Today was a mixture of emotions standing on the start line I felt elated to have made it this far, with no serious mechanicals for both me and the bike! But unhappy that it was to be the last 54 km ride in this beautiful race.
After a dry start leaving Trento, we started the gradual climb up from 200m to 1700m. The climb started on road turning to forest tracks and gravel paths as we steadily made it to the top. I was feeling great today, no aches and pains and was actually enjoying this demanding climb. (Clearly I’m getting used to the Alps!) Some sections were pretty steep and with all the rain over night rather slippy too and had to be walked. I joined a trail of silent cyclists pushing their bikes with a feeling of accomplishment that we all shared being there on the final day. Once the terrain was rideable I enjoyed the forest trails which were very like home in a way and the rain was certainly not dampening my state of mind as I looked for the lines ahead. The Era has been fantastic, apart from a few gearing issues caused by the 42t sprocket I put on for climbing. The low stand-over height and rear shock have given me confidence to try lines and go down singletrack which I know I would usually not do. I have relished in pushing myself out of my comfort zone and have found this whole week has been one long learning curve on bike handling, climbing, scrambling, nutrition and positive mental attitude!
The rain soon set in hard and I was so glad to have my Gore Tex jacket. The feed station at 19km was full of chilly cyclists sipping hot soup still with smiles on their faces.
I didn’t stop for long just grabbing some pineapple and a drinks refill before continuing climbing to the summit at 24km.
When I reached the top I felt relieved that my last big hill climb was behind me, but sad that I was nearly half way through the final stage. During this race there has been many highs and lows and I have learnt so much about myself, met some wonderful people and have fully immersed myself in the adventure, one that I am already looking to replicate by taking on another stage race, these thoughts filled my head as I soaked up the downhill. The first part was grassy paths through steep sided gulley’s, which in the dry would have been great fun, but the rain had made them like ice rinks and together with a group I cautiously made my way down these steep parts. Once we hit fire road, I enjoyed the sweeping corners singing songs with the word rain in them, as I made my way down to try and keep my spirits high as the rain tumbled from the sky.
The feed station at 32km came with a very welcome hot tea and waffles. I had two cups and carried on. Just up the road was my Dad, like a hot water bottle angel, he stood with dry gloves and arm warmers. I have never been so happy to pull on a cosy warm layer and this really helped get me up what was now my final climb in the Alps!
At the top of the climb Michelle was waiting huddled with Tom (her boyfriend). We finished the final downhill section together down some rocky singletrack which I really enjoyed. Now we were not as high, it was warm and damp, a little bit like a summer in Wales, so I felt really at home whizzing down the trails looking for the lines which avoided any slippy roots.
Racing into the back roads of the town, full of puddles and pot holes and through the final finishing archway was incredible, I felt like I was dreaming. After thinking of this moment for the last 10 months, visualising what it would feel like to have accomplished my dream it was difficult to describe how I felt, relieved to have finished climbing mountains for a while, exhilarated to have pushed my body out of the comfort zone both in descending and climbing and overwhelmed to now be able to say I completed the toughest Stage race in Europe! WE DID IT!
Thank you to all my family and friends who supported me. Thank you to Specialized for letting me use the Era, Thanks to Bike Fixers, Grip Grab, Food for Thought and Dogtag for supporting us on this journey of a life-time.