First last night, and an 80s party mix on the beach around a campfire! Ben Worlock made friends with a dog and they have promised to stay penpals.
Thursday, the doom mongers and cycling ghouls were talking fearsome statistics on the feet to be climbed and comparisons with Alp d’huez amongst others, so the money games started early! I actually had a ‘fear of failing’ dream, which almost never happens so it clearly got to me!
Two groups self selected on the approach for the day, but with an agreed mutual objective to do the big climb of the day, the Llogora Pass, which at 1043 meters high, is apparently bigger than Snowdon.
We all started with a priceless warm up from Davy Sinclair, including the Geordie Butcher, which is a regional variation on the ‘okie cokie’. A great laugh and fine way to get ready for the hardest day of the tour.
A hush descended as we navigated out of town, quickly turning into a succession of muttered oaths, groaning and deep breathing as the gradients hit the high teens. For non cyclists, this can be translated as the sort of steepness that you need to use a cars second gear for. We competed with lorries belching diesel, as the breakfast eggs threatened to resurface. As ever, the end eventually arrived and we bimbled through to the start of the big climb. At this point in the tour the fearsome power in our thighs and calves made light work of the lumps and bumps in our way.
Imagine a child’s drawing of a road zig zagging up a hill and you get the picture, although the zigs (or maybe zig-zog, given we are in Albania?) were around a kilometre long each. The road was so steep that it was low gear all the way, a steady rhythm and some rather fruity rugby songs helped to get us to the top. The fast boys disappeared without a backwater glance to leave us mere plodders fighting for survival in the growing heat and dust. It sounds miserable, but in reality this was proper cycling and what we signed up for. A solid two and a half hours of ascent, several water bottles and sugary snacks but mainly sheer bloody minded determination. My group of five worked superbly to build momentum with Colin Lovell, our leader, nipping at our heels and showing an imaginative use of data to motivate us.
Needless to say we made it and regrouped for splendid lunch, with all of the team having literally, made the grade. A superb effort, not least for the newbies. An exhilarating downhill followed with some creative and bold cornering, speeds of well over 40 mph being achieved, before a final regroup and hugging session. A two hour coach trip to our hotel left some inspecting the inside of their eyelids and I’m sure a non combatant would have found the aroma of spent athlete stimulating. It may be that a glass or two is raised tonight!
You can still support the team by visiting: https://openwork.enthuse.com/cf/owf-albania-2022
By Richard Houghton