This entry from the 2011 Ironbike in Italy has been provided by Wiggle.com rider and UK marathon champion Matt Page.
Stage 2: San Damiano to Barge
Target time: 9 hours
Maximum time: 12 hours
After stage 1 and the prologue I was in 11th position on GC, but the 3 guys above were all really close so I now had something to aim for, which would be a top 10. Going into day 2 was new territory, I’ve done long single day events, but I’ve never done a stage race with multiple hard days in succession. I’m really glad that I have Ben from Wiggle here to support me, as although you can race the Ironbike alone it would make the recovery afterwards twice as hard. Not having to worry about putting a tent up or cleaning and preping the bike is a fantastic.
Day 2 started very early, 5.30am wake up call in the usual Ironbike manor with a massive firework and then a trumpet fanfair. Awesome! The first riders set off at 7am and the atmosphere was very different to yesterday. Everyone knew today would be one of the hardest days of the week, with a 12hr maximum time allowance it could be a very long day in the saddle.
It all started easy enough with a 15km run along a road, which was slightly uphill but nothing too bad. It was a chance to warm the legs and body up as the sun had not hit the valley floor yet, so it was pretty cold. After 15km we turned off the road and straight up a seriously steep slope. It wasn’t rideable, so people were either carrying or pushing bikes. I chose to push, as I’m too short and weedy to carry the bike on my shoulder. It was slow going and I was one of the slowest, loosing lots of time to those around me. It isn’t something I have practiced, even though I knew it would feature in the event. The track eventually eased off and became rideable to a peak at just over 2000m, already higher than yesterday. It then went downhill briefly before joining a rough dirt road. This road went up and up and up, from 1900m to 2800m. It took forever, but I seemed to be at least holding my own on the higher slopes where I was able to ride.
From 2800 it turned to singletrack shortly and then from 2900m to the top at 3000m it was a super steep track that was hard enough to walk up, let alone walk with a bike! At the top I took a quick breather and got my phone out to take a few snaps. It’s not very often you get to ride (most of the way) to 3000m, so I savoured the moment and lost a few places in the process. The downhill from 3000m was mind blowing! At the top it was like a scree slope with a barely visible line, it led onto a amazing alpine singletrack that just went on for ages. It was pretty steep in places with some big rock drops. Having a crash here would have had BIG consequences, with rocks everywhere and big drops to the side of the track.
The downhill eventually finished at 1600m, a brief few kilometers along a bumpy road let you straight into the next climb which was a steep jeep track, smallest gear all the way to the top. I was really starting to wish I had a smaller gear. Most people seem to run triple or small double chainsets, having a 30t front, 36t rear was bigger than pretty much everyone else and I was suffering on the steep climbs because of it. Cresting the top of the second big climb at 2300m there was a small crowd at the top, just as I was dropping into the descent one of them said “Good luck”. It didn’t take me long to realise why. The track was narrow and deep, extremely steep with added rock drops. That section lasted a few hundred meters before heading into the trees where it became really twisty but still just as steep. It lasted for at least 15 minutes and for the first time in years I was suffering from arm pump – I didn’t even get it at Mega! I was having to alternate braking fingers as there was not a single let up in the gradient and no way you could ease off or get off the bike. I was glad to reach the bottom but at the same time buzzing from what I’d just come down.
Finally a brief rest bite as we descended about 7km on a gradual downhill main road. We reached a town where there was a feed stop, I took the opportunity to stock up, knowing we still had one big climb and 35km of riding left. Starting the climb I was feeling OK, I was obviously going better than many others who were suffering and I must have passed about 10 people on the lower slopes. Nearing the top I could see an Italian close behind, so I pushed a little harder. I reached the top just ahead of him and started the descent, which is one we were warned about in the briefing. It was quite wide, but really rough with lots of big loose rocks and boulders. The Rocky Mountain Element was flying down and by the bottom the Italian was nowhere to be seen and I had caught a few in front as well. I was absolutely buzzing by the bottom, but there was still a fair way to the finish.
I knew the worst was over though, so held a steady pace over the smaller hills to the finish. By this point any climb with less than 500m is a “small” climb, back home that would be the longest possible. I rolled across the finish line in 8 hours 47 minutes, just inside the target time. It was absolutely the hardest days riding I have ever done, but I was buzzing at the finish just thinking about the amazing riding I’d done. Lucky for me then that I have another 5 days left, all of them look pretty damn crazy and at least one day will be harder again – Day 6 (Friday), but I won’t think about that much, you just need to take one day at a time.
At the end of day 2 I have moved up to 10th on GC, although I only finished 12th on the stage itself.