This is going to sound insane but, after all the build-up, challenge number one should be seen as effectively a warm-up. All about completeness, the final side of Mont Ventoux with the truly wonderful addition of the Gorges de la Nesque. Something that, if you have a bike or a car or anything to stay mobile, you need to see. What is coming, though, is certainly the toughest of my personal cycling challenges yet.

The Details

Passo dello Stelvio is already a target for this year. It will be tough. Thirty-nine hairpins and the highest finish for any of the grand tours, France, Italy or Spain. That will be something. A little Crazy, perhaps, but something.

To that should be added the Passo Gavia, admittedly the easier side from Bormio. Easier? Average of 5.8% gradient, a bad surface, 11 hairpins and an elevation of 1419 metres. Yeah, the easy side. It starts to become Insane.

Then there is Mortirolo.

Mortirolo nudges this from Insane to the prestigious level of Truly Batsh*t. Only 11 kilometres but with a gradient of 11% average and a 1,300 metre climb make this a stern test. And that’s an understatement! Add the 33 hairpin bends and….. well…. it will be couple of hours of climbing. To say the least.

Apparently Mortirolo as a name is derived from the Italian for ‘dead’. Which is a concern.

I see myself, for once, having to get off and walk a little on this climb.

These will not be all in one day, which would actually be plain stupid. Unless you’re a professional cyclist which I am patently not. Two in one day would not be crazy, just verging on the insane. But all three, that is not within my level.

Also, this time, I will also not be alone but riding with friends. A fun change from my usual solo approach to long distance rides; even when I am meeting with others there is a fair chunk alone. I can pace myself better, enjoy the company and be perhaps a little assured by knowing there are people around me. There are also elements that are easier in a group. Descent, which I loathe in any case, is easier when you have someone in front to focus on. I find that anyway.

A Different Level

This will be something else though.

The first of the cycling challenges I set myself, in 2016, was to climb Mont Ventoux. Which was enough. The following year it was a triple challenge, Ventoux from a different route, a long distance ride and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Last year it was ‘just’ Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Challenge Number Two for this year feels like all of the previous challenges rolled in to one. Take Liege-Bastogne-Liege, stick Mont Ventoux in the middle of it and you get the idea.

This will be three days of good, hard cycling. Not to forget a warm-up jolly on a flat route if such a thing can be found in the Italian Alps. I did leave Challenge Number Three open but at this stage, I may say that this is enough!

Beneath the humour, though, is an edge of seriousness. Of course there is, you don’t do this sort of thing on a whim. A lot of kilometres ridden, diet adjusted and then France to really get my legs ready for climbing. The coming week will be relaxed, some indoor rides to get more used to gradients and cross-country to improve my agility a little at least. Sensible diet as well.

Part of the last preparation is recognising and knowing my limitations. I am not a fast descender but where is it written that I should be? Cautious and observant. Using it as a rest, as someone advised me once to do, but staying alert. Plenty of food and energy drinks as fuel for the ride. Should be fine.

That Other Thing

Yet I also have other misgivings. Strange ones though. The fact is I am doing all of these things in spite of a diagnosis of MS. Yes it does impact me. And I worry about how other people will interpret this illness. How can someone who is ill do all of these things.

Well, first things first. I haven’t done any of them yet. It could happen that I have one of my bad days and that is half of the objectives gone. That has been my risk with all of these adventures and it is mine alone. I am currently in good shape, though, and believe that will continue. As far as I can ever know.

The misgivings though. Should I actually be doing this? It is not anything to do with capability or how I feel. It is to do with perception of others.

The perception of others comes up a lot in this blog. Interaction with people comes from wanting to keep living an open life but it can also lead to confusions. How can I cycle up a mountain then a week later be too tired to leave the house?

Well, I don’t know. I really don’t. But I have also made a choice not to deny myself experiences such as this, such as Ventoux, such as Liege, such as Vietnam, such as Chile, because of what might happen. MS hits are thankfully rare at the moment, just the cognitive issues and some instability walking in confined spaces. On the bike, though, all seems fine. The cognitive issues should not be an issue as long as I don’t go up the wrong mountain.

Looking Forward

To bring it back to this adventure, my personal feeling is that Gavia and Stelvio will be fine but Mortirolo may be a push too far. I have the power but the ability to sustain that over two hours may be too far. The exertions of the previous days may also impact. That’s my risk. If I am still in a good state to ride there is plenty to do there and a nice alternative route for the group is a shorter and easier ride to one of the lakes. If I am not in condition to ride. Well, there is enough to do.

There will be no bravado and, in any case, if my body says no then that’s that.

And if this mixture of illness and activity confuses people, that’s their confusion. My friends, family know that this is what I want. Ventoux in 2016 was the beginning of something. In common with much at the time, I thought it would be the last time I did such a ride. That I am still so active and so fit is due to the bike and the lucky combination of people around me.

That luck means I can look forward to the climb of Gavia where the road is currently flanked by a wall of snow. All of these cycling challenges may be Crazy, Insane, Truly Batsh*t. But the sights they bring and the experiences they give me make them truly worthwhile.


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