Monday, 21 July 2014

AN ITALIAN WRAP - ADVENTURES AND EXPERIENCES OF 3 WEEKS IN ITALY

LOSING ANOTHER MATE TO MELANOMA
It was during the Italian Dolomites Smiddy Challenge that news reached me of my good friend Herman Herlaar was again unwell with the reoccurrence of his Melanoma. A disease he has fought for over a decade. I exchanged emails with Herman and he was his usual positive and selfless self. A blog from the second last day of the ride was dedicated to Herman and he indicted to me that he was tickled pink that we would do that for him. It never seems enough but we were all happy it had a good effect on Herman. Yesterday Alyssa and I returned home after an amazing three weeks in Italy. I turned my phone on at the airport and the first message is from Chris Geeves telling me that Herman had passed away. I couldn't believe it. I thought of that call that David Smiddy made to me back in 2006 when his son Adam passed away. I needed to sit down then and needed to sit down again at the airport. I had promised Herman I would be in to see him on my return. Once again I am devastated, once again I am sad and once again I am angry. The last time I got angry was when Melanoma robbed the world of Adam. I channelled that anger into doing something about it and Smiling for Smiddy was born. Herman's news is yet another reminder of the constant battle we face and how the march forward has to continue. I know when I return to the Mater Foundation on Wednesday as my first day back at work, that it will be with renewed vigour and enthusiasm to raise as much funds as humanly possible to enable our researchers to continue in their quest to find a cure for these cancers that are taking from us the ones we love.

This blog I would like to dedicate to my friend Herman and his partner Michelle and their families. I know Herman wanted us all to celebrate and live life like there was no tomorrow. I can honestly say I have been doing that ever since Adam passed away in 2006 and that Herman would be proud of me for the time that I had in Italy, first with Team Smiddy, and then with my beautiful Fiancee' Alyssa Coe.

TEN REASONS WHY
It's been two weeks now seen the 2014 Italian Dolomites Smiddy Challenge finished. Our close knit band of Smiddy Brothers and Sisters, who had been through so much together during those six hard fought days of cycling over some of the toughest climbs in all of Europe, separated to follow their own agenda's. For Alyssa and I we had always planned to remain in Italy for a further two weeks for whatever unplanned adventures took our fancy. We did have a base to go to after the Smiddy tour; a lovely old home, nestled in the foothills of the Dolomites, that was built in the 14th century. One of my good friends owns this house and he kindly loaned it to us for the duration of our stay. A huge thank you to Mattia Anesa for entrusting us with his magnificent home. Half of the three story house is the original building, while the adjoining modern other half was built in the 80's. Venturing into the old part of the home was akin to stepping back in time and we could only marvel at how well structures were built back then to withstand the trauma's of time passing.

So I guess I wanted to write this blog as a memoir of our three week immersion into Italian culture. Hence I have managed to come up with ten memorable sights, events or occasions, that will have to suffice out of the many more that shaped this trip up as one of the highlights of my numerous trips to Europe over the past 20 years. In no particular order, I welcome you to, what was for Alyssa and I, our most excellent trip to Italy.

THAT MAGNIFICENT SMIDDY DOLOMITES TOUR!
The Smiddy tour of the Dolomites for both of us is what came to mind first and foremost. The challenge in completing a staggering 15,000 plus metres of climbing over just six days of riding. The friendships we forged with Gary, Kerry, Matt, Jason, Peter and Phil, and of course our magnificent guides in Will, Pippo, Valentino and of course the 'hard as nails' Ingo, will always be treasured in our minds and hearts. The mountainous sights that we witnessed were indescribably and unbelievably beautiful, and it came as no surprise to find out it is World Heritage listed. The entire group were in awe of the power these high snow-capped mountains possessed and our appreciation for professional riders racing up these tortuous beasts was now off the charts. The food on that tour was typical Italian gourmet feasts, but more importantly those nightly affairs provided some of the best social times of the entire trip. You see, nearly the entire tour was so mountainous that we were either climbing or descending by ourselves. There was no real flat roads where the group could ride as a two-abreast peloton, which is perfectly normal for any other Smiddy tour but not here. I missed that, as I know did the whole team. But boy we made up for it in the huddles and the team dinners.

SURVIVING ITALY IN A HIRE CAR
One of the joys about driving a car in Australia is just how easy it is. I have driven enough in Europe, Asia or America over the past 30 years to truly appreciate Australian roads and conditions. For all those drivers in Australia that experience impatience and or road-rage I just feel sorry for them. They need to hire a car in either of the above countries; not to learn how to drive again, but to learn how to appreciate just how good we do have it in Australia. I will talk just about Italy now as it is freshest in my mind, for we just survived two weeks and 2000 kilometres of driving amongst some of the most aggressive yet, and -here is the contradiction-not impatient drivers known to man. Let me ask you this: if Italian drivers can accept the fact that their fellow drivers can drive as if they are solely the only drivers on the roads and not lose their cool when their own drivers have blinkers but never use them, fly through roundabouts with no indication at all as to which exit they intend to take, changed lanes constantly, again with no indication, to overtaking on blind corners, double lines and through immensely long tunnels over double white lines, to speeding 50km/h over and above the designated 130km/h motorway speed limits, to merging in the utmost dangerous fashion, to suddenly coming to complete stops when on minor roads to make a turn but again without indicating, to pull out in front of you from a side street, again with no indication, to not stopping at stop signs, to tailgating you because you have the audacity to sit on the speed limit and the list goes on and on, then why can't we Australians, be more understanding or patient, with drivers in our own country, when on the very odd occasion, when any of what I have written above, happens to us? I just don't understand? Anyway apparently Italy is one of the highest risk countries in the world for tourists to have an accident in their hire car. The excesses they charge are indicative of this, as we were informed that if we did not take out an extra 600 Euro insurance cover we would be up for the first 2000 Euro in the result of an accident. This is where you need to check your travel insurance as the good insurances will cover your excess and save you a wad of cash when hiring a car in Europe. Anyway we were insured and more importantly we got the vehicle back intact, although Alyssa and our traveling companion Katie Dick, who hooked up with us for five days, both suffered passenger induced stress from all the close calls. They trusted my driving they said but not the driving of the locals.

THE OLD STUFF
Each and every time I visit Europe I am always blown away by the old architecture still standing, some up to and over 2000 years of age. They built shit to last back then! The sad thing is if not for all the religious wars, land wars, I have-larger-genitals-then-you wars and of course the World wars, a whole lot more of it would still be standing. Anyway we appreciate what is left and the history behind the buildings, monuments, cathedrals, statues and bell towers. I drove Alyssa crazy always asking this question; "Honey how old do you think this is?" I thought of Alyssa as my own personal European historian. It did not matter that she was born in America and this was her first time ever to Europe. She is a smart lady and surely those school history lessons she remembered... Not so apparently so anything that interested us we made a soft attempt to look it up on google when and if we had access to wireless.

THE UNBRIDLED JOY OF TRAVELLING ON MOTORWAYS
Our good friend Katie stayed with us at Mattia's home for the first three nights. She then needed to get to Rome to catch her flight home to Australia. Thanks to Katie organising the hire car we decided that a trip to Rome was on the cards. A leisurely eight hour drive south from where we were staying in the North of Italy. To travel anywhere fast in Europe the Motorways are manically busy, you take your life in your hands, the diesel and the tolls are expensive and the Italians have not yet cottoned on to the joy of take away coffees at the motorway service centres. Here you pay for it at a separate counter, present your docket to the coffee counter and drink your cappuccino or expresso, along with your croissant, while standing at the counter with 25 other customers, or 55 if you are lucky to arrive when the tour busses do. The major motorways have four lanes, while others have three or two. The less lanes generally means narrower lanes as well. The two lane tunnels of up to and over two kilometres in length are impressive as they cut through entire mountains and are a engineering marvel. But man you so need to have your wits about you as anything can and does happen in those dark cavernous entities that seem to have a life of their own as the noise of the trucks and cars combined with the fans going full tilt keep the nerve endings tingling. All the hire cars are over geared here with six speed gear boxes. Sitting on the speed limit of 130km/h requires the car to sit on just 2000 rpm's, which is extremely low for that speed. I would jokingly comment to the girls that I was going to go into the 'Big Boys Lane' when I needed to overtake. If it was three or four lanes wide the safest bet was in the second fastest lane. Only when necessary would I venture into the Big Boys lane, and when I did, I did it quickly and got back to the safety of my lane. Otherwise someone doing 180 to 220 km/h would be up my butt and there would be no horn, no finger, no aggression, just the menacing cars presence. That was enough! Not once, not ever, could I actually switch off and enjoy the drive while on motorways. Back roads sure thing, but motorways never.

CYCLING FRIENDLY HOTELS IN ITALY
We have never stayed in a hotel that is specifically set up for cyclists. It was during the Italian Dolomites Smiddy tour that we got to experience it when we stayed for three nights in Bormio. There are five of these hotels set up across Italy and as we had such a good experience in Bormio we decided to try the cycling friendly hotel that was an hour south of Rome. The town was called Fiujji and was nestled at 700 metres above sea level. How a cycling hotel works is you pay the one price for the following benefits. Breakfast and dinner provided and a packed lunch to take with you on your cycling adventure on any given day. Your bike attire is laundered each day. A secure bike room in the basement is set aside for all the guests bikes as no are bikes allowed in the rooms. You can hire extremely good quality bikes for as little as 40 Euro a day. They provide maps of all the best bike courses in the region, the hotel in Bormio even provided free guides for group rides up and over all the famous climbs. Fiujji did not provide this surface but still had the course maps. The staff at Bormio were genuine bikers themselves but no so in Fuijji and the food they provided was plentiful smorgasbord type meals rich in carbs and protein.Lastly there are all the tools you will ever need and cleaning products, rags etc are all part of the deal. All for 90 Euro a day, which represented excellent value we thought. Our stay in Fuijji was awesome and we got in two great rides of 30 kilometres on day one and 90 kilometres on day two, which took us up to 1600 metres, with a reward of a 22 kilometre descent. Katie spent those two days with us and early in the ride she popped a spoke. Resulting in a rear wheel so badly buckled that she limped back to the hotel and went for a run instead. She was bitterly disappointed and we tried unsuccessfully to convey that the 90km loop was fairly ordinary, when in fact it was the complete opposite and another amazing day of cycling in the hills of Italy. A funny side story before Katie left us was when the girls passed some cows and horses and even one donkey as they were taking a leisurely stroll down the middle of the road. The cows took a liking to the girls and appeared to start chasing them down the road. I was watching it unfold and recorded it on my iPhone as I was behind them at the time and they were completely oblivious to it until I showed them the footage. Funny stuff!

ALL ROADS MAY LEAD TO ROME BUT GIVE ME FLORENCE ANY DAY!
After our great stay in Fuijji we dropped Katie to the the airport in Rome via those entertaining motorways... After biding farewell to Katie, Alyssa and I left the car at the airport and caught the train into the centre of Rome to spend half a day looking at just a few of the many sights that Rome has to offer. As it turned out we were happy with seeing the Colosseum, the remnants and ruins of the original Rome and the waterless Tevi Fountain, which was a huge disappointment due to it undergoing repairs, surrounded by fencing, a thousand tourists and hecklers all insisting we buy an umbrella or statue from them! It was kind of fun but we had booked into a hotel in Florence for that night thanks to a hot tip from the app Trip Advisor. Which we totally recommend as a valuable travelling tool if unsure of where to stay or eat. Once again it was back to the motorways and three hours later, with Alyssa's nerves once again frayed to a slivers edge, we arrived safely to our hotel in Florence. I am happy to report that it was just as delightful as the comments on Trip Advisor said it would be. We arrived at seven-pm and had dinner at 8:30pm at a great restaurant recommended by Trip Advisor. And no I am not on a commission! The next day we set out early and had a most wonderful day in Florence enjoying all the famous sites but without the annoying Rome tourists crowds and annoying hecklers. It was then back to our base at Mattia's home in Gorma St Marino, which meant another four hours of motorway driving and elevated stress levels all round.

IF CLOCK TOWERS AND CHURCHES ARE YOUR THING?
I remember when I toured through Spain back in the 90's that every town you passed through enjoyed the mandatory castle. At first I wanted to visit each one, but upon realizing the frequency of these objects they quickly lost appeal. In France it was all the Cathedrals, museums and roundabouts, which I was happy to visit a few cathedrals and museums but roundabouts you had no choice in the matter, they just kept on coming! In Italy I can assure you that clock towers and churches are all the go. The same designer for the clock towers must be a rich man as we spotted hundreds in our travels and all were very similar in architecture and materials used. The traditional half and on the hour ringing of the bells can be heard for kilometres away. Too bad for any nightshift workers... I think they did not chime after seven-pm or seven-am. Our little village that we had as our base, two of these clock towers existed and Alyssa pointed out that they must have reached an agreement to not ring their bells at the same time. One would gong and when the other had finished, count 30 seconds and the other would follow. Brilliant! You got to hear these chimes 24 times a day! When Katie was with us we paid a visit to a local village just 20 minutes drive away called Cluson. Now it had a clock tower and a cathedral that was super impressive, not just for its sheer size but for the fact that one of the Popes actually paid a visit to this historic and gorgeous little town. I have no idea what came over me but I paid good money for a 1000 piece picture puzzle of the clock tower. As a bonus they threw in a mini puzzle of that Pope. I have never bought a puzzle in my life! So that is my story of clock towers and how they somehow managed to possess me to the point of buying a puzzle, that by all certainty, will remain in the box forever in the back of my wardrobe back home!


COLD WATER PLENTIFUL IN THE NORTH OF ITALY
Now the north of Italy gets a lot of snow throughout winter. So much so that when the snow starts to melt in Spring, it fills the rivers and keeps them flowing continuously throughout not just Spring, but all of Summer and most of Autumn and never does all that snow melt. When it just about runs out Winter is back and the process starts all over again. On numerous occasions we got to experience just how cold that water was. Mid summer here and a dip in any of the rivers is feet only and if you can last longer than a minute without screaming in pain then you are either very brave or have no nerve endings in your feet. All the water out of the taps to drink is beautiful and cold and if you are fortunate enough to visit any of the refreshing spas in the area I can warn you from experience do try the hot sauna's but you take your life into your own hands by doing the cold water dip up to your chest. One of the Smiddy lads, Peter D'Angelis managed to stay in this tub of 10 degree water for one minute. I was pathetic and lasted less than ten seconds. Certainly was refreshing though! When out riding in the Dolomite region topping up your water bottles was never a problem. Just fill up from one of the many spots that are installed to tap into the natural fall of the water off the mountains. Hey an interesting fact about the Dolomites is that all those mountains were originally under the sea. To this day climbers are still finding sea shells and various evidence of the mountains origins atop some of the highest peaks. The Dolomites are about 250 millions years old, give or take a year or two... and are composed mainly of sedimentary rocks and limestone. Today, we can hardly imagine that once the mighty mountains were an enormous coral reef, formed in the primordial ocean called Tethys. Anyway that's your history lesson for this blog!

SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE
When it comes to speaking foreign languages I am really proficient at English and even that is open to argument. I literally suck at any other language other then good old Aussie slang. But I can assure you I more than make up for it with the pantomimes, facial and hand gestures and the mandatory speaking English with an Italian accent, when trying to get what I wanted out of any particular situation. It is hilarious and embarrassing at the same time. Let me share one story with you that had Alyssa and Katie cringing in embarrassment. It was during one of our casual 100 kilometre loops that we did from Mattia's home. These loops would take nearly all day due to the amount of climbing we did, but also due to the the stops for photo opportunities and mandatory coffee and croissant breaks at the many delightfully welcoming small mountain villages we would pass through. So we had just met up with a lovely Italian couple that were retired and out for a casual drive to admire the views. They both spoke English and when we parted company they suggested you visit the old church up the road that was 600 years old. When we got there there was a group of kids playing soccer on the cobbled courtyard. I was saying hello and trying to tell them my name and asking their names. I was successful and then it got funny when I was attempting to tell them where we were from. The Italians don't understand our pronunciation of Australia and would always give you a quizzical look of confusion. But once they got it their expressions would always brighten. As usual when you travel anywhere in Europe Australian's and Kiwis's are extremely popular. Being English or American does not favour as well. Alyssa would immediately fall back to her Australian tag in these situations. Anyway these kids were just not getting it so I then went into my kangaroo pose and starting hop, hop hopping around in my bike shoes. This is when not only the girls took leave and pretended not to know me, but when the kids started to back away as if I was a dangerous animal. I think they will talk about that strange foreigner for a time to come.

RIDING BIKES ON ITALIAN ROADS FAR SAFER THAN DRIVING CARS
Well firstly congratulations if you have gotten this far into my article. You have just notched up 3384 words of my drivel. So you may as well go the whole hog and read this final tenth Italian highlight of our trip. Now personally I managed to clock up over 1000 kilometres of riding on Italian roads. Which included a touch over 30,000 metres of climbing, but more importantly over 30,000 metres of descending! Which is equivalent to a couple of hundred kilometres of descents. Yep Italy is a descender's paradise! Anyway I am hoping that this qualifies me for the following evaluation of life on the road as a cyclist in Italy. Alyssa and I found the drivers to be erratic but generally safe towards us as cyclists, but all that went out the door once we swapped bikes for cars. The interesting thing about how cyclists ride over here is that they generally don't ride two abreast. It is either single file or all over the road. What we found with the cars is that it did not matter where you rode on the road, on the side, in the middle, the cars would always go around you. Never would they blow their horns in anger but occasionally just to let you know they were coming. This was especially prevalent with busses and trucks coming up behind you. Most Italians seem to be not happy unless they are speeding, whether on the back roads or the motorways they always seem to be in a hurry. So when they pass you they pass you fast, way faster than Australian drivers, but in a safer manner as they don't come as close. Here in Australia we have the 'Metre Matter' rules, the campaign to pass cyclist and give them at least a metre of clearance. In Italy there is no such rule or government campaign, they just seem to do it. Guess it comes back to cycling having such history in these European countries. Having said that we would always, just as we would in Australia, choose back roads to keep us off the busier thoroughfares, which always makes for enjoyable riding. A word of warning though when it comes to tackling the big mountain passes like Stelvio and Garvia. Once any road in Italy either goes up into the clouds or has heaps of switchbacks you have to share the route with hundreds of motorbikes. I am a motorbike rider myself and was ashamed at how a large majority of them carry on with their passing maneuvers of cyclists in their quest to reach the top, or the bottom of these massive climbs as fast as possible. We all found it funny that we, as cyclists, would have to wait for the motorbikes to finish their photos at the Passo signs, signs which indicate the name of the climb and the altitude in metres, before we could get our shots completed. What took us two hours to climb the Stelvio or the Gavia at over 2700 metres using just our lungs and our legs, the motorbikes would do in 20 minutes using their right wrist to turn the throttle. I don't begrudge them of their fun and achievements, believe me I understand! I see it from both sides of the coin. I only wish they would respect us as fellow bike riders and pass us accordingly with respect and safety. Of course there were the polite motorbike riders as well, who were wonderful and my heart went out to them as I know that is how I pass cyclists when I do my motorbike trips back in Australia. Sports cars are also attracted to the mountains, as are just normal motorists and except for a select few, we were treated with great respect by the majority. To sum up we definitely felt way safer cycling in Italy than on the roads back home. But I always feel that way on any of my European trips that involve cycling.

I started this blog when in Italy, worked on it again on the trip home to Australia, and now suffering from jet-lag, both Alyssa and I are wide awake at two-a.m. this Tuesday morning. So while she is reading beside me I have finished off this blog. It is now six-a.m. Alyssa is up and getting ready for work. I am back at work massaging today at Allsports Physiotherapy, before returning to the Mater Foundation tomorrow for my work on Smiddy events. Like all good holidays, after a week back at work you begin to wonder if the whole trip ever happened. Memories are good but for me they eventually fade in my aging mind. Words are another matter, always there for reflection. Hence the reason for this blog. Memories of our adventures in Italy should never be forgotten! Just as memories of Adam Smiddy, Declan Duck, Herman Herlaar and many others will always be with me for as long as I have on this Earth.

Thanks for getting this far and my next blog won't be for a while now until the ninth edition of the Smiddy eight day Challenge begins at the end of August.

Until then take care and stay safe on our roads.

Sharky.

Monday, 7 July 2014

2014 ITALIAN DOLOMITES CHALLENGE DAY 6 STAGE 5 - THE 10.5% AVERAGE GRADIENT ASCENT OF MORTIROLO

Dr. Koala and Peter D'Angelis kindly offered to write tonights blog. If I may, I would like to dedicate this blog to my good mate Herman Helaar, who is at this very moment facing his own personal battle with Melanoma cancer. Mate we are all thinking of you and while we are torturing ourselves in the high mountains of Italy, and at the same time having fun, we definitely never lose sight of the bigger picture, and that is to raise the funds needed to keep our researches at Mater Medical doing what they do best... Working to save lives through early warning detection tests and ultimately that cure that we are all praying for. Take care my friend and I will see you on my return. Cheers from Sharky.

Hi this is Dr Koala from here and I am delighted to co-write this blog with Peter D'Angelis. What can one say after an amazing week of friendship, camaraderie, and great cycling guides for our logarithmically challenging rides each day, except the Spa rest day in Bormio, which we all needed to regain new energy for the Stelvio and then today!! My My!

I know I don’t usually blow my own trumpet (especially a pink one that was the winner’s prize for today’s Individual time trial up the Passa di Fogga or as the locals call it the Mortirolo pass, but I must admit Dr. Koala exceeded his own expectations today (an probably everyone else’s) and pulled a giant rabbit out of the bag – or should I say a noisy pink trumpet and the right to wear the Mallaut Jaune or the Yellow Jersey for the rest of the ride, not that this earned a great deal of respect from the peloton– only Sharky, Matt and Ingo helped him up the hills

Now you may remember that this 11.9 km time trial up the Mortirolo ascended to 1850m and had 1296 m climbing with an average gradient of 10.5% with peaks at 18-20% regularly during the ride. Time handicaps allowed Dr. Koala a very generous a 75min time gap between him starting and Valentino our strongest guide rider starting from the Café Mortirolo, where an expresso almost shot Dr. Koala up the pass without his bike! The Gods were with us today as it starting raining soon after we arrived in Mortirolo, but as Dr.Koala mentally and physically prepared his body and mind for this first ever Smiddy trial time challenge, the sunshine came out and Smiles appeared on Dr.Koala’s face!

To cut a long story short his generous time allowance allowed him to steal the Pink Trumpet and Yellow Jersey completing the exhausting steep climb in about 1 hr 49 mins with a worthy second to Jason and third on the podium to Kerri, Alias “Alli” Climbing Contador! Jason our strongest rider did himself proud by clocking the best time and should be proud of that! But no world event could be more important presently that the Dr.K stepping up to receive his Pink trumpet and wildflowers and hugs and kisses from all the Smiddy team and all the French boys who were cheering us all on to the finish line. It was very gay time had by all! A heart rendering version of the Australian National Anthem led by Pedro stirred the emotions. The only disappointing thing about the presentation was the lack of suitable attired Italian bella donne to give Dr. K a lippy kiss on each cheek. Maybe this could be organized for the next such Smiddy event! It certainly would motivate the male Smiddy riders no –end.

The ride today was 105 km long and involved a beautiful long descent down to Mazzo where we ascended the Mortirolo Passo but and an equally beautiful long descent from Mortirolo with great views over the Valley – this is such a beautiful country filled with beautiful people, food and wine and experiences, and us Smiddy riders are so fortunate to be able to experience it while raising money for cancer research.

After a grueling ascent of the valley back to Bormio many of us, especially Dr. Koala were pretty spent or as the locals say Sono la frutta - but in true Smiddy fashion one amazing challenge a day was not enough, and we climbed Cancano to 1907 m – a 8.2 km with short switchbacks (like a mini Alp D’uez) passing two old tunnels that lead pass on old castle and fort to this cute Spa Hotel where amazingly timing wise we watched the last 30 mins of Stage 3 of the Le Tour De France won by the Giant-Shimano Team sprinter Marcel Kittel – is this great planning on part of Will and his tour team or what? Then after revival with biscotti, café, coke, chips and beers we headed down back a beautiful descent (Sharky was ecstatic again as he prefers descending then the steepness of Mortirolo – in fact just to put it on the record Dr. K was 1min faster than Sharky up the Mortirolo and this was even considering that both Dr. K and Sharky were zig (Sharkey) and Zag (Dr. K) up those steep gradients.

Another worthy mention today was that Pippo got out his old bike to ride with us from the bottom of the Mortirolo Pass all the way to Cancano and back to Bormio. Dr. K and his Family owes his life to him for reviving him after he nearly Passa Outed on Passa Gavia. He will forever be one of the Leong Family in Australia and we look forward to him visiting us in Sydney very soon with his Family.

In fact all members of the SMiddy team have bonded so incredibly well that I expect that all of us will keep in touch in Brisbane or Sydney via Facebook if we are busy, but for rides, dinners and reminisces about this amazing Life transforming week.
Now for Dr. K’s personal 4 Highlights out of many for the week –

I , The immense self-belief, courage and honesty shown by all the Smiddy riders to tackle some of the toughest bike rides in the world!

2. The Passa Gavia where I said I nearly Passau Outed at the top. But it was still such a beautiful ride with an enchanted forest mid-way up which I riding alone was basically able to enjoy with great tranquility – the birds twittering, the green and colour of wild-flowers, small pine cones on the road as I rode and the smell of beautiful nature – why do we need TV really – being outdoors creates new networks for better people and health and well-being.

3. Winning the Pink Trumpet and Yellow Jersey on Mortirolo today – now despite the rumours Dr.K/s amazing achievement was only achieved with a combination of legitimate drugs, including codeine, nurofen and alcohol (but only the best Roos vIno including Valpolicela) so despite the results been unofficial until Dr. K provides a urine sample there can be no doubt about it.
As Dr. K reached the half way mark (about 6km) he thinks he started hallucinating hearing cow bells ringing and one particular beautiful Italian cow called Milly whispering in his ear that if he won the Time trial he would receive a nice peck on his cheek as a reward! This with his lovely 16y old daughter Mitzi and his darlingly patient wife Micky, i.e. the 3Ms, Milly, Mitzi and Micky drove Dr. K to the finish line to seize his great prize!

4. The D’Angelis brothers – thank God we only had two and not three this time, but Phillipo likes my Mum and I quite like their parents. He is a bit of a Frank Sinatra but I am not sure he can sing that well to the Italian ladies? But we shall find out tonight.

Pedro the older brother is more mature obviously but a real gentleman with great taste in wine with a great sense of humopur and Smiddy values. I love them both as they have made the trip so much fun – but please don’t tickle me anymore Phillipo!

I have to add one more highlight – People make experiences

Valentino – I really would like to introduce him to my beautiful 23 year old daughter Julia should she break up with her current boyfriend, as I think he would make a nice son-in-law – we could go riding together in wonderful places for instance – but he would have to reveal the Dark Side of his character to me first !

Also if the beautiful Milly could become my daughter-in-law and marry my son Martino I think I would be very happy!

So that leaves Ingo, what a gentleman and great Father – I do hope the Netherlands wins the world Cup and IO do we get to see him again on another Smiddy challenge soon! He helped me get through the last kms of ice and cold and rain on Passa Gavia and is like Pippo a member of my Family. As I will planning our regular 4 yearly Leong-Lim Family Reunion in Bormio in early July 2016, it may be a chance to reunite the Smiddy Bormio support team and some of the riders!

Finally to Will an Adelaide gentleman with great organization skills, a beautiful French wife who works for Chateau Rothschild in Bordeaux and who can ride a bike too! – Please join my Leong Family too Will ? when can we come and visit you and your beautiful French wife in Bordeaux now that you are part of the Family.

Also importantly Dr. K wishes to thank his two room mates during the Challenge – Kerry Alias Ali who Dr. K had the pleasure of sharing a spa bath with her. Very nice after the first big ride up the Passa Giau and 3 other climbs – what a sore bum and legs he had so thank you Alli for helping fix that for Dr. K.

And to Matt for being such a great motivating buddy sharing with Dr.K in Bormio – and for not being too upset when Dr. K fell out of bed after a rather pleasant cow dream before the Mortirolo time trial and for not snoring too much or complaining about Dr. K’s snoring! Again please both roommates visit us in Sydney but sorry Ali I don't have a spa bath in my home.

So Arriverderci – so sad to say, but rather than the end of a great holiday it is the start of many great friendships ala Casablanca!


Okay Peter D'Angelis here... Where are seated at the dinner table just about to have entre’s and I’ve been handed the laptop on the bell, so I wont waste my words.

Every time I come away with the Smiddy guys I limp away a changed man. Treasured times and sobering climbs (that rhymes!).
This trip has been no different. Such a great group of people with a common purpose and always a conscious acknowledgment of where this great charity started.

Given the time constraints I would like to focus on my 4 highlights of the trip.

Firstly my climb up Stelvio (the first time mind you! Yes bragging rights Marc, Harris and Rowy!) with The Shark Man. We got into a great groove early, with good chats and some great snap shots along the way. The cool thing about riding with Sharky is that you truly pick up some of his intellectual properties on climbs like that re. nutition and just the little tricks that guys with his Triathlon Resume pick up through the years. I won’t forget that climb Big Guy.

That same day, and my second highlight goes to Matty who I came up Stelvio with for the second time. At one stage I asked Matty how many Km’s to go thinking in the back of my mind that I would divide the number by 6 or 8 to deduce the climbing time remaining. I later discovered that we came up at an average of about 4.5km (that doesn't leave the 15K tight need Smiddy Family).

Anyway we got up together with considerable 2 way moral support.

Again a climb that I will never forget.

The third highlight was my decent with Sharky and Phillipo today down Mortirolo. 20 km’s of sheer bliss. Without a doubt the most memorable decent of my short cycling career.

Phillipo was out in front early with Sharky close behind. Not a bad frontman (blind corners taken wide at mach speed) we were really on the edge.

I then took Sharky ( which made me feel good because he’s the best descender that I’ve ever ridden with.

I then took Phillipo after his rear wheel locked up.
From there it was all on with the 3 of us pushing the limit right to the end.
Our arrival at the bottom was followed with massive hugs and laughter (a boys moment).

Absolutely 17 minutes I will never forget.

Lastly, seeing the Doc get up in the time trial today was a true highlight.

His quirky humour and enjoyment of an evening glass of Red has endeared him to the Smiddy family and particularly the De Angelis boys.

I have some concerns regarding his true cycling ability and sense that he has been foxing prior to today in the anticipation of a handicapped event (let me say that if anyone’s in the market for dodgy prescription, Dr Gary is your man).

On that note “true story” Matty who bunks with the Doc, announced at Breakfast that Dr G fell out of his bed last night after both boys had been asleep for a number of hours (“drop bear” as Phillipo put it)
If only he’d prescribed himself with Viagra this nasty incident could have been avoided!

That’s what happens when you drink with the De Angelis boys!

In closing thank you Matty and Sharky for a fantastic 6 days. You guys have gone above and beyond and this one is going to be hard to trump.

To the road crew, Wil-I-Am, Pippo, Vale and Ingo you guys have done a fantastic job making us feel safe and welcome.

To my fellow riders………….well I hope and know that I will see you all soon back home.

Over and out, Pedro

Kerri Highlights – birthday, tre cime di livaredo, support
Alyssa – Gavia, Tre Cime, Earning T Shirt
Matt – Seeing others finish Tre Cime, Ingo on Gavia providing support, Mateship & comeraderie
Valentino – Giau with Jason & entire first ride, Final day time trial, Sharing emotions with others.
Ingo – Every ride together, nobody giving up, sharing moments together
Jason – 5 climbs on day 1 & sharing with Valentino, riding with Valentino & Ingo, Watching others achieve climbs at their own rate, blog each night & the stories of the group
Pippo – Enjoying Australians trying to speak Italian, Smiling,
Phil – Being able to raise money for a great cause whilst enjoying ourselves, being associated with such a great cause, meeting great people
Will – Plenty of highlights
Ability to share a beautiful environment with the whole group – Dolomites is one of the most amazing places in the world.
I take a lot of groups but this Smiddy group reminded me of what was great about his job
Work with Great team Pippo, Ingo and Vale
Lovely evenings spending together after the rides.
Sharky
Love Smiddy huddles – last one today emotions were very high
Descents – the fact that we have earnt them through the climbing
Alyssa – when she first signed she only had one month for training because of work commitments but she knocked over every climb was a real highlight and did not enter sag wagon once!








Sunday, 6 July 2014

2014 ITALIAN DOLOMITES SMIDDY CHALLENGE - DAY 5 STAGE 4 THE CONQUERING OF PASSO STELVIO NOT ONCE BUT TWICE,

Stelvio... and Stelvio Again (that's 88 switchbacks... Alpe d'Huez has 21!)

Stage 4
Total KIlometres: 106
Total Metres of Climbing 3600


This is not Sharky. This blog will be far too witty and funny. A super special day like Stelvio, Smiddy style, deserves super special bloggers.

The honour of writing today's blog has been placed in the very capable hands of Phil D'Angelis, Philippo as he has been tagged this week, and Matty Marshall. Don't worry. Sharky is not AWOL in Europe, just sharing the love. Where was yesterday's blog, you ask? Well, let's fill you in on our adventures over the past two days...

A REST DAY? REALLY?
In a Smiddy first, a rest day was included in the Italian Dolomites Smiddy Challenge, and enjoyed yesterday by our shattered crew. Sporting battered bodies and spirits, our riders very professionally put themselves through multiple sets of ice baths before some riders chose to have a sports massage from our guide and Marco 'Pirate' Pantani lookalike, Pippo. This was a particularly traumatic experience for Dr Koala, more accustomed to the hot Australian outback of the eucalyptus tree, who took over an hour to submerge waist-height into the ice bath, such was his agony. Dr Koala was screaming later in the day too as Pippo went to work on his tired limbs in preparation for Stelvio.

But once the ice baths were done, it was time for a walk to the old town of Bormio for some lunch, with pizza on the menu and a gelattisimo conveniently located next door. The crust of Jase's pizza was expertly arranged into a Smiddy smiley face before the crew strolled home to their hotel. Dr Koala again did himself proud. This 45kg whippet of a man ordered two meals, lasagne and a family sized pizza, while balancing the wine list and picking up the dodgy establishment for attempting to screw us on the bill.

SPECIAL GUESTS
We were delighted to be joined at dinner by Arch and Robyn DeAngelis, my parents, who survived a nervous drive through the mountains with the questionable driving skills of Arch, who headed straight to the bar for a nerve settling beer, in true DeAngelis style after reuniting with their two very well-behaved sons (particularly me). It was a relief that I finally had reinforcements to keep Pedro from embarrassing himselfAs those of you reading this blog know - Smiddy is nothing if not a genuine community with strong family values and being able to enjoy some laughs and the Smiddy way with my mum and dad was very special. The group were impressed that Pedro and I wore collared shirts, knowing our parents were arriving, given we didn't bother to make that efforts for Kerri's birthday. An oversight we regret, Le Petite Maine.

The arrival of Arch and Robyn was a great opportunity for me to introduce Milly to my parents. Milly is a waitress at our hotel who I (this is not happily married Matt writing this) promised to introduce my parents to, in order to take our relationship to the next level. Having known Milly (Bella) for 24 hours, I knew this was a bold play, but one I was willing to make... probably given my senses were down a little after another crushing day of dragging myself up the most ludicrious mountains in all of Italy. Sharky will keep you posted about how Bella and I are progressing.

Last night at dinner, Pedro spoke about how mateship and spirit which keeps he, Phil and Marco (who is missing this time around but will soon be again in Smiddy lycra) coming back to Smiddy in addition to their great mates Miki Harris, Tony Smythe Dan Salter. Together these guys have raised well over $50K for Mater Foundation and again lead the fundraising tally this year. A shout out to Miki - who lost his Dad to cancer and has raised over $25K while riding the Pyrenees and Alps - and gave Pedro and me a generous $1K donation last week.

After Pedro spoke, Sharky responded with a heartfelt speech about Adam and how much he would have loved to meet people like everyone in the Smiddy group this week and share the teamwork and comaradie that has been on display all week. As Pedro says, we have spent the week doing 'things you never think are possible, but they are thanks to the mates and spirit of those around you because with Smiddy you never ever think you won't finish'. Sentiments everyone in the Smiddy community will understand.

We know David and Maria Smiddy would have been very proud of the group last night... and even more so today as we tackled Stelvio - one of the world's most feared climbs and for very good reason as we found out - not once, but twice. We will get onto that later, but next, we pen a memo to Smiddy legend, Rowan 'Rowman' Foster, to inform him that there is now a new Alpha Male in Smiddy land. That is assuming, of course, that Rowman was that person - and that is certainly debatable and an argument sure to attract hot debate from supporters of the likes of Stinky Dave, Simon Plummer and Rocky Brocky... but we digress. Anyhow, all that debate is academic now, because we have to introduce 'the perfect man'.

'THE PERFECT MAN'
Not since Zoolander hit the big screens has there existed such a ridiculously good looking man. Valentino, our ride guide from Sienna in Tuscany, certainly lives up to this tag. He sent the heart of birthday girl, Kerri Whitney, into a flutter earlier in the week by announcing point-blank over dinner that he had eyes for her. As part of the sales pitch, Valentino went on to explain that, to quote the man affectionately known as 'Valet', 'I am the perfect man'.

Valet, you may be thinking, is certainly not shy, but that's the Italian way. And Valet may have a point. In addition to his boyish good looks, Valet is also arguably the strongest cyclist to have graced a Smiddy peloton - Phil 'Skippy' Anderson and our other A-Listers aside of course. We use the word grace because there's no other way to describe the way Valet, who is the 42nd ranked amateur in Italy, races up the world's toughest climbs while on the phone to his Mama. Yes ladies, Valet is ... it would seem... the perfect man. He loves his Mama. He looks like he is off the set of a Tuscan rom-com, but he's the real deal. Or so it would seem. Valet confessed to us that he has a darker side... but this only served to get more female eyebrows raised with interest.

Valet spent a year in Australia and is well aware of our habit to make fun of those we are very fond of, so let's just point out a couple of other flaws in Romeo's make-up, like his navigational skills. Valet endeared himself to Sharky by doing his very own Sharky short-cut days ago, saved by two local teenagers and a mum walking her toddler in a stroller before getting us back on track. Valet is also not so good at maths. The last thing you want to hear 21km into your second grind up Stelvio in one day is an Italian accent saying 'no, not 5, you have almost 10 to go'. It was five. The difference, in Stelvio language, is another hour of climbing so we were lucky Valet got his adding up wrong on this occasion. We have also caught him on numerous occasions pacing up and down hotel hallways, and circling back down the mountain, in search of one of our riders. It is no wonder the team has taken to singing 'That's Amore' with some degree of skill.


THE PERFECT CLIMB
Okay, on to today's mammoth day, one Sharky has labelled among his favourite ever Smiddy days. It was one that would again take our group to breaking point.

A beautiful sunny morning greeted us for the climb that many have dreamed or had nightmares about for months, the famous Stelvio. For the Smiddy peloton, this was just one of the two faces of Stelvio we would be tackling today. so the first climb of the day was one that was greated with great trepidation... the fact we had the previous day off, no one was sure how there bodies would react. the side of stelvio we attacked first was a 25km ride and peaked at 2758 meters above sea level and had an average gradient of 7.1% and let us tell you, it fully lived up to its notoriety.... the climb began quite normally but as we ascended through the clouds we were greated with 40 switchbacks... all climbing in frnt of us. it was daunting to look up and see what were about to take on, and almost a little overwhelming because of how exhausted we already were. as the rocks and grass turned to snow, we knew this would be a defining climb. as the bars and shops at the top of stelivio came into sight there was a huge releif, howveer its the last 3km of these climbs thats the toughest. as we got to the top, the temperature probably hovered around 5 degrees celsiis and warm kits and the sanctuary of the car was sought.


SUISSE WEINER SCHNITZEL
The reward for conquering Stelvio the first time around came in the form of a stunning descent down the valley into Switzerland. We pulled up into the little town of .... for some lunch and the local specialty of Weiner Schnitzel was ordered by most of the team. Jase was so excited about his schnitzel that he proceeded to pour 30 toothpicks onto his meal. This was an early sign that Jase was starting to falter and fatigue was setting in, so we hatched a plan to bring him undone.

CODE NAME 'BANANA'
As is Smiddy tradition, we attempt to get into the mind of the group's strongest rider. Such was the case with operation 'Banana' today as we sought to give Jase the fright of his life. The plan was this. On the word banana - Pedro and Matt were to distrcat Jase as Sharky raced off into the distance at the beginning of our second climb. Sharky would, of course, then hid in the bushes - leaving Jase to chase the imaginary Shark for 25km of gruelling uphill riding. Unfortunately, the plan was thwarted before it began - as Jase and Ingo raced off the mark and left us floundering with noting but dust and no use for code name Banana. Luckily, we have a different plan for tomorrow. Sleep tight, Jase. On a serious note, Jase has served his Cycd Cycling Club proudly, following in the tradition of JJ in the alps last year, of having to acclimatise himself to the Smiddy way - where good times roll more freely than Strava segments. He is also one of our top fundraisers and is sure to return for another Smiddy adventure we are sure.

ENCORE
And so we took on Stelvio for a second time in one day. This is madness for professional cyclists, and our guide Pippo still cannot understand why these unfit, non-cyclist looking Australians choose to take on such a 'ridiculato' (a new word we have termed) itinerary. Pippo commented at lunch, in Italian accent,' thisa is whata tour groupsa normallya doa... enjoy the sun. Enjoy the lunch. Just do somea riding'. Dear old Pippo, from his times navigating across the Sahara desert on motorcross bikes, he should know. As our readers know, a Smiddy peloton could never be accused of not having a go, and so we said goodbye to Switzerland and ventured back across the border through a valley of wonderful descent, to await our destiny for a second time.

COMETH THE HOUR
Knowing what was about to happen, another 25km and 2100 metres of climbing through 48 switchbacks, Pedro muttered the words that would ring in some of our riders' ears for the next 3 hours of brutal switchback after 44,43,42,41 (you get the drift) switchbacks. Cometh the hour, Cometh the Man. And so, for the next 3 hours, Pedro dug deep even after his habit of sucking a gel every 2.5km styarted to catch up with him. A shout out to tour guide Will, who was a total pro on these winding roads, passing water bottles and snacks to our riders so we could continue to race (at 4km an hour) up the mountain to the growing scent of the Bratwurst stall that stood at the summit of Passo Stelvio. But this trip is not just about the men, but also the women, and Kerri again did herself and the Tri-Alliance club she represents. She may be little, but Kerri is made of the right stuff, and we know she will be back in a Smiddy peloton in the near future. Not far behind her was Sharkietta.

SHARKIETTA
Sharkietta is our favourite new Italian word. It means female Shark. Alyssa has done herself proud during her first Smiddy event - smashing past $4K in her fundraising and completing every single metre of climbing to date. Even more impressive given the lack of concern displayed by Sharky at times, who has let his fiance fend for herself while he smashes up the climbs. Not too bad for a Yank. To make it more impressive, Alyssa doesn't even get to enjoy all the descents, but has graduated from white belt to yellow this week with some impressive downhill skills.

Ingo again came to the fore today with his Deutch enabling us to successfully order 10 giant schnitzels and two huge bowls of fries. Sharky was so impressed with Switzerland he fell asleep at lunch, woken to eat his spaghetti bol, which managed to actually grow by the time he finished it with a huge bowl of pasta and fries left for our lovely hosts to clean up.

Tomorrow, a climb that will dwarf all others awaits for our final day in the saddle. It is named Mortirolo... and promises more pain even then Tre Cime di Laravado (He Who Should Not Be Named for Harry Potter fans).

We will finish by concluding that today, during one of those two epic Stelvio climbs, that magical moment happened that every Smiddy rider knows ... when your jersey bursts to life and begins to represent the mates, memories and supporters that have made another Smiddy event such a life-affirming experience.

Over and out. Phillippo and Matty.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

2014 ITALIAN DOLOMITES SMIDDY CHALLENGE - DAY 4 STAGE 3


SORRY TO DR KOALA
First up apologies to Gary 'Dr Koala' Leong for my omission of him being in the van for yesterday's lethal descent. I found out tonight, when Matt was reading out the blog, that Gary did indeed do the descent, but had stopped just before the first t-junction to talk intimately to the cows. Gary proudly showed us the photos taken with his beloved creatures. He also explained the importance of the shape and size of the cow he needed to be photographed with. And let me assure you it was a very cute cow and most worthy of being in the shot with Gary. How nice is the world when a cute Koala and a cow can co-exist? Makes one feel good about the world...

Why Sharky is always late
So onto today's stage, another epic day in the saddle that saw the team relocate from the village of Santa Christina to another gorgeous little village called Bormio, which is situated at the foothills of the great and infamous Giro climbs of Passo Gavia at 2621 metres and Passo Stelvio at 2758 metres, two of the highest climbs in all of Europe. So our eight-am roll out time was extended to 8:15am due to me holding up the group as I was struggling to get the blog written and posted before departure. You see the riding in Europe in the high mountains tests your resilience and fortitude to always keep moving forward. At the end of the day you are on an incredible high. It is when you come down from that high that the reality of what you have just done catches up to the body and mind. Therefore, as each day stacks up on top of the other, the more fatigued the body and mind become. In my case, getting the blogs written and actually posted at the same time each day, gets harder and harder. Anyway that was a kind of long winded excuse for my being late this morning and I am sticking with that!

SMIDDY PELOTON AVERAGE 40KM/H FOR THE FIRST 20 KILOMETRES!
I wish I could tell you our average speed for today's opening stage was because the peloton had come into great form and were performing like professional cyclists... But I guess the truth should be told that we had a kick-arse 20km descent straight out of the hotel that sits at 1300 metres, down to our lowest elevation since this tour began at just 300 metres above sea level. It's a funny thing riding in the high mountains of Europe; at the top of each climb the look in each riders eyes is one of elated exhaustion. Then at the bottom of any long technical and exhilarating descents, that glassy eyed expression on each riders face, is one of total unadulterated joy. For some throw in a pinch of fear and you have the perfect recipe for curing the world of depression. If only we could bottle that?

From the bottom of that descent the road crew handed us over exclusively to Valentino, who's job it was to navigate us through the next 30 kilometres of riding along one of the most adventurous bike paths I have ever ridden on anywhere in the world. Will, Ingo and Pippo would rejoin us then for the first climb of the day up to the Passo Mendola, which stood at a lowly 1363 metres.

A BIKE PATH YOU WOULD SELL YOUR HOUSE FOR!
But back to that bike path that entertained us with a dozen tunnels; some as long as 500 metres and others as short as 50. The path followed a fast flowing river, which is fed by the vast amounts of stubborn snow that have no respect for the fact that summer over here is now five weeks old. The slightly downhill path kept our average speed up to the mid 30's before it started to flatten out. That 40km average by the end of the day would be sitting at 16km/h! Valentino was doing an excellent job weaving in and out the myriad of paths going in all directions over small bikeway bridges, through canals, crossing main roads, across gravel sections and dodging all manner of bike and pedestrian traffic along the way. My old mate Phil D'Angelis, as entertaining as always, on one of the road crossings where we needed to come to a complete stop, didn't get the foot out in time and down he went, but not before doing a yoga type balancing act that resembled a chimpanzee extending its leg over its head. Luckily I managed to capture it on my iPhone for nostalgia reasons and I wouldn't dare show it to anyone but Phil... ;) Wink, Wink.

WHAT CLIMB?- YOU CALL THAT A CLIMB!
The first climb up the Passo Mendola saw some trepidation in the group due to yesterday slog-fest up the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Actually when Matt read out the blog tonight his Italian pronunciation was extraordinary. We all thought he was definitely speaking another language, just not Italian. Matt pronounced Tre Cime di Lavaredo, as 'True Crime on the Lavatory.' Both Pippo and Valentino were horrified and quietly amused and offered Matt a job as a translator in Borneo!

Anyway our starting elevation of 300 metres meant we had an 1100 metre elevation gain in front of us over 15 kilometres. Now had we done this climb the day before climbing the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, we all agreed it would have been tough, but now it was just another climb as we all successfully got to the top with very little fuss or fanfare. Alyssa, Gary, Valentino and I arrived together to bring up the rear of the bunch and Will informed us that we were to descend immediately to the village below for lunch and packing of the bikes.

Peter, who is always thirsty and thinking of hydration and setting a fine example for the group to follow, snuck in a quick beer at the bar across the road, before the three vehicles were filled with people and bikes.

It took 90 minutes of driving over very twisty and turning roads to get to the base of our second and last climb of the day up the famous Passo Gavia at 2621 metres. Poor Dr Koala was not feeling well after suffering from a bout of car sickness, but in typical never-give-in spirit, the likable Gary Leung, soldiered on and faced the toughest day ever in his life both from a mental and physical aspect, but more on that later.

THE HOUSE HAS BEEN SOLD AND NOW FOR THE WIFE!
Today the riders were treated to probably the second most celebrated fanfare climbs of the day in the Passo Gardia. None stand higher except the slightly more famous Passo Stelvio that stands a mere 100 metres higher. Now we knew we were in for a possible rough time at the top, as it was trying to rain at the bottom where we parked the cars, it was cold and riders were scrambling for cold weather gear. 18 kilometres of never-ending road lay in our way to reach our destination, and from our viewpoint we could see nothing but scary clouds that looked ominous and downright intimidating. A climb like this for a cyclist is the Holy Grail of mountains. It is up there with Mont Ventoux and Alp D'Huez in France. Now luckily I am not yet married and I was able to climb it without selling my girl, but gee I sure felt for the other married men, actually married man, in our peloton, being our fearless Smiddy leader Matt Marshall, who had an extremely hard decision to make. Sell the wife and climb Gardia, or sit out the climb and enjoy the view from the comfort of either of the three vans. On behalf of Matt and the riders our thoughts go out to his Wife Tash.

ANOTHER CLIMB OF TORTURE - JUST A DIFFERENT VARIANT
So 18 kilometres of climbing equates to anything between two and three hours of climbing. It is bloody slow going and so painful towards the top that those memories of suffering will stay with you for a very long time. At the same time the views, the friendships forged, the battle scars that make you feel alive and experiencing life for the very first time, and most importantly the cause that we are over here doing it for those less fortunate, is what its all about. How good are the riders that sign up for any Smiddy adventure? Whether it be an overseas Smiddy event, or an event back home in Australia, these gallant lads and lasses all pay their own expenses and on top of that they honour their commitment to fundraise the required amount. Most go above and beyond their total and for that we at Smiddy and the Mater Foundation are eternally grateful.

Watching what the crew put themselves through today on that final climb; all I can say is that my heart went out to each and every one of them. From Valentino, Pippo, Will and Ingo, who went to extraordinary lengths today to help each and every rider make it to the top, to the riders themselves, who stared down into the depths of their very souls and willed themselves not to give in and cross that imaginary line at the heights of Europe. I know all this must come across as sounding very melodramatic but let me assure you I am actually playing it down. It was freezing at the top, it was raining, the entire top was shrouded in thick fog one minute and then clear the next. The road surface and limited visibility for the remaining five kilometres resembled a goat track, and the super slippery conditions were deemed too unsafe for us to descend and bikes were assemble atop the vehicles as each rider claimed their Holy Grail finishers achievement of conquering the Gardia.

It was hard not being able to do the descent but it was the safest and correct call. Good management there by Will and we all respected his decision. It was really hard for me to write that! :) The drive off the mountain it rained the entire way and I know we were all glad to be in the van with the heaters on full blast.

OUR BRAVEST MOST COURAGEOUS MAN ON TOUR
Our hearts went out to Gary, Dr Koala, who used up every ounce of his mental and physical energy to crest the top. Gary did the entire climb by himself, as did all the guys as we spread out over the entire mountain, each to our own thoughts and demons at various times. Gary was out in those terrible conditions for 90 minutes longer than Jason, who was first to the top, and being exposed to those elements for that long just caught up with him as he crossed that imaginary line over the top. Gary's emotions just had to be vented and the entire crew rallied around him in support. Gary had won all of us over by day one of this Smiddy tour, but after his efforts today and his beautiful thoughtful speech tonight over dinner, we could not have been prouder to call Gary our mate.

My apologies for this blog being so long but when I become emotionally involved in an event I also have to vent. I do that through these blogs.

The good news for the crew is that we have inserted a designated rest day in for tomorrow and I can assure you that all are extremely happy as we are in need of a day off. The other awesome news for not just you, my faithful readers, but for me, is that I am getting a day off from blogging and get to experience more than five hours sleep. I also have a nice surprise for you as of the next blog but you will have to wait another day to find out what that is.

Until then please know that we are all safe and warm in our comfy hotel beds and already the battle we went through just a few hours ago is already fading into the far recesses of my tired brain. Did that really just happen?

Cheers.

Sharky

Thursday, 3 July 2014

2014 ITALIAN DOLOMITES SMIDDY CHALLENGE - DAY 3 STAGE 2


THE WEATHER GODS ARE HAPPY AGAIN!
What a contrast today was compared to yesterday! At first light at 4:45am I stuck my head out the door of our second floor balcony and noticed two things immediately; the clouds and rain had disappeared and in its place a crystal clear aqua blue radiant sky had transcended upon the Dolomites region. The temperature reflected this change with the thermometre showing a crisp six degrees. I commented to Alyssa that I am glad we are not riding here in Winter if this is what their Summers are like. But give me the cold anytime over wet conditions.

Our roll out today, or I should say, our drive out, was not until nine-am, as with the shorter course changes implemented by Will, the plan was we were to be driven to the start of today's stage. While all of us but one got to enjoy a sleep in, Jason had to leave at eight-am but had the pleasure of having two personal guides to take care of him. Firstly, the super-strong-does-not-feel-any-pain and German born Ingo on the bike. While the Marco Pantani Pirate lookalike Pippo, drove the support car to look after the duo. Jason would have about a three hour head-start on us and was meant to catch us when we were ascending our first climb of the day up the Passa Furcai at 1789 metres.

PASSO'S TODAY THAT WOULD MELT THE STRONGEST OF LEGS
So today's amended course, while looking a shorter easier day on paper, at just 85 kilometres of riding, will go down in Smiddy Challenge history as one of the harder days I personally have ever done. I tend to think if you ask any of the other riders, they will probably, not only agree with me, but shake their head in fear, show the sign of the cross with their fingers, and point out their swollen knees as proof of conquering a climb that brought each and every rider today to a grinding stop at some point. In 2013 Vincenzo Nibali won this mountain top finish at 2348 metres in the Giro Tour of Italy. Many in the peloton that day accepted pushes from the thousands that lined the entire climb, but for the Smiddy riders today the only pushing was our hearts trying to burst a lining in our heart walls!

In my weary excitement to write about this climb I am getting ahead of myself. Our first climb of the day came after Will had expertly delivered us to our starting point at the bottom of the Passo Furcia climb. I say expertly with the greatest respect as the drivers over here are safe maniacs. Safe in the sense that they don't actually manage to hit any other vehicles -most of the time anyway- and more importantly, cyclists are mostly given wide berths and a fair amount of respect. But maniacs when it comes to motorists wanting to relieve Will of his side mirrors on his van, impressively equipped to carry eight bikes on the roof, of which a tourist driven RV was the most successful yesterday taking out his lefthand driver side mirror. Anyway up the climb we go on legs that reminded us of the big day we had in the wet conditions yesterday. The 12 kilometre Passo Furcia climb was bloody tough with many sections indicating on my garmin that the pain in my legs was real due to the 12 to 16% gradients. Of course the views were worth all the bloody effort we were putting in to ascend these monsters.

THE CONFESSION!
When Doctor Koala and I rolled in as the last riders, with Koala Man celebrating with pump fists and breaking out his last packet of gum leaves in celebration at not being the last rider to the top, we only had a short wait before Jason was upon us. He had done sensational to catch the group, or so we thought? He confessed at dinner that night that he was indeed human, had bonked after the first long climb of the day of 26 kilometres and gratefully accepted a lift after lunch to the top of the second climb, which is where he met us. He admitted he got out of the van just a kilometre from the top and actually got busted by Valentino, who had ridden back to offer support. Valentino, actually all four of the guides, kept Jason's secret all day until Jason himself let us know. To be honest no-one even cared -no offence meant- it's just that we all thought Jase was a legend for even trying to complete todays full stage after what he went through yesterday. Jase has now come to the conclusion that he is well and truly pleased to accept the amended course as of tomorrows start. Welcome back to the fold my friend, we missed you!

The descent down to lunch at San Martino was both treacherously steep but with majestic views of the valley's below. The cracks in the roads from a long hard winter of snow and ice and the many switchbacks made for a most technical descent. All arrived safe and sound, beaming with ear to ear grins of survival and adventure, with the exception of one young lady in Alyssa Coe, who arrived in an agitated stressful state and confessed that she should have got in the van for that one! The Dolomites are a hard place to cut your teeth in the learning curve of descending skills. Both the girls struggle on the descents but hats off to them for their efforts and most importantly for getting down the majority of them in one piece.

LUNCH AND FLAT ROAD EXISTS IN THE DOLOMITES
After a lunch of hamburgers and bratwursts from a local stall in the glorious warming sunshine the small peloton was on the move again. The valley between the two climbs afforded us the only section of flattish road that we have ridden in the past three days. Thankfully that 15 kilometre section gave time for the regurgitation of lunch to come to a complete stop! Not long after the regurgitation ceased, the 30 kilometre climb to the top of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo began. This climb lulls you into a false sense of security; the crescendo building slowly but surely from a gentle gradient of two to three percent, to a ear drum collapsing 14 to 18 percent of sheer unadulterated torture. Now I can only speak for myself but today's climb tested my limits like none before. Admittedly I was having a bad day in the saddle as a result of my idiocy yesterday in completing that first monster stage in its entirety. I had teamed up at the back, not by choice, but by pace, with Alyssa and Doctor Koala. Alyssa soon had enough of the pair of us and forged ahead in her slow but strong get-her-to-the-top-of-any-climb cadence. This final section of just four kilometre to the top averaged out at between 14 and 18 percent gradient and the only way I could get up this section was to criss-cross the road from left to right the entire way. The Doctor saw me doing this and decided to join me, eventually doing it so well that he passed me, my speed was 4.1 kilometres an hour! The Doctor had sped past me doing 4.3 kilometres and hour! It was nail-biting stuff the race to be the last person to the top, of which I was the champion for the second time running today!

The stories coming from the riders at the top was ones of immense suffering and disbelief and respect that the professionals actually race up this intimidating beast. The views on such a fabulous clear day, where you could see a hundred kilometres in all directions was definitely worth the pain of the ascent, but next time I want to experience it in the comfort of an air-conditioned car!Or even better, on my beloved BMW 1200 Adventurer motorbike that I am missing immensely each and every time I spot one just like mine over here.

THE FINAL LEG
After the mandatory group and holding bikes above heads photos were taken, Will actually had the audacity to suggest that we load up the bikes on the van now and get all the riders down the descent safely and head back to our hotel. Well this suggestion went done like a lead balloon for all but three riders, who gratefully accepted his offer. Alyssa, Koala and Kerri took the safe option while the remainder of us headed down what was a spine-tingling dangerous descent. Our group breakaway group of riders actually got into a little bit of trouble from Will and Pippo. Our instructions were to stop at the first t-junction at the bottom of the dangerous stuff, or about 12 kilometres of descending. From there we would load the remaining bikes on the van. But we would have missed the best part of the whole descent as the next 10 kilometres to the next t-junction was the seriously fun and safe stuff. Anyway we apologised and our awesome guides forgave us, especially when I gave Will the honour of leading the huddle for the day by the roadside after all the bikes were packed.

It was then a two hour very windy beautiful drive back the Hotel, with a mandatory stop for the lads to buy some beers. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 8:25pm and dinner started at 8:30pm. Let me assure you the showers felt good and the food was once again superb after such a long arduous and adventurous day. Again spirits amongst the group are at an all time high and the perfect day was finished off with a birthday cake and song for Kerri, yesterdays blog reading done by the Phil and Peter and many glasses of red consumed.

Another epic day awaits us tomorrow so until then chow for now.

Sharky.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

2014 ITALIAN DOLOMITES SMIDDY CHALLENGE - STAGE 1 DAY 2


A VERY WET TOUGH DAY IN THE UNFORGIVING DOLOMITES
Stage one, day two of the 2014 Italian Dolomites Smiddy Challenge started in saturating wet conditions and a temperature that did not get above ten degrees all day. Now Smiddy events always pride themselves in providing tough challenging days in the saddle. Well today was one of those days were the course, combined with the inclement weather, turned our 130 kilometre day into a torture test that literally saw the group running out of daylight hours and having to shorten the course.

This is what we had in front of us; 130 kilometres through some of the toughest but most beautiful mountains I have ever had the pleasure of riding. Over 5000 metres of vertical climbing. Five mountain top passes, each one summiting over 2000 metres of altitude. Temperatures at the top of each climb just a couple of degrees. Wet and slippery roads that made the descents treacherous. Nasty black threatening black clouds that kept dropping wet stuff on our heads throughout the day. An uphill start right out of the hotel for the first 12 kilometres in the rain. Average speeds of less than 15 kilometres an hour, and get this, noisy cows wearing cow bells that looked at us and wondered what the hell those funny cows with revolving legs were doing on the other side of the fence. Seriously that is what cows think of cyclists. I know because today I spent many a time talking to them!

A REVISED COURSE MAYBE?
So with the adventure I have described above this is what really happened; As much as I love our new guide friends Will, Pippo, Ingo and Valentino, and I say this with the greatest respect, but we have bitten off more than we can chew. We asked Will to set us a challenging course that would be worthy of a Smiddy adventure and like all Smiddy events we liked to be tested and put into a situation where suffering is duly expected. I have always said that no matter how much a Smiddy group suffers we get to go back to our daily lives after the event is over. Not so for the people we are raising money for, those brave individuals that battle and suffer with cancer each and every day of their lives. Having said that we need to actually be able to finish our chosen Smiddy event. Now let me share with you that today's stage was the easiest stage of the entire tour! Each day after today just gets worse.

JASON THE MACHINE - SHARKY THE TALKER OF COWS
So with waning daylight and with still three mountains to complete Will pulled the group aside and suggested that we all complete the fourth Pass of the day and the riders would be driven back to the Hotel. Now there is always an exception to the rule and that is Jason White, this guy is a climbing machine and in the best shape of his life. The poor guy would get to the top of each climb and by the time the rest of the group summited his limbs would be frozen solid and shivering uncontrollably from the cold and the waiting. But Jason's strength in the end won out when he was allowed to continue on and finish the complete stage. Valentino was his trusty sidekick for the remainder of the day. I also elected to continue but by the time we got to the final ten kilometre climb of the day, with Jason and Valentino disappearing into the fog, I was second guessing my decision and went back to talking to the cows!

So I hope that paints a picture of what was one of the most beautiful but painful memories of a day in the saddle in the unforgiving Italian Dolomites.

To finish there were some definite highs and lows that would be remiss of me not to mention in this blog.

1. The mountain tops in Italy are referred to as a Passo. Today the group climbed the Passo Sella at 2240 metres. Then the Passo Pordoi at 2239 metres. Next up was the Passa Glau at 2233 metres. The final climb for the group was the Passo Valparola at 2180 metres and finally the Passa Gardena at 2143 metres for Jason, Valentino and myself. Jason's Garmin told him that he had climbed 5499 metres in 131 kilometres. Each climb was a minimum of ten kilometres and as long as 16 kilometres at various gradients of 7 to 16%. Each descent was 8 to 16 kilometres in length and most times we dropped down to our starting elevation of 1300 metres. On a dry day the descents would have been awesome, but in the wet, fun was had by the experienced, but not worth the risks involved. It was the epic of days!

2. Our two girls on board this trip, Kerri Whitney and my Fiancee Alyssa Coe showed guts and determination on a day that was best spent in bed. Kerri lived up to her Alberto Contador tag and was the Queen climber of the day. With Alyssa closing in as the day progressed. Both girls had been a joy to have in the peloton and took the conditions today in their stride.

3.Gary Leong is a Pediatrician that works at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane and come on board this trip late into the piece. Gary's nickname is Dr Koala and think it is because he weighs a sopping wet 55 kilo's, is cute and cuddly but shows the raw determination of a Koala to eat as many gum leaves as is possible until his stomach distends. In Gary's case he has replaced the gum leaves with fine Italian dining. But seriously he is always the last up the climbs but never does this man quit, and he does it with the casualness and demeanor of a Koala laying back in a deckchair eating gum leaves.

4. Pippo is our mechanic and drives the rear vehicle that looks after the riders. The man is a dead ringer for the famous Italian, now deceased professional cyclist, 'The Pirate', Marco Pantini. Thankfully the live version and without the drug induced hazed look that eventually topped the great climber. Pippo, in his strong Italian broken English, shares a story each night at the dinner table, about the historical nature of the area that we are riding through. His story's are endearing and entertaining and tonights story suggested if you ever happen to be passing through best you don't stay at the Hotel down by the lake as you mind wind up dead. Long story, ask me about it sometime...

5. It was decided after today's stage that would have decimated any pro peloton that we needed to have a course rethink. The unanimous decision by the riders was one of going home alive and kicking rather than in a box from exhaustion. So a huge thanks to Will and the lads for coming up with a rejuvenated bike course for the remainder of the trip. Tomorrow's ride was meant to be another 4800 metres of climbing and 138 kilometres. We are no committed to a 3000 metre and 90 kilometre day. Which by all means is still an epic day in the saddle. Jason, who's form is outstanding, was given the option of completing the original course and he has decided to take that option. I am happy to say I will not be joining him!

6. Dinner tonight was once again an epic 6 course affair and spirits within the group have bonded in typical Smiddy fashion. The D'Angelis boys were once again in fine fashion with Phil spilling his entire salad over himself in the excitement in getting a seat next to mine! And Peter making sure that all the wine drinkers were doing just that, drinking copious amounts of the red stuff that calms any trepidations one may be having at completing another tough Smiddy stage in the Italian Dolomites.

7. Dinner again and history was made when we saved our Smiddy huddle for a Smiddy world first sit-down-table huddle. Jason was given the honour of taking tonights huddle and he summed up his feelings over a long first up day in the Dolomites. Funny looks were of course were extended our way when we did the Smiddy chant but we could all live with that! Dr Koala did an excellent job in reading out yesterdays blog to the group, while Matt and Valentine surprised the group with gifts of pink socks for all the riders and guides to wear in honour of Kerri's birthday tomorrow.

8. Finally a huge thank you to the entire group of riders and support crew, who passed us in the vans when Jason, Valentino and I were ascending that last climb. They elected to stop and wait at the top to give us some much appreciated support. I was personally in a world of hurt and it so lifted my spirits for the wet 20 kilometre descent back to our hotel. Thank you also to Ingo and Valentino who today did such exllent work looking after all the riders out there on the road with the riders.

Anyway I hope you have enjoyed today's blog and if you wish to send any message of support through to any of your riders please do so at marksharkysmoothy@gmail.com I am also posting photos each day on my personal facebook site that I have made public so just do a search for me at Mark Sharky Smoothy on Facebook.

Cheers.

Sharky

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

SMIDDY ITALIAN DOLOMITES TOUR - DAY 1


ITALIAN DOLOMITES - HERE WE COME!
As regular readers of this blog will be aware, for the past two years, the team at Smiling for Smiddy and the Mater Foundation, have run an international cycling tour to Europe. The Pyrenees and the Alp's have been successfully ticked off the bucket list and now we find ourselves in the mighty Italian Dolomites. Our four guides for the trip, Will, Ingo, Pippo and Valentino you will get to know intimately through these blogs over the next six days, but for now, all that needs to be said is that after spending just one day with these fine lads I am thinking we are in for an adventurous time! Smiddy has teamed up with Flight Centre Active Travel for this journey and our guides are thanks to the great relationship with have with FCAT.

THE D'ANGELIS TRIO NOW A DUO
The riders I will get to as the days tick over but once again the D'Angelis boys from Sydney have joined in for their third successive Smiddy tour to Europe. Phil and Peter were sharing a few stories from their experiences over the past two years last night over dinner and a few vino's. They are entertaining as always and once again provided the first newsworthy item for this blog by sleeping in at the Hotel in Milan for their 8am pickup by our guides. The big absence and sorely missed, is their big brother Marc, who had to skip this tour due to his lovely wife Margaret having their fourth child recently. But the show must go on and I can guarantee that with just two D'Angelis boys on tour we will still see plenty of blog action from the lads...

A WARM UP RIDE WE'LL NEVER FORGET
To get to our destination today was a beautiful three hour drive through the valley where we were dwarfed by the hulk of the Dolomite mountain ranges and the hundreds of vineyards that had the group salivating on either side of us. After an adventurous drive into and out of our designated stop to the Decathlon sporting store to stock up on goodies we arrived at our first overnight stay in the famous Italian Ski Resort of Santa Christina. From there it was a quick check in at Hotel Maciaconi, assemble our bikes and off on our first test ride of the tour. Our guides had mapped out a so called easy ride for us to stretch the legs and make sure the bikes had survived the international flights intact. It was when we started the climb back to our accommodation that the group quickly cottoned on that we must take whatever our guides say with a grain of salt. To get home we conquered the following: A 10 to 14% three kilometre climb, a great descent back down to the main road, another ten or so kilometres of gradual climbing, peak hour traffic that made Sydney look good, several sections of gravel on their so called 'Sharky Short Cut' back to the Hotel, a cow trail and a hill climb up a loose gravel track that peaked out at 13% gradient and a leisurely stroll through the local markets where the street was shut down to traffic after six-pm. All up in just a hilly equivalent to a Brisbane River Loop of 35 kilometres we managed to climb 926 metres! We could not have been happier!

I introduced the group to their first huddle of the trip, who for many of the riders, had never experienced a Smiddy huddle before, but I know the newbies will quickly warm to the fact that it is one of the most integral parts of any Smiddy journey.

So to finish this first blog just four highlights and eye openers from our first day on the road.

1. At the Hotel we were staying in at Milan the group was given a rude wake up call never to let your guard down no matter where in the world you may find yourself. While paying the hotel bill Matt had his backpack nearly stolen, and I say nearly because, if not for the fact that Matt looked up and noticed his backpack missing and then watched it walk out the door by two guys clearly trying to hide it under their jacket down by their side, he would have been minus his Australian passport plus many other valuables inside his pack. Matt took off and grabbed it off them and they pretended that they had picked up the wrong bag but were as guilty as sin as they hightailed it out of the hotel super quick. It all happened so fast and was quite upsetting. We reported it to hotel staff, who of course did nothing but Matt was pleased as that was one commission they would not receive for the day!

2. Jason White is one of our Smiddy riders who was meant to do last years ride of the French Alps, but due to a nasty accident with a car was forced to withdraw. He was gutted back then and we all felt for him. Well I am pleased to say that he is well and truly in elite athlete shape and sporting a grin from ear to ear. He was beside himself with excitement all day today and not happy that three days had passed without his beloved stead being inserted between his legs. A huge welcome to you Jase. Lap it up big fella!

3. Last mention of the day has to go to one of our two ladies on board in Kerri Whitney, who not only is a female version of Alberto Contador in climbing ability and looks according to Dr Koala, who's comment of "only from behind and I took a photo", put him deeper into the quicksand, and don't worry you will hear more on the great Doctor in future blogs, but Kerri also has the distinct pleasure of experiencing the first recorded fall of the tour. A minor off as it was but the bike was down and I and many others witnessed it so it counts.

4. A huge thank you to Will for organising not only a feast fit for a king for dinner tonight but for looking after the two girl riders, Alyssa and Kerri, who are on gluten free diets. No one left the restaurant hungry tonight and that included me who normally goes searching for some cereal after dinner as a top up.

Okay that's enough for the day, get ready for a great journey as the group winds it way mainly up hill, over the next six days of 700 kilometres and over 20,000 metres of vertical pain!

Cheers,

Sharky