Checking in through the start chute for stage 5 there was a certain nervousness in the air. Most of the stages up until this point were 70 to 80 km in distance with varying amounts of climbing. Today’s stage was 106 km long and had almost 11,000 feet of climbing. The energy in the starting area was definitely a few levels below that of day two or three. David and I were sore and our bodies were telling us to take a break. The only solace we had was that after today we would be beyond the halfway point in the race.
10 minutes before the start of the race we were informed by the race organizers that one of the race participants had died sometime during the evening in his hotel room. The cause of his death is still unknown. A minute of silence was held in observance and the lead up to the race start was quiet. All of the racers rolled across the start line for stage 5 in silence.
Out on the course we headed through town and immediately up a steep embankment. The mass of racers came to a screeching halt as the lucky ones in front scrambled up the embankment single file. The next 6 km of the race was carried out in similar fashion as obstacles were met. Eventually things thinned out and the long hours in the saddle started to accrue. For Stage 5, our bodies took a bit longer to warm up and our deteriorated hand-eye coordination was a bit of a disadvantage. It was like trying to brush your teeth after a night out drinking with the boys; you usually wake up in the morning with dried toothpaste on your cheek.
After 5 hours in the saddle we came to the monster climb of the day. The Passo di Mortirollo is the same climb featured in the Giro de Italia road race. A grueling road climb with 5,000 feet of steep climbing in a 12 mile distance! The only thing nice about going up was the cooler temperature. That is, until it started raining on us. I must make a note to myself that when traveling with an Irishman always carry a raincoat!
Over the pass we descended down some very technical single track. The rain had made all of the rocks very slippery and a lot of people with few off-road skills, or perhaps lacking common sense, were taking bad spills all around us. David, being an accomplished man from the wetlands of Ireland, just descended with a big grin on his face. Gravity and momentum are your friends, and those who resisted found out that gravity will still win in the end. As we made our way down the mountain we started to encounter small villages and wet cobblestone streets. The word “Slippery” should always be capitalized when riding on cobblestones. We heard the wail of ambulance sirens coming up the mountain to tend to those less fortunate as we descended down. Crossing the finish line in 8:40 was quite an accomplishment due to the extreme temperatures, total climbing of just over 10,000 feet, and some extreme descents over wet and slippery rocks. Lucy and Tracey were sitting up from the finish line waiting for us to arrive and it was wonderful to be back with them. They have been instrumental in helping us get situated and geared up for the next day.