Maximum time limit: 13hrs
Time taken: 5hrs 25min
Looking at today’s route map it looked like an easy day: just one climb and a long descent. However, I know this race better than to expect an easy day and the 11 maximum time limit was a clue that this was going to be anything but easy. The race briefing gave us full details, which included that we should expect 3 hours of walking! Our route was around one of Italy’s highest mountains, Monte Viso, which has a peak of 3841m. We were not going quite as high as that, but would top out at 2750m.
At the start of the day we had the luxury of a chairlift out of the village of Pontechienale, then at 2350m we started the first special stage straight away, a short but steep climb then a traverse and into the singletrack. It was ride-able for all of about 500m, and then turned savage with big step-downs and massive exposure on the right side. There were chain railings to hold onto on our left and a several-hundred-metre drop on the right. At one point we passed a memorial for someone who had died, presumably falling. It was extreme and in no way, shape or form a MTB track. It went on for about 4km, then a brief ride-able interlude before we crossed a funky narrow bridge and were given the bad news: “It’s all walking from here”. Great.
We were still racing, so I was keen to try and keep moving but any previous thoughts I had on improving my walking/carrying speed were obviously wrong as I was inching up. The track was steep with natural steps on roots and rocks from 1900m to 2700m. It seemed to take forever and reaching the top I was looking forward to a good descent as is usual at Iron Bike, but although most of the climbing was over, it stayed un-ride-able crossing boulder fields for as far as the eye could see. We eventually hit a refuge, from which point the map was showing a 500m descent to the end of the special stage. I rounded the corner to even more climbing then, when we started to descend, it was just boulders and snow. Not even Danny Mac would have been able to ride down, let alone little and very tired me on a XC bike!
After 23km the misery ended, we hit the end of the special stage and I let off a sigh of relief and a few expletives mixed in there. Of the 23km, less than 5km was riding. I was sore and beaten up, my legs had been battered from the pedals, my ankles twisted and my quads were in agony from all the stepping up and down. From here it was just tarmac and dirt roads downhill all the way to the base camp at 60km, the worst stage of Iron Bike I’ve done in all 3 years.
Later in the evening we had a special stage within the town of Cavour that we were staying. It was 2 laps up “The Rock”, which is a lump 150m high sticking out of the ground. It could have been lots of fun, but my chain jammed on the second time down the descent and left me even more angry! Later that evening I was able to reflect and although my stage times were poor I was still in 6th place. I always have a bad day at Iron Bike, I just hoped this stage would be the only one!