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Il Passo di Larch
During 1988's Giro D'Italia, Andy Hampsten took the Maglia Rosa after attacking the peloton over the Gavia Pass in horrific weather conditions. It rates as one of the all-time epic rides in cycle race history, and was the inspiration for our 2008 season's
Andy Hampsten Jersey.
A ride can become imbued with meaning for many reasons: a great group of riders; beautiful country; the distance; a tough climb; adverse weather or a symbollic date. The fifth of June was one such day for a group of 20 riders who gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hampsten's Gavia epic by seeking out their own snowy pass in the great man's homeland. Larch Mountain is a well-known climb among riders in Oregon but one rarely visited so early in summer, when the pass can still be heavy with snow. Before leaving Rapha's US headquarters in Portland, the group put in a special call to Tuscany, where Hampsten was riding with the touring business he now runs. In part, they wanted to thank him for providing the inspiration to go out into 53 degrees and 87 miles of driving rain but also to see if he might offer some advice. Having more miles in his legs than the entire Oregon peloton combined, it might have been wise to listen when Hampsten said:
It had been a wet day in Tuscany and even Hampsten hadn't spun the wheels to commemorate his fabled ride. He even offered one last rationale as to why the group shouldn't step into the cold rain. "I got paid to ride," he said, as the group set off in search of snow.
Whether it was an attempt at warming up the body or just a simple case of good legs, the front pack hit the bottom of Larch's 14-mile climb determined to test one another. With a beautiful view of the mighty Columbia River eclipsed by dense forests, part-way up the ascent the group soon started to splinter. Some were just happy to sit at the back, enjoying the prolonged pain of the climb, making peace with the ever-cooling ascent while being thankful that, for now, the rain had stopped.
As we climbed higher, patches of snow started growing alongside the road. But this was June, surely we could get to the top of Larch? The yellow signs along the way stating the road was closed ahead had been wrong thus far, maybe there was a chance today. Without wishing to confuse Hampsten's momentous day with another great American rider, I know that a scene from the 'Road to Paris' was going through some of our heads, that moment when Lance, confronted with a roadblock of his own, asks Johan Bruyneel: "Who says I can't go on?"
Eventually, the back of the group found the leaders at a road-closure gate about five miles from the top of Larch. They had made it to what, today at least, was the top. Snow two feet deep covered the road for another mile up the climb. That was it. Even though we were turned back, we did so with an appreciation of what it must have been like for Hampsten, fighting through the snow. Donning our Rapha Stowaways, wringing out wet shoe covers and taking a little help from the Isle of Islay, we enjoyed a chilling descent to Rapha's offices in Portland, with the promise of fine, locally-brewed beer and an Andy Hampsten Gavia jersey for the lucky rider who won our prize draw.
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