Last night I found out that I had moved up 2 places to 7th overall and I was really close to 6th, effectively about 8 minutes behind which seemed possible. We also found out that Stage 6 would be shortened, as it was due to be 125km with about 6000m climbing.
After a tough week with lots of people dropping out I think the organisers saw sense and cut out a medium mountain around halfway in. We would also miss out the fort which includes the 4000 steps due to rain overnight they were deemed too dangerous, which again was probably sensible but I was looking forward to that bit.
It was an early start this morning, 5.30am wake up for 7am start. I left with all the top riders and decided that I would put a big effort into the first special stage, which was about 65km long then just see what the legs had left for Mt Chaberton. It was a risky strategy, but sometimes you have to take risks! The group of front runners stayed together for a while, but Ramos who was in 2nd position pushed the pace and it split everything. I managed to stick with two Italian brothers who are 3/4th on GC for about 20km before they pulled away.
Todays route started high, around 2000m but went higher, up to 2600m and stayed above 2000m with lots of up and downs for 30km. It then dropped on some really nice singletrack towards Sestriere before heading out again on some really nasty undulations. I pushed hard and managed to keep a good gap on all the chasers, the special stage finished on a awesome bit of wooded singletrack and I managed to catch the two brothers just as it ended, which was a great result for me. Then came a 10km transition to the start of stage 2, Mt Chaberton.
Mt Chaberton is the highest fortress in Europe and it’s peak is at 3131m, it translates as “The Fortress in the clouds” but thankfully today the top was clear. The special stage started at about 1300m, so it would be almost 2000m of climbing to the top. There was food & water near the start of the stage, so I waited here and ate loads and hung around for over 30 minutes with all the other top riders. No one was willing to head off first, all watching each other. Finally one of the riders who is very close behind me on GC left and soon after everyone started to go. The record to the top is 2 hours and 1 minute, set last year by Ismael Ventura who is currently in the lead.
I headed off and we were straight into the climb, my legs were sleepy after standing around for so long, but after about 5 or 10 minutes they started to work. The climb started reasonably enough, not too steep and not too loose but there was the occasional steep section to get you into the little gear. Ishmael Ventura, the current came down the track towards me fairly early in, he was ill and his race was over, such a shame. Up to 2000m was mostly rideable, but then it started to become really loose, quite steep and altitude was having an effect.
It was hard to pick a good line to avoid stalling or loosing traction. Yet again I was way over geared and really struggled on certain parts. The track then became impossible for me to ride, so I walked it as fast as I could, which wasn’t very fast. While riding I was passing a few people, but when walking I was leeching time to just about everyone. The worst section finished about 2600m and then it became partly rideable, which I did to give the legs a break from the walking. I had reached about 2800m when the first riders came down past me, which meant they had been to the top and now were heading down.
It took me at least another 25 minutes to reach the top, but I eventually did in 2hrs 41minutes. Not fast at all, but by no means the slowest. I only stopped briefly to eat something (the race helicopter transports people/food/drink to the top), put my dhb Windslam jersey on and take a few pictures. The route back down was the same for a while, then diverted off down a steep and very sketchy scree slope. About 95% of the downhill was rideable, but there were a few sections where the rock drops were too big or the scree was too dangerous to ride. It didn’t take long to reach the bottom and I thought I was nearly done, but there was ages left. I was already past today’s very optimistic time limit, but then so was every single rider.
The course went uphill steeply, then downhill steeply then we caught a lift in a gondola to get us from 1500m right over a valley and up to 1700m. From there it was supposed to be just 200m vertical to the top, but it went 200 then down 100, then up and down a few more times before eventually reaching base camp at Sestriere. I was totally spent and never thought I would see the end. It total it took me 9hrs 50min and it was the hardest day of riding I have ever done.
I am unsure of where I am overall after today, but with Ismael pulling out I should move up one position, or stay where I am as the rider just behind me on GC had a stomer on the Chaberton. Just tomorrow left, 65km and about 2000m climbing – the easy day, although I am sure it would still put most of the UK enduro/marathon events to shame on the stats.
All stats are taken using my Garmin Edge 800 and uploaded to Garmin Connect: