Riding Every Kilometre: stage 16 of the 2017 Giro d'Italia

Grand Tours Project

Nov / 10 / 2017

Riding Every Kilometre of Grand Tour stages is a bucket list cycling challenge. This signature experience inspired by our founder Keith Tuffley's personal project in 2013 is long, hard and beautiful. You don't have a number on your back, but you are riding ahead of the best riders in the world and you want to get to the finish before them. All of this with the support of the fans who are lining up along the roads to cheer their idols. You can't get any closer to feeling like a professional rider.

To complete this adventure, you don't need to be an elite athlete: it is about being consistent more than being fast, and I have supported riders of very different abilities on their Ride Every Kilometre challenge. The elated smile on their sweaty face once we have reached the finish town is the best reward I can imagine - a sign of a job well done.

But of course, not all stages are equal. Take the 2017 Giro d'Italia. For its 100th edition, the organizers had designed a course visiting most of the climbs that had made its rich history: Mount Etna, Blockhaus, Oropa, Tonale, Pordoi, Gardena, Piancavallo, Monte Grappa... a collection of classics. And then there was stage 16 from Rovetta to Bormio: 222km including the Mortirolo, the Stelvio and the Umbrail. That's 5,400m of climbing... even the pros were scared by this monster day. I'll say it now: I was not sure we would make it.

This stage was the first leg of our Giro week 3 tour. How did it go? I shared the experience live from the bike on twitter and will use what I posted to recount this memorable day. It was without doubt one of the hardest and most beautiful challenges of my 33 year long cycling life that engulfed elite racing, many granfondos, riding on five continents and a few adventures such as the Transcontinental Race.

On our Ride Every Kilometre days, we usually start riding between 5am and 7am in order to get to the finish before the pros without stress. On this stage, we had a 2.20am wake up in order to set off at 3.15am. Not the nicest part of the experience but a 7 hour head start on the pros was the best way to get us to the finish before them... hopefully.

Above: 3.15am: all smile for Keith, Alain, Gianpaolo, Gerry and Liam

I have no pictures of the first 3 hours of the ride, because we were mostly in the dark and I was focusing on just one thing: getting our group to the bottom of the Mortirolo at a sustainable pace, without losing any time. As I said: it's not about being fast, it's about being consistent.

After a well deserved coffee and snacks from the back of Marcello's van, we started the Mortirolo. Fortunately, it was the "easy" side of this monster climb, but it still took us two hours to get to the summit.

Above: Liam and Gerry near the summit of the Mortirolo

A fast descent ensued, followed by a long uphill drag to Bormio which we reached after 125 kilometres. This is where Marcello was waiting for us with a delicious buffet lunch. But there was no time to lose: the race had started at 10am so we were now officially chased by the pros. A special feeling...

This is where it started to hurt. The Bormio side of the Stelvio may not be the most famous one, but it's big: 25 km and 1,500m of climbing. By the time we were approaching the summit, I was swearing. In Italian.

We reached the top and had a quick stop to enjoy the usual chaos that reigns there on race day, captured here by Sarah who was driving our second van:

One of the most amazing experiences a cyclist can have was now awaiting us: descending the 48 switchbacks of the classic side of the Stelvio, on an almost empty road. By now, the course was closed to normal traffic and we only saw cyclists and vehicles of the Giro caravan. A unique opportunity as this iconic climb is usually clogged with cars, camper vans and motorbikes, but a sign that the pros were getting closer as well...

By then it was only Gerry, Liam and me. As I was leading them against a strong headwind wind between Prato allo Stelvio and the Swiss border, I was getting increasingly worried that we would not make it. We were slower than I expected, and after 190km and more than 4,000m of climbing, we were getting very tired. Would we make it to Bormio before the race?

Still I was pressing on the pedals and delivered Liam and Gerry to the bottom of the Umbrail, the final climb of the day. It was about time: being a good domestique burns calories and I was badly bonking. Fortunately Sarah was there with the van and I emptied a bag of Haribo gummy bears (my comfort food when I'm struggling on the bike) before tackling the Swiss side of the Stelvio, one of the many hidden gems that Switzerland has in store.

I caught Gerry and Liam after a few kilometers up the road as they had been stopped by the police who received the order to clear the road ahead of the race. In a mix of Italian and Swiss German, I explained that we were an official tour operator and had a right to be on the road until the peloton caught us. They let us go and we slowly made our way towards the summit in front of envious fans. However, I was losing hope that we would get to the finish before the pros until the van showed up behind us and Keith, who was following the race live on his smartphone, said to me with a broad smile: "I think you can make it, they are 58km from the finish".

This gave me a huge boost and I spent the rest of the climb coaching Liam to keep going, switchback after switchback, with Gerry a bit ahead of us. We got to the top amongst the fans ready to see Quintana, Dumoulin & co and were miraculously allowed to start descending on a totally empty road. I will never forget the feeling of going down into Bormio with just us on the road and the fans cheering us as if we were Giro champions.

Behind, Nibali had launched his attack and was soon going to start his own mad descent to the finish with Mikel Landa.

Shark attack! #giro100

Une publication partagée par Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) le

We were finally stopped by the police only 2 kilometres from the finish. We just had time to get off our bikes and congratulate each other before the lead car appeared round the corner ahead of Nibali and Landa zooming down towards the finish line.

Above: After nearly 14 hours on the saddle, Liam enjoys watching the race from the roadside

We watched the race unfold in front of our eyes and then joined the rest of the team in Bormio for a well deserved beer (or two). And a celebratory tweet.

Here are the final stats of this big, big day:

You can also view this ride on Relive.cc.

I will remember this day for the rest of my life. Gerry and Liam: you are legends... And thanks to our wonderful team. Sarah, Marcello, Keith: we would not have made it without you!

Stage 16 of the 2017 was considered by many experts as the most difficult in the modern history of the Giro. Still, every day cyclists like Gerry, Liam and Alain managed to ride it before the pros. Tackle your own bucket list challenge and Ride Every Kilometre of Grand Tour stages: at the Giro, the Tour or the Vuelta. Or maybe even all of them, just like Keith?

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