, per usual. The scenery here though made it just a tad easier to reach down and find some more energy....

Stage 7, The Sellaronda, Passo Pordoi

The Pordoi was the beginning climb for one of the tough Dolomiti stages in this years Giro di Italia. The climb starts right away as you leave the town of Arraba, and the first part has grades of 8'-10 percent....its not as hard as some of the longer climbs such as Gavia and Stelvio, but it was challenging at this point in the tour, and with the tough Sella and easier Gardenia to follow, I knew I had to save some mojo for it turned out, I "won" this stage, having been spotted a slight head start by the peleton....I was looking for cowbell though the whole way up, can I get more cowbell? Brownie? Thats a famous Fausto Coppi statue, Il Campionissimo, at the top of the Pordoi...

Stage 7, The Sellarondo, Campologno Video

The Dolomites are really spectacular, this gives some sense of the climb out of La Villa, but the scenery would become ever more impressive as the Sellaronda wore on......

Stage 7, The Sellaronda, Passo di Campolongo

This was not a particularly hard climb out of La Villa, but there was no time for warmup, as was typical of a lot of these climbs, out the door and zoom, up up and up....At least it was dry today, and the air was really fresh...unsure how the legs would feel after 6 days of intense climbing, I was anticipating maybe having to bail after the first climb...left knee was also sore...but got to the top with no problems and plunged down the other side, ready for the next challenge, the massive Pordoi.....

Stage 7, the Sellaronda

The Sellaronda is a standard Dolomoti ride that goes up and over four major high mountain passes: Campolongo, Pordoi, Sella, and Gardenia. The two middle climbs are quite hard, while the first and last are less so, though no pieces of cake, mind you. The Sellaronda is also the short loop of the Maratona di Dolomiti ( One of our guides, Mike Elmer, took another group on this ride, which finished last Sunday. It is a very high tech race, with each rider given a special chip that helps officials record their routes and times. Check out this website ( which shows Mike at various stages of the race (you would have to know what he looks like to pick him out). He was riding as Tobias Panek, head of Gran Fondo, who had to bow out of this years event.

We started early, straight up into the Campolongo climb, reversing the freezing descent of the day before. This side of the Campolongo was easier....

Stage 6, The Dolomites, Passo Valparolla, Passo Campolongo

After driving down the Stelvio, we high tailed in the van across northern Italy, travelling via Bolzano and on up into the Dolomites. We went over the Passo Gardenia, which would feature in the tours amazing final day (see above) and down through lovely Corvara and into La Villa, our starting point for the 2 days of Dolomiti riding. After the full day of Stelvio climbing and 3 hour van ride we were ready for some well deserved rest at the lovely Hotel Diana in La Villa. This is a major sportivo area, with mountain biking, Nordic walking, skiing, etc.

The following day we set out early for our first Dolomite ride. This took us up the Passa Valparolla, a tough climb, and then screaming down into a lovely valley, around to Arraba, and then up and over the Passo Campolongo, which we would come back over the following day. Unfortunately, 1) I forgot to put my SD card in my camera and quickly used up the internal memory, and I cant get the videos and pictures off until I have the right cable, and 2) it rained for most of the ascent and desent of the Campolongo. The descent was not fun, as I was freezing and shaking so much that I almost lost control of the bike. Steve and I stopped in Corvara on the way down and had great pizza, thin crust with aspargi, funghi, e spinaci....a hot hot shower at the end brought us back to life, and ready for the next stage: the innocent sounding Sellaronda.....

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stage 5, Passo di Stelvio, Cowbell

For Brownie and the guys, I did manage to get some more cowbell.....The 48, lets say, take a LOT of cowbell to get up.....

Stage 5, Passo di Stelvio, Looking Down the 48

This gives you a sense of the view down the 48 switchback side. I did take the podium briefly, sans the beautiful women and flowers, but decided that I was barely worthy of 3rd....

After we all ate some panini with sauerkraut and sausage (please hold), we headed back down those switchbacks in the van. One of our number had a bit of a mishap with the sausage and the switchbacks later on, though he managed to keep it all out the window and we were able to stop at a gas station and tidy things up...

Stage 5, Passo di Stelvio, The Top

Finally at the top, we faced a choice, descend about 500 feet, take a left, go into Switzerland, and go back around to other climb with 48 switchbacks, and another 6000 feet of climbing. To their everlasting credit, Dan, Bruce, Michael, Freddy, and Massimo (who had not climbed the Bormio side), all went around. I was feeling a bit light headed at 9000 plus feet and opted, along with Steve, to wait at the top for the peleton to come around. I know that if "The Engine" had been with me, I would have thrown caution to the wind and gone up again......

Stage 5, Passo di Stelvio, The Scenery

Here is an attempt to capture the majesty of the Stelvio climb. As noted previously, the climb from Bormio is considered the "easier" of the two ways. Its only 5000 ft compared to 6000 ft in climbing the more traditional side, but it is nevertheless extremely challenging.

Random Action and Dinner Shots

Left, Mortirolo Ascent, middle Stelvio Podium, right, dinner at rustic restaraunt, pasta was fantastico....

Passo di Stelvio, Nearing Top

This was a helluva climb, over 5000 ft, to over 9000 ft, breaking my all time record set two days ago on the Gavia! Started to feel the altitude at the top, but it was not too bad, this climb is not to be missed...

Passo di Stelvio, Mid Section

Both ascents of the Stelvio have their challenges...the side we started on has 40 switchbacks, with two main tranches, an early section, and then a fairly steep section of switchbacks in the middle leading up to a long valley ascent to the Swiss border turnoff....there is also a section of tunnels after the initial switchback section. The grade on much of the climb is 7 or above, with some easier though brief sections.....

Stage 5, Passo di Stelvio Ascent

Determined to make up for yesterdays ignomy on the Mortirolo, the intrepid rider started strong on the 5000 plus foot ascent of the Stelvio from the Bormio side. This side has 40 switchbacks, compared to 48 on the other "classic side". Our schedule today included the short section, climbing one way, and the long ride, which would wind down into Switzerland after the first climb and then do the 48 switchback version, i,e. Stelvio in both directions.....

Bormio, Beautiful City

Bormio is a lovely town, with cobblestone streets and lots of old buildings from the 12th century. We had some great pannini at the Cave Cavour and LOTS of German wheat beers each day...burp....

Passo di Mortirolo, Finish

Still wanting to return and finish the climb (ha!), I got a second wind (of course) on the road back to the van location. Stefano was waiting there and after putting the bikes on the van, we had a great gelato, and discussed many wordly issues.....then it was back to Bormio by van (no one in the group, except Dan, who waivered slightly), wanted to hoof up the nearly 2000 ft vertical climb to Bormio, which was a decent road, but with lots of traffic and some nasty tunnels to negotiate....

Passo di Mortirolo, Descent Video

The descent from the Mortirolo was
pretty difficult, given the narrow road
and the need to go slow, which coupled
with the grade, meant that the wheels
heated up considerably and I had to
stop several times to let them cool.
In addition, after the descent there was a fairly long reascent of the road to Bormio to the meeting point where we had left the van. This climb was what we came to call "Massimo flat", ie 2-5 percent grade....Massimo is an amazing climber, native to the area and a real goat in the mountains... left photo is road back up towards Bormio near Tirano, right is house near base of Mortirolo miles on this day still respectable, around 26...

Passo di Mortirolo, Abandonmente

Ok, here was the scenario, we had descended from Bormio, 4000 ft, to the base of the Mortirolo climb, at around 2000 ft. At this point in video I had climbed over 1000 feet, but in a fairly short distance, given the grade. The Marco Pantani memorial was another 2000 agonizing feet, and it was getting tough to keep the heart rate down. The summit was another 2000 feet beyond that, so I was facing 4000 feet of vertical climbing at high grades. We were also looking at a formidable climb the following day, the Stelvio, so the question facing the fatigued rider was, do I expend massive energy on this climb, or abandon now and face Stelvio with some mojo intact....It was a tough tough choice, given that the others were pounding up around the 9 km mark at that point (top was 12.5 km)....In the end I regrettfully abandoned, al0ng with Stefano and two riders from the Breakaway Tour, all of whom also were facing the Stelvio climb....

Passo di Mortirolo, Ascent Video

Here is a taste of what the peleton was up against was kinda hot too, so fluid loss and energy
output were critical variables....this type of climbing
is basically all legs.....I do want to send out a thank you
here to my Pilates instructor, Stephanie, for working
core strength, this is all about the core....sigh...

Passo di Mortirolo, Ascent in Earnest

So, you start getting the idea of this climb, it pretty much goes straight up and there is no, repeat no let up in the climb, no real switchbacks to get a bit of a break. The grade fairly quickly nears 20 percent, and stays around 15-20 in the early part of the ascent....

Stage 4, Passo di Mortirolo, Ascent

Ok, after a 15 mile or so ride, we were at the base of the Mortirolo, where Massimo obliged with a group shot. He rode the climb today, as he did not want to take the van on the narrow road. From left, Freddy (Netherlands), Bruce (Albuquerque), Paolo (Sicilia), Stefano (Seattle), Michael (Brooklyn), and Dan (Albuquerque)...the first part of the climb is out of the small town at the base, but it gets real steep real fast....

Stage 4, Passo di Mortirolo

Ok, so our by now well established routine, up around 730, eat breakfast, on the road by 830 or 900, was continued today, for the Mortirolo. This is one of the hardest climbs of the Giro, and no one less than Lance himself called it the hardest climb he had ever done. To get to the Mortirolo. which is a rather narrow forrested road most of the way, and not a grand pass in the tradition of the Gavia and Stelvio, we headed south out of Bormio, descending almost 2000 vertical feet to the start of the climb. Because of construction on the road, we had to do a special "surprise" climb in the middle of the descent....on the right, a fresh rider contemplates the days ride from the van, which each day contains the essentials: bananas, gatorade, water...

Gavia Descent Video

Brief video of descent from Gavia, going pretty
fast at this point, road quality is very very good.
We ascended from Bormio side, which is considered
slightly easier (ha!) than from the other side. We
came back down the same way to Bormio. All the
major climbs were done out of Bormio, at town center,
from our hotel, turn right to ascend Gavia, straight to
Stelvio, and left down the valley to start of Mortirolo...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cowbells on Gavia

Finally got a video up after several tries...this
one should show some cows on the Gavia ascent.
Not sure you can hear the cowbells Brownie,
but they are there, I also got some cowbell on the

Bormio, The Hotel

Down from the climb, we settled in at the Hotel, a lovely place run by a family, mother and two daughters...highly recommended, the Hotel serves skiers during the winter season. The food is fantastic, with pasta, various local dishes, local wine, cheese, etc...and lots of fruit, coffee, and great bread for fueling at breakfast...the lobby features tons of cycling videos of all major races and climbs, for the cyclist who has not had enough on the roads and climbs themselves...we did watch a video of the entire Motirolo climb, which is tommorows ride, lets just say, it looks painful, and the grades are ridiculous....the photo on the left was the view from my room...

Passo di Gavia, Descending

The descent was almost as amazing as the ascent, as the rider has more time to look around and notice things, the pain level having lessened considerably....i must have said outloud a dozen or more times, this is amazing....the air quality needless to say is very high at 8000 feet, despite the motorcyclists.....the flower picture is for my favorite nature photographer, she knows who she is....

Passo di Gavia, Top

Here the intrepid climber has finally reached the top! Bruce and Dan had already passed me going down, Michael was at the top and Stefano was not far behind...a lot of freaking motorcyclists, a real pain, were at the top, but we didnt let them bother us.....Massimo took picture of me with sign, he is providing CD later with a lot more action photos.

Passo di Gavia, Nearing Top

Be sure to click on photos to see full resolution! These are more shots of the ascent to Gavia Pass. We came out of the initial forested area finally, and into shorter brush. There were a lot of cows grazing as we got further up and the trees gave way to grass...for Brownie, there was a lot of COW BELL! As we came above tree line, the wind picked up and it got a bit cold...the top was near...

Stage 3, Passo di Gavia Middle

The Gavia is pretty much specatular from start to finish. You begin climbing along a beautiful river coming off glaciers high in the alps, and the road winds up through picturesque valleys, with many different types of terrain....