Up, Up & Away
“Back to the bikes.” Steve commanded as the ferry began its approach to Verreno.
Riding off wasn't really an option, the ramp and slipway were a bit too steep to ride up from a standing start at the bottom so we pushed our steeds onto dry land.
“Right, guys, mount up – let's get this show on the road!” Caro instructed.
We set off through Verreno getting a few friendly toots before Steve got us onto the right road - the sign said it went to Parlasco and Esino Lario at 20 and 8km respectively. The road climbed over the railway line and then started to rise before we hit the first hairpin. It wasn't that the gradient was excessive but by the second of an eventual nine hairpins our dozen riders were already spread over fifty metres, by the time the road levelled off some it was considerably more.
“That was intense.” Mark noted as we soft pedalled to wait for the others.
“Yeah.” I agreed.
“I'm not much of a climber meself.” He admitted.
“I make do.” In truth my build is well suited to climbing, it's going down where I can lose the advantage.
“Where are they going? That's not the road we agreed on.” Chris mentioned to Dave.
There had been a bit of delay getting off the ferry, a Dutch bloke couldn't get his mobile home up the ramp so the car's occupants only just spotted the riders turning off the main road.
“No idea but we'd best follow.”
“You sure this is the right road?” Caro asked Steve as they passed a name board for Perledo.
“It had Parlasco on the sign.”
“I thought we had to follow the lake for a bit.”
In her head she was, maybe five kilometres before the turn, Steve had taken the first sign with the right name.
“Well if this goes to the right place.”
Up ahead, Drew, Mark, Josh and Jamie had settled into a steady pace, Mand was sharing pace with Geth, the others a few metres astern. The road soon went into a second series of hairpins, the last three adding a big chunk of altitude in about 400m. There was some respite from the relentless climb though as they were spat into the mouth of a narrow valley.
“Some view,” Jamie allowed looking out over Varenna to Lake Como and beyond.
“Aye, almost worth the climb like,” Josh agreed.
“Best let the others come up, we're not in a rush,” I suggested.
“Stop?” Mark hopefully offered.
“Good for me, bit of a pull-in just ahead.” Josh observed.
We pulled up and almost in unison grabbed our bidons.
The next little group weren't too far behind then we had nearly five minutes to wait before Caro and Steve arrived with the stragglers.
“Everyone okay?” Caroline asked reaching for her own bottle.
“Yeah, just a bit unexpected,” Mark confirmed.
“We'll try to give you warning in future.” She mentioned with a look at Steve like daggers.
The car passengers had agreed to hold back on the climb.
“This'll be testing a few legs,” Chris observed.
“Not least Steve and Caro,” Dave grinned to which Jemma added a giggle.
“Looks like they're on the move again.” Chris noted.
“Time to move,” Steve instructed.
We set off again, the valley is relatively straight but the road darts about following the left hand wall as it persistently climbs away from the lake. It wasn't far along the road before we were once again riding piano in a fairly tight formation.
“Own pace to the top,” Caro called to us as the road ahead started a more determined climb up into and through a village.
“Josh?” I enquired.
“I'm game, man.”
“Let's do it.”
“Right,” Mark smiled.
The road took a sharp right and I stepped on the gas, upping the speed by five kph. Josh easily matched my effort, behind however, confusion reigned, Mark mis-timed his effort, Jamie couldn't do the acceleration and of the others only Mand even made an effort. Having gained some space I let Josh come up to share the pace and we fell into race mode.
Have to give Mark his dues, for a self confessed non climber he was having a good go, sliding onto Jamie's wheel and holding it. The gap from Josh and I continued to grow with every pedal stroke. Several riders streaked downhill, giving us a wave as we crossed before disappearing behind us with a squeal of brakes.
Apart from the contrast in weather it reminded me of that race at Stuttgart, climbing with the pack chasing behind. Josh looked in good order but whilst he's strong, a climber he isn't, yeah why not. We were in the village, something Larrio, before I made my move, a slick down change then out of the saddle up the narrow street away from the piazza.
“Shit!” Josh allowed with a crash of gears.
I climbed steadily through the houses before attacking the climb as the road entered a short series of hairpins. I was conscious of a car coming up behind, I kept wide to delay his passing until I'd made bend two. He passed then, it was our Merc; Dad sounded the horn and accelerated away.
“Pity the World's is so flat this year,” Chris noted.
“One for the sprinters I guess,” Dave supplied.
“I guess we've got that covered, but I doubt there's many can match laddo climbing.”
“Possibly.” Dave agreed, both embarrassed and proud that it was his child they were discussing.
“Wish we had more of his calibre.”
“Give it time, Chris, small steps, after this trip I think you'll see a big change, something to take forward.”
“I hope so, I really do, Dave's confident but the road isn't like the ‘drome, you can't control everything the same way.”
“Here okay?” Dave asked as they passed the summit of the climb.
A glance back down the road after the next bend revealed a now spent Josh being overhauled by what looked like Jamie with the distinctive figure of Mark labouring away manfully some distance adrift. What turned out to be the last hairpin was unusually square cornered but once ridden the gradient eased, levelling towards where Dad, Chris and Jemma were stood by the car. Last effort, up a sprocket, yes! I punched the air as I desisted pedalling.
“Well done, lad.” Chris congratulated me.
“You okay, Drew?” Dad asked as I collapsed over the handlebars, only now getting sufficient oxygen on board after the effort of the climb.
“Bit huh, cramp, left.”
“Off the bike, Jem.”
“On it, boss.”
By the time Josh and Jamie arrived my bike was stood against the car and I was sat under the hatch tugging on a bidon with Jemma working on my knotted calf muscles.
“What kept you?”
“Were huh, looking at view.” Jamie gasped.
“Flippin' mountain goats.” Josh supplied.
My hand found something slightly squidgy in a bag, Thesings? Buns, we didn't have them yesterday!
“Anyone want cake?”
“Cake?” Chris queried.
“Yeah we got it for the trip yesterday.”
“I forgot all about it,” Dad admitted.
The rest of the squad weren't actually that far behind, you really can't lose too much time over five kilometres so when Sal and Steve joined us it was still only about ten minutes after I arrived. The cake was keenly consumed, I had my pflaumkuchen and Dad ensured that there was some for the mechs – hang on, where are they?
“Where are Mike and Darren?”
“Wondering where we are I should think.” Chris supplied. “We'll rendezvous with them down in the valley, this little er detour has added about an hour to the ride.”
“Detour?” Mark picked up on the word.
“We might have ended up on the wrong road,” Steve admitted.
Well at least the culprit has had to climb up here too, that'll teach him!
Chris was understandably keen for us to press on so, food consumed, we set off downhill. I mentioned before that I lose out to the er chunkier riders on downhills however on a fairly technical drop like this my technical skills allowed me to remain within shouting distance of the heavier riders. In fact on the couple of hairpin sets I made up considerable ground.
We flashed through Parlasco and onto the almost level valley road towards Cortenova. The narrow lane changed to a busier P road* which we then followed up the valley all the way to the Colle di Balisio where our minibus was waiting.
“We might have a problem.” Darren told Chris.
“The road we planned on using after Lecco, there're a couple of long tunnels and no bike facilities.”
“Damn, how'd you find out?”
“A couple with a camper van, the Lecco bypass is the same but at least we can use the old road.”
“Is there a way round?”
“Adds a good twenty k.”
“We could ferry them through?” Mike put forward.
“Or go back via the ferry,” Darren added.
“Can we get everyone on the bus with the bikes?”
“Bit of a squeeze, if we put half the bikes on the car I reckon we can do it.”
‘Why me?' Chris thought to himself.
“May as well load up here, by the time we ride to Lecco and do it we'll lose another hour.”
“Okay, everyone, bit of a change of plan.” Chris announced to his charges a few minutes later.
* Strada Provinciale – equivalent to a B road in the UK
to be continued....
© Maddy Bell 22.06.13