Wednesday 23rd April
Stage 4 - Il Monte Limbara - 59km/1350m climbing - 3hrs 14mins (Winning woman: Melissa Merloni - 2hrs 12mins)
The main feature of this stage was the hill climb up to Gallura's highest peak, Monte Limbara (1359m). This involved getting an early morning bus to Tempio Pausania and starting the stage there. We wouldn't be climbing the peak immediately. The stage would start with a 40km circuit around the area first, then a return to Tempio Pausania and a final 10km climb to the top.
The day started with alot of apprehension. Being in a strange town, finding the start, finding the loo etc. The skies was dark grey and rain looked almost certain. Overall, the weather in Sardinia had been good, however the rains that were falling over the rest of Italy were threatening to come to our race today.
At 9.30am the event began with a circuit through the centre of Tempio Pausania, while all the townspeople came out to watch us. It must have looked quite impressive seeing our 500-strong peloton rolling through the cobbled streets. Care was needed on these cobbles as in parts they weren't dissimilar to Paris-Roubaix !
The selection then began on the first climb - about 8km into the ride. It's funny how everyone had been talking about the dreaded 10km climb up to Monte Limbara, but we had overlooked this early 5km climb. It was hardly a walk in the park, and many people, myself included, suffered as it became quite warm when the sun finally appeared. The constant 7% incline contained numerous hairpins. And to think, this was part of the preliminary loop that people had been hoping to wrap up quickly !
I just concentrated on pacing myself in order to stand a chance of tackling the final 6-mile challenge. I managed to stay in a gruppetto during this first climb, and we formed a larger group on the descent back into Tempio Pausania. However, on the approach to Tempio there was a head wind to contend with - something of a recurring theme. The road also dragged uphill, to my consternation. Consequently, I dropped off the pace in order to ease off and save some energy. I also began to realise I hadn't eaten enough - mainly because we'd set off early and I hadn't been ready to eat much at 6.30am. Once on the bus, my anxiety and nervousness stopped me from eating. Furthermore, during the ride I was unable to find my energy gels.
Once back in Tempio I went to the feedstation. Most people rode straight over the timing mat without stopping and headed straight to the mountain. So it was slightly emabarrassing for me, when in front of the numerous cheerings spectators in the main square, I stopped after having rolled over the timing mat. People thought that I was pulling out of the race. In fact, I was just looking for food !!
Feeling suitably fed and watered, I started out for Monte Limbara. This section proved to be quite difficult. Firstly, we had more than 10km to contend with. The 10km climb signed didn't appear until after I'd already been riding 7km on a false flat !
The first few kilometres were very steep. I was obliged to ride out of the saddle on the 12-13% hairpins, even though I was using 34 x 27 gearing. The sun was really beating down at this stage and that didn't help matters. In this early section many people overtook me. But once past the half-way mark I felt happier. It was, nevertheless still demoralising to see riders who had finished the climb a long time before, riding back down the mountain. One of these riders was Fred. It was good to see him just when I was starting to lose hope again. He turned around and rode with me for a short time while telling me what lay ahead. That was welcoming. He then left me once the gradient steepened again. With my new founded energy and motivation I managed to catch a few of the people who had initially passed me. It felt good to summon a strong finish.
I was just glad to have gotten one of the toughest stages out of the way.
Later that day I found out how hard I'd worked when I was massaged and the physiotherapist pointed out my swollen kneecaps and very tight muscles.
Thursday 24th April
Stage 5 - Team Time Trial - 20km
In this stage there was not much to gain or lose. The riders in the winning team would have 1 minute taken from their overall time in the General Classification. The riders in the 2nd placed team would have 55 seconds removed from their time, the 3rd placed riders 50 seconds etc down to the 7th placed team that would have 30seconds deducted. All other teams' times would remain unchanged, and anyone failing to show up would have 1 minute added to their overall time.
Because the difference between myself and the next placed rider was so big, a couple of minutes were not going to make a difference to my classification. Given that I was feeling really tired and my muscles were aching, I decided to have rest day.
There was still a cycling theme though, as later that day I was selected to be a podium girl presenting the prizes to the winning men's teams !
Friday 25th April
Stage 6 - Gran Fondo Costa Smeralda - 170km/2,000m climbing - 6hrs 47mins (Winning woman: Melissa Merloni - 4hrs 53)
I'd had a massage during my rest day, and also done lots of stretching so I felt in better shape to ride 170km (106miles). After my disastrous first stage, I was hoping I could gain some time on my competitors during this stage. A couple of my immediate opponents had consistently ridden slower than me on all the other stages after the first day so I was hoping that I could do something to improve on my initial placing of 15th out of 17 women. The trick would be to stay healthy and keep eating and drinking during the ride.
Luckily, at the start of the race I met with Tessa, a woman who had been riding at a similar speed to me throughout the week. We both talked about how hard we'd found the week, and agreed to ride together. A group of English guys from Allen and Overy law firm, who also had riders of a similar ability to me said they were going to ride together as a group. It was quite reassuring to know I'd have company in the shape of familiar riders. I think everyone secretly feared the prospect of riding 170km all alone !
For me this would be a ride of survival. We set off as a group of about twenty riders. Most of the climbing to be done on this stage was in the first 70km. This meant that our group became depleted by the time we reached the first feedstation at the top of the first 5km climb. We had mysteriously lost the Allen and Overy guys too. This new smaller group of five (two guys from Bologna, another one in Pinarello gear, Tessa from Milan and myself) continued together. That was how the group stayed right up to the finish line. It was great how the guys looked after Tessa and I throughout the ride. We drafted off them most of the way round, and they slowed down for us if we were losing contact. We all stopped at the feedstations together and we waited for each other, while checking everyone was ok.
It was such a comfortable environment in which to ride. The neverending rises and falls of the road didn't seem that bad when there was a pacemaker and people to keep you going. The scenery also kept me going. The landscape, especially on the Costa Smeralda was stunning. The coastline was dramatic, and the houses definitely looked like homes for the well heeled. We even passed by Silvio Berlusconi's villa.
I was so glad to get back to Santa Teresa after a long day in the saddle. I had wondered if I'd make it through - and I had. I was very pleased to have made a few new buddies too.
Saturday 26th April
Stage 7 - Individual Time Trial - 16km
This stage was cancelled. It was advertised as taking place around Capo Testa, but the organisers could not gain the permit to hold the race.
They then considered holding the race on the perimeter road of our hotel complex. But with a 20% descent to deal with, riders objected strongly to riding such an event due to safety concerns. Consequently, the stage was cancelled.
Fred and I went on a ride out to Capo Testa that day. It's beautiful area, but given how hilly and windy it is, I'm glad I didn't have to do a time trial there. I wouldn't have wanted to risk being wiped out by a dodgy descender during a time trial at the hotel either. Still, it was a shame that the giro came to an apparently abrupt end.
My final classification was 10th - sounds great, but of the original 17 starters, only 12 finished ! For me there's alot of room for improvement - more reason to go back to Sardinia then !
All in all, it was a great week for both myself and for Fred. We definitely earned our Gelatto on the main square at Santa Teresa !