While now a fabled climb with a near 50-year history in the Giro d’Italia, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo’s introduction to the Italian Tour was tainted with controversy. First climbed, in woeful conditions in 1967, race organiser Vincenzo Torriani declared the stage 19 race null and void, after riders collectively grabbed onto team cars or were pushed by spectators all the way to the top at the Rifugio Auronzo.
Despite the heavy rain that had turned to snow by the time the stage reached the Dolomites, the race did not reach the calamitous proportions of the year before; certainly not for young Belgian rider, Eddy Merckx, who from the bottom of the climb launched himself to soon become cycling’s greatest-ever rider.
|Eric and I. Collectively it took us 131 years to get to |
the bottom of the Tre Cim.
We enjoyed a light lunch near the banks of the lake – a luxury Eddy Merckx himself couldn’t afford – before heading off up the mountain. Of the three summits, which before 1919 marked the border between Austria and Italy, only two are visible along the steep valley road.
But for half-a-kilometre around 12%, the first four kilometres of the climb are not much harder than riding along a flat road. The problem is, it doesn’t take too long to ride four kilometres along near-flat road; as I soon discovered with my legs feeling like jelly and my lungs heaving for air. I don’t remember much more of the climb, only how I hovered between six and eight-kilometres per hour for most of the way, and that when I had the energy to look up, the views were spellbinding.
Standing in the car-park above the Rifugio Auronzo, I soon caught sight of our friend Eric, who at 72 didn’t take much longer to reach the top than I did. Suddenly, Roz appeared not more than a few minutes later, having walked up six kilometres along the road. “You were quick” I said, surprised to see her so soon. It didn’t long for the penny to drop; I hadn’t ridden much faster than walking pace.
You might be seated on a bicycle but struggling up a mountain, theoretically speaking, keeps your feet on the ground. As difficult as it can be, I never, ever, lose sight of the natural beauty that engulfs me along the way. Like everybody, I’m just a traveller in time, for such a short while, but what a gift nature has lent me – all of us.
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