Italian Racing and Onwards to South Africa

Racing around in the Italian Dolomites was spectacular.  High mountain passes, abundant alpine, fresh air and the towering castles of the Dolomites in every direction.  The scenery easily matchs that of the Canadian Rockies I grew up in, the big difference here is the amount of people in the area.  Italy has almost double the population of Canada, situated in a land mass about 1/30th as big.  This means there are people, tramways, and buildings everywhere and on every corner of every mountain.  In Canada the Rockies are more less still wild with few people outside the main valleys, instead Grizzly bears, packs of wolves and there prey roam around the landscape.  Over in Europe the only animals we have witnessed have been herds of cows fattening up in the alpine.

The SellaRonda Hero race itself was unreal as 4014 racers, + there support staff took over the small village of Selva di Val Gardena for the weekend.  I was travelling with Willy Mulonia and Roberto from the Mongolia Bike Challenge, they were the support team and had us arriving on Wednesday evening so we could get a campsite before the hoards came.  We found a small tight space between a couple other campers along side a road to set up base for the weekend.  The atmosphere in town before the race was crazy with “Hero” signs on every hotel and street corner, 10 times more bikers then cars, and every hotel room in the valley booked solid with bikes hanging off there decks.

The days before the race were spent watching campers drive around in circles searching for places to pullover.    Race day itself hit early with a 7:10 am start time.  The body was not pleased when I tried opening the throttle on the first 30 minute climb heading straight up from the start line.  Going over the top in 40th or so we surprisingly hit some single track down the backside which was awesome, but unfortunately clogged up with the elite woman and hobby racers they sent out at 7am ahead of us.  Going around one lady I clipped a tree going down lightly but banging my bars out of alignment.  1 minute later after an adjustment I was back in the saddle, now a long ways back and at rock bottom for the day.

From here the engine finally got fired and the next 4 hours was spent picking riders off.  The last 2 hours were spent battling with Italian Marzio Deho, we had an epic battle at the 2011 Mongolia Bike Challenge with him taking the honors after I triple flatted on stage 7.  This time around I avoided flat tires and took him on the last climb to claim 15th on the day.  This was a nice result given the horrible start and the fact only 14 guys were faster on the day and 3999 were slower.  The added bonus was finding out I had the 6th fastest time over the last 15km of the course which is a good sign the legs may be in fine form for Worlds this weekend.

The following day we went for another splendid ride into the alpine before my A+ support crew headed home and dropped me off in the quiet Italian town of Bolzano for the night.  This was a great place to chill, one of the few places left unscathed by the World Wars and now offering a pleasant blend of Italian and Austrian culture.  It has been ranked #1 in Italy for quality of living in the past few years and was easy to see why with the laid back atmosphere and clean cobblestone streets slithering between looming castles and churches.  A couple Austria friends, Manual and Anderl were training in the area and came down from there mountain retreat for some cappuccino/ green tea chilling before I started the 36 hour journey to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa for the World Marathon Champs.

The journey started off with some good training as I tried to lug 60 kg of luggage to the train station from the hostel.  The problem here was that I planned on having a car for the trip so packed on the heavy side.  About halfway to the station I was starting to crack, but luckily there was a street shelter with a bunch of bored people hanging about which I hired one of them to pack my bike box for a couple euros.  The porter service was great and soon I was on the train to Munich Germany.  The next problem hit when the Train security guard came around to collect tickets and saw my bike box, immediately saying it must be given away at the next station.  I disagreed with this but the German dude was serious, and pissed.

 

There is a real problem in Europe trying to figure out the situation with taking bikes on the trains as some welcome it and others hate it, with there being no real way of knowing until you board.  After negotiations and $10 euro bonus pay the bike was allowed to stay but I was forced to drag it through 6 train cars to another area.  It was like tertras trying to negotiate the bike box through  the cars but it was eventually completed, then I returned to my seat, just in time to see a young Swedish boy hop on the train with his bike box, placing it exactly where my box had just been.  It was a good show watching round two as the German ticket master blew his top to see another box on his precious train.

Once at Munich airport the journey went smooth with a nice flight with South African airways to Johanesburg.  Then another round of my $190 dollar rental car turning into $700 as the Europcar agency didn’t like the price I found online and opted to change it, a little searching around I found a car for $170 for the 9 days and was off on the  5 hour drive to Pietermartizburg.  Trying to be proactive I bought a electronic pass to get through the tolls, which worked great for the first 2, but the 3rd one required other payment.  Visa was accepted, unfortunately just not Canadian visas. Sometimes you think you have things figured out but you forget key steps like getting out some local currency.

Trying to pay the $3 toll with Euros wasn’t accepted so I was screwed and left sitting there as the toll lady glared down.  I asked to pull a u turn to head back to get money but she said no,  instead she continued to glare down expecting me to suddenly come up with some South African money or something.   I had plugged up the South African freeway with 10+ cars in the lineup honking and yelling so I understood the glare but it wasn’t a getting us anywhere.  Unable to pay, unable to turn around, I sat there trying to figure out a solution.  First I tried walking back to the cars behind asking to trade 10 euros for 3$ South African dollars but was denied, I opted not to ask the 3rd guy as he was one of the yellers.  Lucky enough there was a random nice saint way back in the lineup who voluntarily paid the toll and my journey continued.

Finally rolling into the B&B in Pietermaritzburg to see my Japanese friends Yuki and Saya was a nice relief after a rather epic travel adventure from Italy.

The last few days have been spent getting ready for the race and pre-riding the 97 km Marathon course.  It was a safari out there with herds of wildebeest, gazel, zebras, wild boars and ostriches roaming about.  There were also a gazillion gates and fences as a large part of the course is over private property.  Yesterday 6 of us were out on a pre-ride when we came to a fence with no gate, I was the first to try and hop it but got zapped back as it had a serious electric current running through it.  My hair is still standing up. Other than the electric fences, the course is rad, full of climbing, single track, and everything else, making it a very dynamic and fun course to ride.

 

Off to fuel up.

Race Day is Sunday @ 8am (midnight Saturday in Alberta):  Live coverage can be found at:  www.mtbworldchamps.co.za

 

Here is a little pre-race talk with the guys from Canadian Cycling Magazine:  www.cyclingmagazine.ca

One Comment on “Italian Racing and Onwards to South Africa”

  • Peter June 30th, 2014 9:19 am

    Congratz on your Worldchamp result!! 😀

    I saw you riding along the day before Sellaronda. Tried to catch your attention, but you were already gone. To bad, hope to catch up with you again one time!

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