Friday, September 23, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Alba to Niederolang

"I don't believe it!" I cried. But there it was: the sign clearly indicated "Furkelpass", despite the lack of climbing chevrons on our map. I looked up the pass elevation: 1789m, so about 800m of climbing. We'd already climbed 2 passes and fought a nasty headwind all the way to this point. "I'm OK with riding to Bruneck." said Arturo. I stared at the map. Two nasty tunnels were on the flat route to Bruneck. I couldn't bring myself to consider it. "We don't need a rest day," I said. "Getting to the hotel too early would just leave us with nothing to do. Let's climb."

The mad rush to breakfast paid off and we were rewarded by eggs! Eggs are a bit of a rarity when it comes to hotels in the alps, so I ate two!
We left the hotel at 8:30am. The sun was already shining in the mountains, but it was cold in the shade and ravines. I'd originally thought that it would be easier for us to ride Pordoi and Campolongo than Sella and Gardena, but Pengtoh had made me look at the map carefully and I realized that it made next to no difference, and in any case going with him to Sella was the right thing to do.

By the time we made it to Passo Sella at 2200m, we were cold. I immediately put on my jacket and leg warmers, and we took photos at our last pass with all 3 of us together.
After that, it was a fast descent to the Gardena intersection. Here, we found two girls who were hitch-hiking who were willing to take one last photo of the 3 of us together:
From here, Pengtoh would descend to Ponte Gardena to catch the train to Innsbruck, while Arturo and I would get to ride up Gardena before turning North towards Olang. Not being one for long farewells, I said goodbye and started up the pass, which looked like an easy one since we hadn't descended more than 200m. What I didn't take into account was the retrograde in the shade. It was pretty cold, but fortunately the final climb up the Gardena was in the sun. Nevertheless, it was fairly cool, and so I proposed to Arturo that we had a sit down lunch at the summit restaurant.
From a scenery point of view, Gardena is spectacular. But on a Saturday, the traffic was dense, there were cars everywhere, and it was very clear that if you'd chosen to drive this loop, not only would there be a lot of time spent stuck behind other cars, even if you wished to stop you'd have no place to stop. Ironically, while bicyclists wouldn't have that latter restriction, the cycling is also no fun because of the traffic. Arturo got buzzed by a motorcyclist, and much later on he said that he never got his groove back for the rest of the day.
At the Corvara intersection, we made a left turn to head towards Olang, but the expected easy descent soon turned nasty. We had nasty traffic, a gusty headwind, and no bike path to speak of, just one ugly ski resort after another. It being a Saturday, we couldn't even find an open supermarket at the Furkelpass intersection.

The initial climb up the Furkelpass was not bad, being rather gentle. The weather had warmed up, however, and not being able to find a water fountain anywhere (even the ski stations were closed), in St. Vigil we spotted a house with a garden hose outside, and refilled out water bottles. To our surprise, the road up to Costamesana after that flattened out! "Uh oh," said Arturo. "If we have 500m left to climb and 2.5km to do it in, that's a 20% grade!"
Those words were prescient as the climb started up at 18% grade, and did not relent for ages. Arturo was feeling very good, and motor'd on ahead while I brought up the rear. A cyclist passed me, and wished me luck when he saw that I was carrying a touring load. This was intense, but fortunately we were at our peak condition, and had plenty of water, so made it to the pass with only some suffering. "That was amazing," said Arturo, who looked fresh and well-rested when I arrived. "If it had happened at the start of the tour, it would have been painful. But coming in at this time it felt great!" Indeed, our bodies had been rebuilt by daily cycling, and we had plenty of reserves for the hard climbs. We had even acclimated to extreme heat and were no longer sweating like before.
The descent was amazing. It was very clear that the Pustel valley was full of enthusiastic cyclists, as we saw day cyclist after day cyclist climb up the way we were coming down. It's a steep grade with gorgeous views of the valley, but you don't see that view when you're climbing, and when you're descending, it's too fun to stop.
"If we'd known it was like this," said Arturo, "we would have booked one of the high hotels for the views. It's actually cheaper!" In the summer, the ski lifts don't run, and so nobody stays high in the mountains. We arrived in Niederolang just in time to see the middle of a concert rehearsal:
"They must be American. The English is too good." Then we heard the conductor and the instrumentalists conversing and realized that nope, everyone spoke German. At that moment we realized that staying in Niederolang wasn't bad at all.

The Hotel turned out to be still a distance from town center, but on bikes it didn't take 15 minutes. It was an excellent hotel which granted us access to the swimming pool/gym across the street. The hotel room was actually a suite consisting of two rooms. Unfortunately, I'd left my swim suit in Frankfurt, so could not make use of the swimming facilities.

We walked back to the town center to buy supplies for tomorrow's ride, since it was a Sunday and we were unlikely to encounter an open grocery store before Lienz. We sat in on the concert some more, and were unhappy to hear that the official concert took place at 8:00pm. There was no way we would come out for this, since we needed an early start.

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