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Martin tackles the mighty Stelvio, and it all goes a bit hail-stone shaped

They say you should never get involved in a land war in Asia; never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line; and never meet your heroes. And you should never climb one of Europe's most spectacular mountain passes in awful weather.

Yes, it's nice having a reason to stop halfway up, but snow, in Italy, in August, isn't the most fun reason for cake. So it was I found myself climbing the stelvio in a frickin' blizzard during the TransContinental Race. A. Frickin'. Blizzard.

Let's be honest, I was never going to set the world alight with my time up the climb, but an enforced 30 minute break was certainly less than ideal. And you know what made the whole thing even less awesome? I climbed it from the wrong side. The. Wrong. Side. Just let that sink in for a moment.

The route was in my Garmin, and for ease I altered it at the last minute. What with Garmins lacking sentience it didn't know I had to go up the famous side, so instead it took me up the not so famous, but still rather tough side.Balls.

The TransContinental literally has about 10 rules, but one of them covers the ascent of the Stelvio. It must be done via the famous side. One earlier racer had also climbed the wrong side and on finding out he went down and back up again, in 3.5 hours. It is said that true heroes climb the mountain twice.

So with that in mind I started my descent. Within 90 seconds I was engulfed in another blizzard, within two minutes there were hail stones, and another two minutes later the road was soaked, covered in ice balls and I was literally hanging on.

You know all those arty videos about the joys of road cycling, with the cinematic descents, all the piano music, the slow-motion, the beauty and panache? None of that happened. It was fast, but not very as I was too cold and the roads too wet, and while I still averaged around 50kmph it could have been faster in nicer conditions.

The plan was simple, descend, eat, ascend. The reality was descend, freeze, develop uncontrollable shakes (it was three degrees) and just know that you're about to be DQ'd unless you go back up.

Ego lost, and instead I heard my wife's dulcet tones urging caution. So off I went to dry off, warm up, and face the race the next day knowing that from now on, every kilometre of riding and every metre of ascending would be for the hell of it!

But the stelvio, so beautiful, tears well up at the sights, at the little applause from passers-by at the summit, the count down of corner signs, the exercise-induced asthma, it all tells a story, builds a character and creates a new bar to aim for, to return and to be victorious.

Till next time.

Rarely fast, often far.

I love nothing more than heading out for a day or two at a time, you can't beat the sense of exploration that cycling brings!

Often to be found here

6 comments

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Cycling Saxman [4 posts] 1 year ago
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That would have been the point at which I would be to frustrated to keep going.

Huge respect for continuing! Keep going all the way to Istanbul.

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davecochrane [140 posts] 1 year ago
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This has been one of the best features I've read in my 4 odd years visiting the site (along with the freezing winter ride Dave et al did about three years back). Amazing effort.

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SevenHills [205 posts] 1 year ago
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Chapeau Mr Cox. I would like to think i would have ridden back up but that is from the comfort of my home and not having done it already and be half frozen. In reality i am not so sure so a huge amount of respect.  41

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sm [382 posts] 1 year ago
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Stick with it Martin, inspirational stuff.

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IHphoto [116 posts] 1 year ago
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Chapeau Martin! Bloody Garmins eh!

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themartincox [499 posts] 1 year ago
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Back in the comfort of England, I can assure you that your comments mean a great deal both now, and back then when I was riding!