Words and images by: Jered and Ashley Gruber
By the time you read this, you’ll likely have forgotten who won Stage 8’s mountaintop finish to Campitello Matese (Beñat Intxausti). You certainly won’t remember second or third (Landa and Reichenbach). You probably won’t remember Reichenbach’s tough, perhaps naïve ride with a coy Intxausti on his wheel, refusing to pull through - until he pulled out his dagger and buried it in Reichenbach’s heart - and rode to stage glory while the poor Swiss could only watch in dismay as the biggest win of his career rode off into the distance. You probably won’t remember the wide roads and the ski resort gradient, but maybe, just maybe you will remember the road that goes beyond the finish line above Campitello Matese - and our little adventure the evening before the Giro came to town.
The purpose of Strava Stories is not to be a pictorial review of bike races. We might do that sometimes, sure, but the hope is that we can provide something different, something that you’re not going to find elsewhere, something more…Strava.
With that in mind, what’s more Strava than a bike ride?
We came to the town of Guardiaregia a day early with the idea of taking a closer look at the Giro’s southernmost mountaintop finish at Campitello Matese. We had no idea what to expect except for one thing: each time we’ve come south for the Giro, we’ve been blown away by what we’ve seen, the people we’ve met, the food we’ve eaten - everything. It’s true, the south is not as ‘nice’ as the north, but its aging buildings, potholed roads, and remoteness certainly don’t take away from its beauty. We stayed at the Casale Kolidur and were once again surprised - it was a gorgeous, old stone compound with the happiest puppy we’ve seen in a long time - aptly named Joy - and a family that made us want to come back and spend a lot more time in Italy’s youngest region, Molise.
The goal of the ride was to preview Campitello Matese, but the lower slopes of most large climbs aren’t all that important to the overall flavor of the soup. We took a tiny road adjacent to the main climb for the first ten or so minutes, then re-entered to the proper road after enjoying some super steep walls, smiling residents, some dirt, and a flock of sheep. Well worth the detour.
Of course we do when they’re in the middle of the road, but the sentiment still stands: we love animals, and we’re happy to enjoy those pleasant surprises when we’re confronted with large numbers of them traffic jam style in the middle of tiny roads.
We rejoined the climb just as it got interesting - in a quick series of switchbacks. Unfortunately, we got a good idea about what was to come in those first moments: a very wide, very evenly graded climb. This was not one of the Giro’s attempts at pushing the limits of the riders (in terms of steepness) or the infrastructure of the race (in terms of tiny roads) - this was a race track for the thoroughbreds to compete on - pointed straight up a mountain.
After about ten kilometers of climbing at an average gradient around 7%, the climb crested, and the finish followed just a short while after. If that’s all we did, there wouldn’t be much to talk about here though. Fortunately, the climb keeps going - and going - and going. The road surface deteriorated, rocks enjoyed prime position in the middle of the road, in some places the guardrail had fallen off its posts, the power lines disappeared - all signs of civilization too, and the views - they opened up as wide as I cared to swivel my head. Trees and buildings and development were replaced with a rocky, barren landscape with a small road working its way upward - and it was absolutely gorgeous. It felt like we had won the lottery.
Then we found the first traces of snow. No worries. It was just along the side of the road. A little farther up the road, the snow was on the road proper - but there was still a half lane open for us to ride through. No worries!
Then the road ended in a giant mass of orangey snow. The late season remnants of the winter were covered with the signs of spring. We started walking in hopes that it would only be a short jaunt on snow - we were disappointed when we rounded the corner, and the snow meandered around the next turn, and the next turn.
It was starting to get late, and those worries started to creep in - would the snow ever end? How much longer would we have to walk? Were we going to have to turn around? Were we going to get stuck? Were we going to get lost and starve in the middle of nowhere? Ok, of course not, but you know what I mean. These moments are fun, but they also have that undercurrent of worry - which is amusing to look back on when everything works out ok, but there are those times when everything doesn’t work out ok, and the glorious adventure turns into a grim battle with daylight, warmth, and hunger.
In this case, it all worked out swimmingly, and we hopped back on our bikes with no worries.
At this point, it was nearly dark, and we were treated to one last visual feast: the town of Guardiaregia.
The next day, we went back to Campitello Matese to rejoin the Giro d’Italia. Ashley shot around the 3-4k to go mark, and I was around the 1-2k to go mark. I had a huge view of the action below and while the race was still many kilometers away, I could see it unfolding. I could see Astana smashing the group of favorites. I could see Kruijswijk giving everything solo. I could see Reichenbach and Intxausti move rapidly across to the Dutchman, then it was time to run the 1k to my other spot.
When the race reached Ashley, Kruijswijk was long gone, and Intxausti had just broken Reichenbach’s heart with a vicious attack that followed 4k of refusal to pull through. Intxausti played a risky game, but Reichenbach was desperate for the big result, and left himself vulnerable. He later expressed his frustration, but he finished with - I learned a lesson for the future.
Just behind, the group of favorites headlined by the ever present trio of Aru, Contador, and Porte were raging. Right as the group passed me, Aru took flight with a face contorted in pain, but legs determined to wrest free and take his first ever Maglia Rosa. It was not to be for Aru though. He put on an impressive display of force, but it did nothing to shake his two rivals.
With the break and the contenders gone, we still had a LOT of riders to go - all with different ambitions - some suffering and searching for every last ounce of energy, while others cruised quietly upward, content with the day’s effort, already looking ahead to tomorrow…or the next day…or the day after that.
There are so many times during a race when we have no idea why something is happening. It’s like being dropped into the middle of a complicated movie with a hundred story lines and no one to explain anything. For example: far, far, far off the back were three riders - all on the same time, Giant-Alpecin. Something was clearly amiss, but it’s one of those things you dismiss as - I’ll never know the full story. Except in this case!
In his journal for VeloNews, Giant-Alpecin’s Chad Haga (a Strava user!) explains: “Niklas Arndt was hit with food poisoning the evening after stage 7 and spent all of stage 8 chasing the field. He effectively did the longest stage of the Giro, finishing with the lead group, and then didn’t eat afterward. He suffered more than any of us thought we could, eventually being guided to the finish by Cheng Ji and Tom Stamsnijder, who dropped out of the peloton to motivate him and give him a draft.”
The images below are of that trio with only 3k to go.
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