Like all good stories, the climax is at the end, and so too with my fortnight in Italy. After 60,000+ vertical metres, over 300 kilometres, 5 stacks, and a haircut, I was primed for the annual Peak to Creek race descending 1,800m vertical over 8kms.
I was up early to recon the course; my game plan was very simple – survive. I’d been told a few horror stories from years past about overly eager young (& old) riders pushing themselves and the boundaries a little too hard in the pursuit of glory. And every local to whom I mentioned the race grinned with enthusiasm, or perhaps disbelief, or maybe amusement, and warned me to “take it easy”, “relax” and “don’t go too fast”. Given that none of them had chosen to enter the race, I figured that I should heed their local knowledge. That said, you gotta be in it to win it, or in my case, complete it with some semblance of achievement, accomplishment and dignity.
Skiing on fatties when everyone else seemed to be on chopsticks I knew I wasn’t going to scare the leaders. Sharing a gondola ride with team members from the Cortina Race Club in matching red jackets emblazoned with sponsor badges analysing video’s on their phones confirmed it.
Despite my lack of race skis or ability I was nevertheless motivated to do my country proud. It was Australia Day eve, I was donning gear from Aussie Olympic team sponsor XTM, and not forgetting a young Steve Lee finished 10th in the Downhill at the World Ski Championships here back in ’85. The testosterone fuelled bar at Heaven 3,000 was dominated by a raucous collective of men, and gals, envisioning fame whilst hydrating with espresso, Red Bull and grappa. One thing was quickly apparent: this is something you should do while you’re young and possibly foolish.
Shortly after 11am my number came up, number 142 to be precise, and starting in pairs with another random soul at the 3,012m Cima Bianca I awaited the “avanti” from the starter. And I was away. My companion immediately shot out like a jack rabbit, I was content to timidly trail, the first turn a sweeping left hander following the Stella Alpina ridge line into a welcoming head wind that kept my velocity in check. Another left, then right, and just like that it became “rossa corsa” (racing red) down the appropriately named Ferrari. I shift into overdrive and focus on staying upright. Left towards the Valbella Basin blessed me with a forgiving shallow straight line for my skis to run down to the plateau; then bang, immediate acceleration down the Praimont Trail onto Pista Sant’Ambrogia. Popping ears and screaming thighs didn’t temper my resolve nor the massive grin on my frozen face. This was everything I had hoped as the adrenaline surged and my technique vanquished my fear and fatigue. Just stick to the plan and I’ll be right.
Approaching midway I passed two skiers who had miscalculated a gate and confidently swept left at speed as my planks shimmied and swayed; was it going to end in tears? Shed, shed, shed speed before the next gate, a 90˚ right hander that delivered me to the start of the FIS sanctioned Stelvio Slope. I gather my composure and scream diagonally across Carcentina to the Ciuk Plain for the grand finalé. The daunting descent down the Wall of St Peter, with its serious 60% gradient, separates the men from the boys – I join the latter as two lads race past me like Lamborghinis, whilst I plummet like a Fiat, yet still peaking at 104.3k according to my Ski Tracks app.
Not far to go now, a technically demanding zig zag to the icy finish bordered by trees and the beckoning Bormio ski stadium at 1,225m. A right, a left, and one more right and I’m home in 8:03.581, placing me 328th out of 509 starters, which plonked me bang in the middle of the bell curve of mediocrity. The overall winner, Matteo Sangiorgio, smashed it in 4:27:230. If nothing else I lived to ski another day.