Lockdown, ferocious dogs and hail storms: epic conditions for the multi-tasking performance of Nico Valsesia.
Only the oppressive bad weather prevented the Italian athlete from connecting the coast of the Black Sea to the highest mountain in Turkey.
It was expected to be a performance of the highest level, and while the prohibitive weather conditions may have interfered, they did not detract from “From Zero to Ararat”, Nico Valsesia’s latest feat. The athlete from Borgomanero in Piedmont, born in 1971, chose the fourth weekend of May to carry out the new stage of his “From Zero to...” project, a format that took him to some of the tallest peaks on the planet, starting from the nearest sea coast (so to speak) and completing the route on a bicycle. So here is Nico and his support team’s travel diary, made even more complicated by the strict lockdown in force in Turkey.
So here is Nico and his support team’s travel diary, made even more complicated by the strict lockdown in force in Turkey.
In the beginning, there was Mont Blanc, eight years ago now, followed by Aconcagua, Elbrus and Kilimanjaro.Nico planned to add the sacred mountain of Ararat to his collection of summits reached in his “long-distance” style, in the changeable month of May. After a good luck hug from his son Felipe, Nico Valsesia begins his adventure at 12.30pm on Saturday 22nd.
His first pedal strokes are a stone’s throw from the sea in Hopa, a town on the Black Sea in north-eastern Turkey, not far from the border with Georgia. The first part of the performance, in the saddle of the gravel bike, is a 472 kilometre approach to the base of Ararat, to then climb it on foot. Still getting to grips with the acute phase of the pandemic, Turkey is in full lockdown (including a curfew at weekends), and the streets are virtually deserted. Almost always well paved.
The first significant and unpredictable problem for Valsesia is the many stray dogs that run through these streets and attack Nico several times, forcing him to get off his bike and use it to defend himself from the attacks.
In some cases, the support team’s car (in which Nico and his team had travelled all the way from Italy!) has to intervene and act as a deterrent. The sudden ambushes are made worse by the context: a very cold and windy night. This is a torment that continues for more than 300 kilometres but fortunately disappears with the morning sun and the change of scenery. The sky is cloudy and the temperatures begin to rise. A puncture and a few military checkpoints - this is the easternmost part of Turkey, in an area disputed with neighbouring Armenia - slow the cyclist’s pace down, and he also has to tackle the impossibility of sourcing supplies from bars, shops or convenience stores, thanks to a mass lockout!
After arriving in Dogubayazit, a small town on the plain at the foot of Ararat - already the logistical base for the first acclimatisation climb to the summit in the days prior - we decide to replenish our energy levels. We stop at a support hotel, where our man eats a generous portion of rice and boiled potatoes, as well as allowing himself an hour and a half of sleep.
Well aware of the road surface conditions - unpaved - of the 20 kilometres that lead to the square from which all ascents to this biblical mountain begin (the summit is 5137 metres above sea level), Valsesia opts to change his bike, switching to a more “muscly” gravel bike, with wider tyres and tread. It is a truly tough climb, lashed by the wind and an increasingly menacing sky.
Progress to the top resumes in a moment of apparent calm, but darkness takes over the mountain and another hail storm along with very strong winds result in a second stop. At an altitude of 3200 metres, the team is welcomed into a tent belonging to a group of hikers, who are also hindered by the adverse weather conditions.
On the morning of Monday 24th, with a slightly decreasing wind and no precipitation, one last attempt at the summit is made, with father and son reaching a height of 3800 metres where a service tent should have been waiting for them, had it not been destroyed by the forces of nature. The extreme conditions continue and the weather forecast, which says things are only going to get worse, force father and son to surrender to the facts.
They did however manage to climb a peak in the days prior to the actual performance and a record attempt was pushed to the limit by Nico, who is probably already thinking about how and where he can get back in the game!