How a bunch of cycling enthusiasts became a cycling team.
On posting this blog, the summer holidays have come to an end. This holiday was just a bit harder to forget than usual. Here’s why...
How it happened
Almost one year ago, one of my colleagues created a #cycling channel on Slack, which became the first of many steps towards the top of the Stelvio. Thanks to this channel, several colleagues discovered that they had the same sporty interest and decided to go for a ride together. As our first ride, we selected one of the permanently marked routes of the Amstel Gold race. The days before and after this ride were filled with a specific atmosphere among the riders, which was clear to everyone in the office. Our enthusiasm was so inspiring that some new candidates decided to join the #cycling channel.
Setting a goal
After a while, we began to look for a bigger challenge, a goal that we could live and train towards. Our choice fell on the Stelvio, which, with its 48 hairpin turns, is one of the most impressive climbs a cyclist can conquer. Six riders (Filip, Philip, Jelle, Stijn, Kristof and Hans) registered for the Climbing for Life challenge in Bormio (Italy, 22-24 June), which tackles the Stelvio while also supporting a noble cause: the fight against mucoviscidose and asthma. (A few participants suffering from these illnesses would also try to conquer the Stelvio, to prove that their disease cannot stop them.)
Of course, we absolutely needed a fancy team outfit to conquer such a mythical mountain. With the help of our internal design resources, we ordered cycling clothing from the Belgian company Bioracer, with a design all customised by and for iCapps.
A fancy outfit is one thing, physical preparation another. All of us had their own training schedule: some used a tailor-made plan by EnergyLab (sponsor of Climbing for Life), others relied on their own experience and common sense. The closer the date, the more we looked at each others’ statistics on Strava and stimulated or challenged each other by liking every activity and commenting fearsly.
Climbing for Life in Bormio
On Wednesday June 21, at 7 AM, we departed from Belgium. The 10-hour car ride was a great team building in and of itself: we had the chance to get to know each other (even) better. All went well - except in Switzerland, where I suddenly surpassed my data limit because Switzerland isn’t part of the EU and roaming charges still apply there. (Watch out, they’re expensive!)
The last 3 hours were spent in the mountains, amidst beautiful views, hairpin bends and mountain lakes.
Thank you Kristof Rasschaert for your well equipped Volvo and Jelle ... fix your car’s airco ;-).
We were definitely in the Dolomiti! Everyone in the car was impressed, all the more so because we knew we would soon have to climb these steep mountains ourselves on a bike… . We lost track of each other after a pit stop, but around 6 PM, our two cars were reunited in Bormio.
We set out to Bormio for a well-deserved dinner and to pick up all the necessary stuff in the Climbing for Life Village.
Spirits were great. A promising start to a great weekend.
First training ride
We decided during breakfast to begin our cycling adventure with a moderate climb, and chose the Lago di Cancano. But after one hour of climbing, we noticed that we were not climbing the right mountain. Instead, we were already climbing the Stelvio! A slight moment of doubt (maybe even some panic on some faces?)… but no one liked the idea of going back and starting all over. So up the Stelvio we went, at an easy pace and with regular breaks.
The heat of the road bouncing back in your face, the almost never-ending uphill, your individual fight,... All this suffering vanished when you hear your colleagues - waiting ahead of you - shouting your name and pushing you up the hill. What an energy boost! Pure Teambuilding it was!
It’s a long way (26km) before you reach the Passo dello Stelvio, but it was very much worth it! All of us reached the summit with big smiles, happy that we could remove this climb from our bucket list.
At the top of the Stelvio the very first day
In the afternoon, after a well-deserved lunch in Bormio, we went on to climb the ride we were supposed to do in the morning…
Lago di Cancano
...only to realize soon that we might have been a bit overenthusiastic…
Some cooling down, some beers and a lot of pizza later, the pain and suffering was forgotten.
Second training ride: King and Queen of the Gavia
On our schedule for the second day: Gavia. This was the first organised ride of the Climbing for Life event. Every participant had to cross a timing mat at the foot of the Gavia and another one at the top of the Gavia. The competition was on! The ride to the first timing mat was already quite heavy, so on arriving at the foot of the Gavia I already felt the beers from the day before in my legs. Not a good sign! And indeed, just before arriving at the top… cramps in both legs! This was the sign for Jelle to shift his gear and take off! I tried to catch up after some stretching but did not manage to close the gap before he crossed the finish line. Let’s call this “healthy competition” ;-).
Kristof (aka mister Triathlon) was already getting cold when we arrived and not much later Hans and Philip joined us. Now all we had to do was wait for Stijn. Just when we were getting ready to go look for him and join him in his last miles up, we saw him coming up, with yet another big smile. Great work team!
Anyone seen Stijn?
Final day: Il pirata
This was the day our cycling team had been training towards for some time. For many of us, it would be the biggest sporty challenge of the year and maybe even of their life (so far). The distance (150km) would not be an issue, but the altitude could be: 4.800 meters to climb! My personal record of climbing meters so far was 2.400, only half of it! Three mountains had to be climbed in less than 10 hours (7 AM -> 4:30 PM): Mortirolo (summit at 40km), Gavia (summit at 85 km) and finally the Passo dello Stelvio (finish, at 131 km) and then back to Bormio (26km).
The start was planned at 7:30 AM. Everyone had a pretty restless night, and we were all wide awake and jittery with nerves by 6 AM. We still had some time for a team picture, all dressed up in our shiny new iCapps outfit.
The first part towards the Mortirolo went downhill and iCapps was taking the lead. When I looked back after some 15 minutes I saw my colleagues and some 200 other cycling enthusiasts in my wheel!
The Mortirolo was the steepest climb, so we did not rush it. Half way up we saw an ‘ajemoekakkeun, moejekakkeun’ enthusiast, making us laugh for some time.
The first pit stop was at the top of the Mortirolo. Next up was Gavia, but not the side we had already climbed. Like the previous day, the road was already climbing steadily even before the start of the actual ascent, which made it hard to recover.
Once at the top of the Gavia, we knew what was coming up: a very nice downhill and then the final climb to the Passo dello Stelvio.
Arriving in Bormio did not feel like coming home. First, the Stelvio needed to be conquered! And so we started climbing again. We already did this climb two days earlier, but to our surprise it did not feel familiar at all. Each of us tried to go up one final time at their own pace.
I had to deal with pain in the stomach, pain in the knees, a flat tire, a lady cyclist passing me (and hurting my ego) BUT I managed to hold on and to focus on the top of the Passo dello Stelvio. I will never forget the 8 hours and 7 minutes I needed to become a ‘Pirata’.
A special “thank you” to iCapps is in order here.
Without the support of iCapps we would not have been able to do this sporty team challenge (in a fancy outfit) in Bormio. Being able to do so makes me a proud iCapps member. Whenever I tell people that this challenge is completely supported by my employer, they say: “Waaw, I wish I had such an employer too”. Feeling lucky is what makes you go the extra mile.
So thank you, iCapps! I am going the extra mile, with a smile (on my bike).