RAPHA WOMEN’S PRESTIGE
- road cycling
Rapha Women’s Prestige // The Dolomites
This year’s Prestige was the first of its kind in Europe and the mere idea of such an event taking place so close to Slovenia seemed enthralling enough. But when a friend invited me to join in, the thrill of riding with so many women soon coincided with the fear of riding in a group. Besides, I didn’t feel overly secure because I’d lost quite some confidence due to an injury and didn’t ride as much as before. However, having looked at the event as a once in a lifetime opportunity, I overcame fear and decided to participate without burdening myself with possible outcomes. The one thing I did know, though, was that I’d be part of something important, an event organized by people who’ve inspired so many to either ride, ride at impossible hours and in terrible conditions or to simply document their experience in any way possible. Thus I found myself at the starting point in front of a hotel in Alta Badia along with a bit over seventy other female riders, who I’d share this painful but noteworthy experience with.
The route led us over four mountain passes: Valparola, Fedaia, Sella and Gardena, all of which are rather long and brutally steep in several places. I reckon each and every one of us had a different way of dealing with the climbs as well as the length of the planned ride. I’d draw parallels between a whole new world and the one I knew from before because it gave me a much needed sense of security. Just like the screeching of brakes on one of my teammates’ bikes. Thus every curve, hairpin bend, peak, view, and even the slightest smell had a Slovenian counterpart.
Even though the event promoted camaraderie and support, which was clearly seen throughout the day, I could only focus on myself, my thoughts, and my breathing at some point. I heard other riders’ shouting and cheering and it was definitely encouraging to hear them say “brava”, “well done” or “nice pace” but I knew that only my will (or stubborn nature) could get me to the top of each and every climb. Thus I became the sole source of motivation. The Fedaia pass, for instance, felt like Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. I had to ride into several front yards and make a circle or two on the flattened out patches of road because I knew that if I stopped and got off the bike for even a second, I wouldn’t be able to get back on on such an incline. It proved to be a useful method. Anyway, it took the team I was on together with Nina Kljun, Neža Peterca and Nina Urh about eight and a half hours to reach the finish line. And what a finish it was!
Everything I’d known, experienced and felt as a rider by that moment merged and emerged as a whole new experience. The Dolomites. Every last bit of them. The passes we climbed or simply noticed somewhere in the distance, narrow and steep roads, illegible road signs, rivers and lakes, cows and their bells, sheep and their bleating as well as hundreds of cyclists and hikers. Next time I tackle a climb in Slovenia, I’ll think of the first part of the climb to the Fedaia pass or the steepest part of the Gardena pass, and I’ll think of home.
Words by Tanja Ivančič, photos by Marko Šajn.