Apparently, when you go above around 2000 m in altitude you begin to feel the effects of the thin air and lower oxygen. Here at Passo dello Stelvio, we are staying at 2760m and I can definitely feel it.
When we first arrived, I got a strange feeling that something didn't quite feel right but couldn't put my finger on it. I had a slight headache and was very thirsty. Then after walking up the stairs, I had to stop after two levels for a breather. The simple task felt like I had just run around the block. At night, I can hear the deep breaths of those around me as they search for more oxygen. But, it's all supposed to make your body more efficient at carrying oxygen.
A major downside to training in the mountains at altitude is the lack of flat roads. In around 600km of riding, we have been on one 5km section of road that is flat. It is down the mountain, at 1800m is the small ski town of Livigno. This town is renowned amongst athletes for altitude training. Runners, cyclists and skiers flock to Livigno for the perfect training conditions. As you leave Lavigno, you ride beside a lake for about 5km on flat road. Here, hundreds of cyclists ride up and down doing laps of the flat section.
At first, I couldn't understand why you would want to do something so repetitive and mundane. There are spectacular mountains all around with amazing views, perfect for riding. . Today, after 6 days of riding in the mountains, I can completely understand why someone would ride up and down one boring flat piece of road.
My legs are trashed and my motivation is low. Very low. Today we did a lap of the road with riders from an Italian women's team and it was bliss. We drove the car down and consequently, didn't have to ride the 20km back to the top of Passo dello Stelvio. I'm so relieved.