The Alps are very simple in a way. There are valleys and summits, climbs and descents. That’s it. The question of stops and coffee breaks is pretty straightforward as well — you have only two possibilities, either at the top or in the town at the foot of the mountain. We have missed out on too many of such opportunities so far. It’s time we stop.
These mountains can drain you of every calorie. We stop in San Leonardo, a beautiful, typically Tirolean town where cafes are plentiful. We lounge comfortably and treat ourselves with good coffee and apfelstrudel. We’ve earned it and we take our time.
Each of us is already tired and instead of a only a piece, we’d most certainly prefer a whole cake. Knowing that we still have a lot of cycling up the hill to do we stuff ourselves with anything at hand and set off to conquer another mountain pass. It is getting difficult.
We start from a valley with our heads craning up towards the snowy mountain tops. One of them is our goal. We have two vertical and 30 horizontal kilometres to cover. Timmesjoch, Passo del Rombo. The names might not sound familiar to the average cyclist but the hill we are riding is a good match for the most famous of mountain passes.
It starts nice and easy but the first switchbacks, narrow turns and steep sections let our legs know that this mountain is going to be as painful as anything we’ve ridden before. There’s no discussion; we just continue on ahead.
To distract us from the pain, Jarek tells us stories about how he used to train with Simoni, Piepoli and Szmyd. He tells us how he carried Cunego’s or Ballan’s water bottles or how he dictated the tempo for his leaders. We are all ears, imagining the scenes in our heads and suddenly we end up sucking the narrator’s wheel, as if we were a part of his story.
The problem is that this mountain is a monster and even the best domestique in the world is of little help here. But the point isn’t riding as fast as possible. After some time each of us is riding on his own, silent and concentrated. The area begins to empty, while most of the sky is covered with dark clouds. There are no motorcyclists, cars or people passing us. We are almost alone on this mountain.
The road to the mountain pass is closed to traffic in the evening and it is getting later. We take the last of the narrow hairpins as wide as possible to reduce the gradient. Our legs begin to beg for mercy but we refuse to stop, knowing that reaching the summit will be well worth the effort.