The last of my personal challenges for this year was completed on Saturday 7th September with the climb of the Mendel Pass. A good climb, for me. Not massively fast and actually, despite my initial plans, completed on a day that was cold and wet. Unspectacular.

The Dull Bit: Stats

The climb was completed over 1h and 11 minutes at an average speed of 12.5 kilometres per hour. No the fastest ever but, in view of the conditions, I am quite happy with it. The Italian practice of numbering hairpins made it relatively easy to track how the climb was going. It gives a good feeling that, no matter how slow, progress is being made.

Unfortunately that same system acted as a reminder of how slow I am when it comes to descent. It felt like an age and seeing the slow reverse count did not help. Persistent rain made the surface greasy, something I was perhaps too aware of. It may have been quicker to have got off and walked but, no matter, The descent was completed.

The Feelings

I was not going to do this climb if it was cold and wet but there I was. Cold is an overstatement, perhaps, but an average of 8 degrees centigrade is not that warm although, on the climb, it made things comfortable. I got to the top in summer gear, the over optimistic suntan lotion (!) running un my eyes and a couple of long-distance cyclists in full winter gear looking at me with distinct ‘what the f*ck is he on?’ looks on their faces.

Stopping for pics of various signs you notice how cold it is. Out came the arm-warmers and, at last, I could finally wear my souvenir Stelvio gilet. – gilet being a flash word for body-warmer. It had Stelvio written on it! Stelvio! This guy does mountains!

He went down that one bloody slowly as well but anyway…..

A nagging feeling was that, unlike the earlier challenges this year, this was not really that hard. There were no real ‘why the f*ck am I doing this?’ moments. Just a desire to get it done, concentrating on the road. This was perhaps a little more…. mechanical than the previous climbs of the year, not just the big ones but the warm-ups in France. It was a case of get on the bike, get up the mountain and get back down again.

I had thought that a coffee at the top of the climb would be would be good. The town itself had been busy when we visited earlier in the week via cable-car. Buzzing little scene of tourists. Maybe some apple strudel?

That had been a warm midday though. Now it was quite early on a wet day. Besides the bemused long-distance cyclists it felt…. empty. Anyway, I wasn’t hungry. Down I went.

Closing the Last Challenge

It’s unfair to compare this challenge to the first two of the year, though. Ventoux and Stelvio have yielded great stories from the Grand Tours. No-on really knows the Mendel Pass. I did not before we booked our holiday, to be honest. But a good climb nearby felt right.

The Mendel Pass has actually been in the Giro d’Italia a few times. Most recently as a descent earlier this year, and as a climb in 2016. And before that. I found that out after my ride. Google and Youtube, Bloody hell, those pros are fast….

But no great stories. Never the end of a stage.

Never mind that, this is about my ride. And, by my standards, I was cruising. Not in the sense I was fast and no way should this sound casual. More the rhythm was right. Constantly looking around, using the space on the hairpins to drop to heavier gear and kick a little faster. Reaching for the bidon and drinking consistently – as nearly every person I ride with tells me to do.

The fact that it was so consistent is personal win. On this ride, my right hand still had a ‘f*ck you, I’m not doing that!’ moment. MS having it’s little tantrum. So…. it came off the handlebars. It did the work with the bidon but that was when there was no other traffic around. The left hand was keeping things steady. Work to the strengths.

All in all, an unspectacular, consistent climb.

And it should also not be underestimated. A thousand metres of climbing in miserable weather is something. A thousand metres down in the same weather.

Seriously, a year ago would that have happened?

The first two challenges of the ride were beasts. Compared to those this was an unspectacular ride, .Cold and wet but no big issue. That, actually, feels like something to build on. Reassuringly unspectacular. Happy with that.

This will not be the last word on the challenges this year… give it a little time to sink in though before the full summary comes!


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