On two wheels

Blood on ice: the year started with a big bang

It was a sunny day and there was some shadow. They warned me in Italian and I didn't understand what they said. Until I understood.

Rarely before have I set out for a ride that early in the year. I’ve been on the trainer in January, and I’ve been skiing in January, but cycling outdoors in early January, that I’ve only done in 2012 and 2013. But the sun was inviting. It heated up to 10°C. I found myself contemplating whether I might actually go in a short jersey with short trousers and just long underwear. There might still be some shadow, I thought.

Well, yeah, shadow…

I took the new train to Porto Ceresio. Originally, that was the intention of the ride and the idea for this blog post: Tell people that they now can also reach Porto Ceresio at Lago di Lugano with a direct train from Milan. Trenord finally restored this ancient connection. It went operational just five days ago. That’s great news, because Porto Ceresio is still Lombardy. Other train stations at that lake are in Switzerland. You pay for that. Now you don’t need to, but you get much better access to this undiscovered cycling mecca. From Porto Ceresio, lots of small streets lead up and over mountains. Most of them are in great condition. Some are steep and twisted like some of the most iconic climbs, others are mild and scenic, and they can be short and long, but rarely exceed 1,000m of altitude (Lago di Lugano is at about 250m). They somehow always lead to a lake – aside of Lago di Lugano, also Lago Maggiore and Lago di Como are close-by. And many of them offer quite some shadow – a welcome feature in Lombardian summers.

Shadow, yes… anyways.

I started the ride with a short transit to Brusimpiano. Then I turned left into a climb that ultimately would lead to the village of Marzio. The first half of the climb leads to a small plateau, Ardena, where there is a chapel that is devoted to Mary. (Whom else?) This part of the climb is also the setting of a mountain time trial that the organizers of Tre Valle Varesine hold every year. Tre Valle Varesine itself occasionally also goes up to Marzio. This is one of the many Strava KOMs around the lake which prominently feature pro cyclists on the top positions of its leader board. It’s a beautiful race anyways, but as it takes place mid-week, it’s a bit in the shadow of its bigger sister, Il Lombardia. (It featured a Gran Fondo for longer, however.)

This shadow.

Actually, the first half of the climb was exposed to the sun. Views back to the lake made it as stunning as I remembered it from last time I was here. Back then it was August. It was hot. I was in good shape. I got up faster for sure this time around. I was super motivated. At that high plateau, I crossed into the forest. Three other guys were just ahead of me. It was almost flat now. One by one I caught them. I reached a final turn in which three cars of eleven forest workers were parked. One of the drivers gave me a warning. I should pay attention going ahead. I didn’t understand what for. I understood it half a minute later, as I got out of the shadow.

Left and ride of the road, there was some left-over snow. Quite much. I had not expected it. After all, I was only at 500m altitude. It had not snowed for two weeks. It had been way above 0°C for two weeks straight. Reminders of how much there must have been. Snow is exciting. Snow just makes you feel like a kid again.

And kids lack judgment.

Well, actually, this kid just didn’t speak enough Italian. And then fell trap to an invisible enemy. It might have looked like this.

Yes, I got out of the shadow there, but this was a spot that must have had some shadow for much of the time of day. So, as the water of the melting snow came onto the street, it froze to a very thin, entirely undetectable layer of ice. The road looked dry and matte like a road should look like. I was not fast: 30km/h on a slightly falling road. It was fast enough to loose control in the ever so slightest left turn that a road could take. My front wheel slid away, and I landed on my left hip, then moved over the asphalt for a few meters or so.

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Luckily, both the bike and I came away with cosmetic injuries. The bike didn’t really touch the ground. I did. Now only my handlebar tape has some scratches (easy to change), as has my elbow (and some tiny ones on the hip itself). I also had to peel a piece of street salt out of the palm of my hand. I found that particularly ironic. I mean, come on, street salt!

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That spot on my hand left some blood on my bar tape later on. Not very much, though, and I could remove it easily. (I have white bar tape. People are always concerned about how easy it is to clean white tape. To this end, my fi:zik performs amazing.) While the elbow scratches are the most superficial they could be, the crash still tore my jersey and the long-sleeve thermal layer underneath (and the thin gloves I was wearing). That made me angry. I really liked that jersey. And speaking of irony: I swear, it was just ten minutes before the crash that I was thinking for how long already I was having this jersey by now.

The three guys that I had overtaken on the climb passed by as I was already back up on my feet. They asked if everything was okay. It was okay enough to not need help. I walked over the rest of the ice, then continued very slowly on slightly wet tarmac – just to make sure. At the next crossing, I reached a big street, and also a bike path that’s partly on the track of a former train line. I had come here to explore that one, so I did it. Again: very slowly, expecting that a bike path through a forest would have been cleared less than the street that I came from. That turned out to be true.

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At that point, I switched back on the main road on the next occasion and went it down in safety mode. There was some wetness also on that one. I didn’t trust it. I’m anyways extremely sensitive to wet road surfaces, and now I was particularly scared. I also threw away my plans for the day. No more up and down the hills and their small streets. Instead, I only took a simple yet pretty street to Lago Maggiore and then went South. I had thought to get to Varese, but there was some strong wind from North, so that I just cruised with it and ended the ride at Sesto Calende. Ultimately, I also got some amazing views.

 

Yet I can’t deny that there’s some small shadow over this ride. We’re certainly going to have some conversation about how safe it is to ride a bike. I just point out that this is my first crash since July 2015. And, yes, I’ll let the mountain roads be for some time longer; make sure that roads lend their natural grip again.

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