The Ride Dolomites; The only way is up
For the last few months The Ride Dolomites had been a little black cloud on my racing calendar. The starting date coming nearer and nearer and me feeling less and less prepared for it. I have been struggling with chronic injury after breaking my back a few years back. Earlier this year I was led into a false sense of security that I was on the road to recovery with the least amount of pain in my legs and back I had felt in the past two years. But then about two months ago, for no apparent reason my back injury raised its ugly head again. With nerve pain causing everything to hurt again. This was exhausting creating a lack of motivation I was not used to. It got me so down that I wondered why I was still trying to be an athlete if it caused me this much distress. And at the same time not wanting to let go of something I loved doing so much. So I really had no choice but to ride through it. Literally.
Through StrongHer I was invited to The Ride Dolomites. A Dutch owned company targeted and attracting mainly Dutch people. For 6 days we would be crossing the Dolomites riding from campsite to campsite. With a whole bunch of volunteers looking after us as if we were professional athletes. From Physio’s to bike mechanics, first aiders, cooks and support vehicles we were spoiled with attention from the first moment we woke up to the last moment we went to sleep. Every stage included a challenge which were all climbs, these timed sections counted towards a General Classification over all the stages. Each route had an option B for riders who were struggling and needed an easier ride. The support vehicles were on stand by the whole day sweeping up riders where necessary. And mechanics fixing broking down bikes. Every night we were treated with a recap of the day involving pictures, video clips and stories of the day in true sarcastic Dutch humour which I had missed so much! It was a really well organised event with good food, great people and amazing cyclists.
I was teaming up with cycling guru, Maan Klomp who had done an enormous amount to boost women’s cycling especially in Amsterdam. She was a bit of a cycling celebrity really!
We started with two massive days, both over 140km of riding and close to 3000m of ascend. A tight little group was quickly formed; Maan and her husband Harco, Joyce and Ger, Marc, Siegrid and I. Riders would come and leave us but this was the core of our bunch for the week.
On Day 2 (143km, 2800m ascend) the heat and steep gradient got to me in the final km of the challenge climb and I decided I needed a lay down in some nice looking green grass (which actually ended up being stinging nettles).
The ambulance was quick to respond and when I saw the two women run towards me, I jumped up out of shock reassuring them I was ok!! The shero's from first aid gave me some magnesium, lots of encouraging words and off I went on again just as Maan caught up with me who was struggling equally as much as I was. The final 1km felt like 10000000000kms!!
It worried me that after two days I already felt so empty, and there were still 4 days to go with some of the hardest climbs still to come. But the atmosphere was electric, the weather was amazing and everybody including all the volunteers were so upbeat that the suffering was easily forgotten.
On day 3 (113km, 3000m ascend) I struggled riding in a bunch, it is something I do not do very often and I felt the constant change of pace was taking its toll. In the final climb high up the mountain we got caught in a heavy hail storm with only a short descent to go. Joyce and I decided to call for help. There were at least 20 people still stuck on the mountain but within minutes riders were taken down, given hot drinks and emergency foil blankets to get warm. A big shout out to Jos from the support vehicle and a huge credit to the organisation for taking control of a situation which could have easily ended up out of hand.
Day 4 was the mighty Queens stage, (114kms and 4000m) of climbing. We were staying at the same camp that night which meant riders could opt out. As people were talking more and more about how brutal this stage was, my adventure heart started to sing. It included Passo di Fedaia, a brutal climb including a straight up 3km section averaging 17% gradient. And I wanted to ride it. I did not care if it would take me the whole day. Whilst riders were coming up with reasons not to do it, I started to convince myself I was strong enough to do it. This was a bucket list stage and my name was written all over it. We discussed it in our group and 5 of us were going for it; Joyce, Ger, Siegrid, Marc and I.
I can’t really describe the magic which told the story of day 4. The connection I felt between our little group, the amazing scenery which simply made me feel the happiest I had been in a long time. And having legs which for whatever reason just kept on giving. We all rode within minutes from each other which made the day flow so effortless it felt like one big great smile. Riding into camp that night having achieved the full stage was one the most satisfying moments I have had for a long time. Something which had absolutely nothing to do with pace, power or speed, but absolutely everything to do with mental strength. One of those days you will recall sipping a cup of tea in the evening sun at the age of 110.
Day 5(125km 2900m ascend) was always going to be a tough one after such an epic day before but we were now on the home straight and it was another day with scenery to keep the soul happy forever.
I felt sad and at the same time slightly relieved to line up for the final day on day 6, 110km with 2700m of ascend. Everybody was on a high, a ride with incredible scenery once again and riding into the finish line made you feel you had really achieved something. Medals were rewarded and the organisers had done a great job creating a very festive atmosphere.
A huge thanks to StrongHer for giving me the opportunity to do The Ride, our little group for all the support and everyone involved for creating such a special week.
“What you think you become, what you feel you attract, what you imagine you create” Buddha
About Nienke Oostra
Nienke Oostra is a fierce competitor with big dreams. She started cycling late in life as until her early thirties she let her veterinary career lead her all over the world until her dream of becoming an elite athlete took over. Her goal for upcoming season is to qualify for the UCI MTB Marathon MTB World championship’s again and better her ranking from last year. And after 2 bad triathlon seasons she wants to feel good again and have fun again.
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