What a beautiful start of the event it was. Sunny and warm. I looked around at the start line. You could feel the excitement but also the nervousness of everyone embarking this big ride. In 8 days we would be in the Netherlands but until we have a long trip ahead of us. And we are not taking the easiest route.
Day 1 proved the point.
We would be facing three challenging climbs: Stelvio from the Prato side (26km/1800m of elevation gain/7.7% average gradient), Foscagno (22km/1000m/3.5%) and Bernina Pass (4km/300m/7.1%).
129km was the route with over 3900m of elevation gain. This would be the shortest of all 8 stages.
Although this event is non-competitive, it has a competitive component. Each stage has a timed segment– the challenge – where you can test your legs. The accumulation of the times led to an overall challenge winner.
For stage 1 we would be timed on Stelvio Pass. As I like the idea of testing my legs, I gave everything climbing up the first climb. Exhausted at the top I had to remind myself that I just completed 30km out of 129km route. Wow! This would be a long day.
And yes, it was.
But along the way, I started to get to know my ride mates. And I tended to ride with a few people for the entire route. Today I did not know yet that I would see those guys for the entire 8 days along the route. We would get to know our strengths and weaknesses very well. We would challenge each other and support one another.
But today, those guys were strangers.
The first day seemed like an epic one-day challenge. I didnt feel like that this was just the beginning of 8 tough but beautiful, memorable days.
The only thing that gave a hint of what is coming up was the camping part. Instead of packing up my stuff and go home like during a normal weekend ride, I shared a camp ground with 260 other participants.
Picking a tent was quite easy. Look for one that is free and throw your stuff inside. Now, it is yours. Then, only remember which one of the 260 blue tents was yours. This might be the difficult part.
As I am not used to camping, this would be one of the biggest challenges for me during this trip. Getting enough sleep.
But it is still early to tell what made this event so special. Tomorrow would be the first of many tests that give The Ride some touches I will never forget.
With no earplugs or eye cover I tried to sleep. Beginner mistake. It was my first night in a tent in 20 years.
I would need to learn how to camp again. I had another 7 days to figure it out.
In the next post, I will write about how I dealt with the steep, hot and long Glass Pass – a climb that left many turn around early because of its cruelty.