Iron Bike day 6
84.5 km – 3970 meters of climbing.
I got up on the morning of day six, and found it very hard to function properly for the first hour. I remember walking to and from breakfast and struggling to walk in a straight line, that didn’t fill me with confidence about the outcome for when I was to get on the bike! It was one of the few days where I was late to get to the start but it didn’t matter with the staggered start times. I also managed to leave a really nice pair of shorts behind where we were camping with all my fuzzy thinking.
One highlight I had to look forward to as part of this stage was racing through a disused mine, which I had a lot of anticipation about. The day started off with a long climb, as usual. And to my liking neither this first climb nor downhill had any hike a bike which was nice for a bit of a change. It was a fast fire road downhill going into a fast road downhill, there was one point where the rider I was following nearly washed out on one of the fast corners with the back wheel of his bike shooting out to the side, then I passed him out and did the same thing myself on the next corner so I found that funny! Then the next 10km or so that proceeded was road until we reached the old mine. There was a big feed station at the start too which was nice.
The mine was about 2km long, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I really enjoyed it though! Living in Ireland you end up riding in the dark quite often so that was nothing new to me, and I had good riding lights unlike a lot of the other riders doing it, but it was still extremely dark. I had to slow down to try and pass out a few other riders, but there really wasn’t much room and you had to negotiate the old tracks going up through it and also some junctions with track cross-over points. But I was glad I wasn’t one of the really tall riders who I heard hit their heads on the roof as it was very low in some places! The end of the mine was the finish of a special stage within a special stage, and we had to continue on up the hill and back down towards the mine building, then in and around some steep steps that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
The next climb was a long one, we started way down the valley and after about an hour’s uphill I still hadn’t risen above the tree line which was a bit worrying, as by that stage I had learnt that pretty much every summit we went over was well above the tree-line, with the last km or so being hike a bike. Well this climb was similar in that way, with a tough hiking section through some trees at a very steep angle and then thick deep grass, following a vague cattle track. The downhill was hiking for the first little bit and then changed into nice single-track. On the way down on the first bit, I was passed out by two other competitors who ran passed me while I was walking, then it came to a really nice single-track bit and I rode past them while they were still running, so that confused me a bit, not sure what they were at. The last big climb of the day finished up at our camping spot at a height of just over 2000 meters, and included going up and around the famous fort that we would descend the next day. It looked quite daunting from the bottom, towering over us in an intimidating way! That was a very slow climb up as it was walking for a lot of it due to the steepness. The camping spot was in and around a very nice refuge with a bar and restaurant, not much else but that was all we needed. It was then time to rest up and prepare for day seven. My time was 8 hours 34 minutes.
Iron Bike day 7
85 km – 4000 meters of climbing.
Day seven included the famous descent in and around the old fort as one of the main events, as well as a 2000 meter climb up the Chaberton. As we left the high refuge, we started off with a long winding fire road which led us to the fort, but I wasn’t sure how long we had until we reached it so it was a bit of a nerve racking first 10km for me as it happened. I got there and joined the queue with other riders who were waiting to set off, I had seen some video footage of them but it’s still hard to know what to expect until you are riding them yourself. It was built long before mountain bikes were around for starters, and the whole thing basically consisted of just under 4000 steps with several sharp turns, and often going in through a dark tunnel and out again. Nearly every rider I spoke to had a crash at some point on the way down, including me, with some riders coming off worse than others. I had one very near miss in the first tunnel part, I wasn’t sure of the steepness of the steps or even how many there were with it being dark, and just a small spot of light to see. I found it hard to keep the bike in a straight line and got bounced over to the right side where my handlebars smacked off the wall but luckily the impact actually brought me back in the center again, but there was a sharp right hand turn that I didn’t see until I was very close to it, so I broke hard and steered and hoped for the best, letting out a scream too as I was sure that it wouldn’t end well, but I got away with it somehow!
After that, the first half of day seven was a nice ride which for a lot of it followed a river and took us in and around some ski areas including Sestriere and Claviere. But the main event was still to come in a lot of people’s minds as we got closer to the Chaberton. One rare mandatory moment of relaxation involved going up in the gondola from Sestriere which brought us up 700 meters up to a height of 2700. From there we descended all the way down to the bottom of the valley on the other side, with the Chaberton staring at us the whole way. Me and another rider I was with managed to take a wrong turn somewhere partly due to enjoying the fast corners far too much so made up our own route, but as it turned out our route sounded a lot more fun than the official route!
The next feed station was at the foot of the Chaberton, it did seem a bit daunting looking up at it. I had been on the bike for nearly five hours at that stage and then had to ascend 2000 meters. It was about a 15km climb, the first 8km being ride-able and the last 7km being a mix of hike a bike and biking, with the last km being very steep. It was very hot too with no shade anywhere for the last few km as we ascended up faint outlines in the side of the mountain that sometimes only vaguely resembled any kind of track or path along with rock slides covering parts of it in places. At the top I had mixed feelings as I was glad the hardest part was over, but I had lost my enthusiasm for reaching the top about 8 km up, with the remaining km being a battle to keep going and not quit, so at the summit part of me felt very unimpressed with the whole thing. So back down we went towards Claviere, the same way we went up for the first part. I ended up being just outside the time for the final cut off point, so couldn’t officially finish that day. I think I just highly underestimated how long it would take to get up Chabeton and was just taking it too leisurely for the first half of the day. I was the first rider to be stopped, but I already wasn’t an official finisher so I wasn’t too upset about it. That night in Sestriere a group of us went for a well-deserved beer and pizza, glad that the whole event was nearly over.