Day 8 – After today, it’s downhill all the way!

We arrived in Coldrano in darkness, and too late to choose from the full menu, so it was Pizzas all round. Though I understand some took advantage of the Wellness Centre, including sauna and swimming pool.

So I didn’t realise until this morning what an awesome location we were staying in. In the bright morning sun, with the mountains we had traversed to the North West, and the lush valley filled with fruit farms to the South East. Breakfast was tremendous; the best yet. Word must have spread that British cyclists like Muesli and lots of cold milk, because there was plenty of both, and all kinds of dried fruit and seeds to liven it up.

We were surprised to find that German is the first language in this part of Italy. History buffs, please comment if you can explain this!

The morning was bright and clear with cloudless skies but a chill in the air. Guided by yesterday’s freezing conditions, and our route, which was to reach 2000m once again, there were plenty of long tights and wind-proofs in evidence.

The ride to the morning stop was stunning, probably the most scenic and enjoyable riding we’d had all trip. We followed perfect smooth tarmac bike paths alongside the river flanked with orchards.

All was well until the ill-fated Simon had a new problem; his rear derailleur cage sheared off. So far he has lost a front changer, chain and rear mech. He seemed quite comfortable with the idea of riding single-speed, but after collecting parts that were shed down the road, a Mike Spencer Special improvised repair just about held together for the rest of the day. We are taking bets on Simon arriving in Venice on a unicycle!

Morning break was croissants in a most beautiful town square in classic Italian style. It’s quite a shame we pass through each of these beautiful towns so quickly, I’m sure each deserves time to explore.

View back to Coldrano and the AlpsAnd then onward to the first of the great climbs of the day. I led the youngsters: Tom E, Ben and Joel, to the foot of the hill – it wasn’t my company they wanted, just my sat nav – and then off they flew, Tom E setting a ferocious pace. I stopped to admire the view; looking back down the wide valley we’d travelled that morning, past Coldrano to the snowy mountains beyond.

With effort we were soon at 1100m and our lunch stop, and riders arrived steadily spread over half an hour or so, though a group of Baselys, Wadleys, Dymond, Rafferty, Batchelor et al was known to be some way behind, taking the day steadily with plenty of coffee stops.

It was a warm day by now, but still the hint of chill in the air, so paranoid after yesterday, I set off in a warm wind-proof top for our final climb of the trip, to Passo Rolle at 2000m. We were a large group for the initial descent and flat approach, stopping for photos at some amazing views over perfect Italian farming villages. As the climb began, each picked his own pace, with the undisputed mountain kings Tim D and Simon setting the pace (Simon’s bike clearly being the lightest by virtue of there not being much left of it) pursued by the young pretenders Ben, Joel and Dom. Joe, wearing the polka dot Jersey he won in Gibraltar was also cruising, Andy H started a little behind, but then stormed up the hill with the immense power only Andy can generate!

By 1300m I was regretting the wind-proof; I was overheating big time on a hot, hot afternoon. When I spied a shop selling ice creams I dived in, and watched the wise old guard of Mike, Tim F, Neil and Phil cruise past.

There was an absolutely gorgeous flat section at about 1400m, where a view opened of a large lake or reservoir, azure blue, and, although the surface was 50m or so below the road, the fantasy of jumping in was tempting.

Passo RolleThe second half of the climb was steeper and wooded, fantastically scenic and very long. Eventually one reached the open landscape and dramatic scenery at Passo Rolle. The final hairpins were steep, but everyone was spurred on in the knowledge this was the final climb and it would be downhill all the way to Venice. The early arrivals clapped and cheered from the cafe as each rider crossed the summit, Leslie performing a most excellent sprint finish and punching the air in satisfaction! Father and Son, Andrew and Tom Gibson arrived together strongly. Both have suffered physically, but they have got stronger as the days have gone by, and supported one another admirably, each one believing he is taking care of the other.

What a perfect place to rest in satisfaction at completing the hard part of the trip. Overlooked by massive Dolomite spires, attracting their own small cloud on an otherwise cloudless day, we basked in sunshine.

At 6 o’clock, with most riders at the top, we massed for a fast and exhilarating hairpin descent into San Martino di Castrozza.

By chance, we arrived just as preparations were being made for a rally car event, so the streets were filled with Porsche and Lancias, and the petrolheads in the group were in seventh heaven.

Relaxing at Passo RolleWe met for dinner at a Pasta and Pizza restaurant and spirits were high. All had arrived safely at the end of a final very hard day. The waitresses were charming and zany and coped amazingly with 34 people arriving in dribs and drabs and ordering in strange hybrid Euro languages. Simon ordered the Pizza Volcano, which consisted of a full English breakfast, sandwiched between two pizzas. Andy Hore’s eyes lit up in excitement, this will be a Leeds Met staple we think. Richard ordered Pizza Lunatico, in keeping with the way he’s been tearing up and down the hairpins on a motorbike. We’re looking forward to seeing his videos, he has such a lot of material, it’s going to be feature length.

And tomorrow we descend into Venice, back in team colours, for our grande arrivée.

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