After 12 years of racing, I finally managed to check off my first race over in Europe, the centre of the cycling universe. It was a humdinger as 500 + riders set out to tackle a 69 km, 2900 M vertical course in the Austrian Alps. The x-factor today was the weather which served up snow, sleet and rain. All the makings for a memorable day on the bike. The neutral start was a gong show as sport riders from the back of the field swarmed the front, riding up sidewalks, through fields and anywhere rideable to try and gain a few spots. I dropped from the last call up in the elite field (#74) to around 200th position when the road all of a sudden narrowed and the start gun went off. *Note to self, treat the next start like a playoff hockey game and bring the elbows out to play.
From here I questioned my existence as a bike rider as I was still passing sport riders and girls 20 minutes into the race and no where near the front of the race. Chugging along I started picking riders off and did this for the next 3 hours. Hitting the top of the first climb in sub zero temps and snowflakes fluttering about helped kickstart the adrenaline. The descent was icy cold and made stopping in the 2nd feed zone with my teammate Sneddon a necessity to have our buddy/mechanic Dave help put on our winter gloves and feed us some snacks as our hands were pretty useless. From here the day got super rad as we hit some serious snow on top of the 2nd climb as giant snowflakes filled the air. My North Face gloves and Verto Jacket kept me warm as I took in the foggy Austrian alpine and continued towards the finish line picking off riders right left and centre. With 5 km to go it looked as though we had a nice decent into the finish when the course suddenly veered right straight back up the mountain. What the hell I thought, then I looked back and saw a group of 5 riders closing in. A little alarm went off in my head to quit slacking and pick up the pace! I told myself to not look back again and used what diesel was left to pick off 5 blown riders ahead of me instead before dropping down a slick muddy decent to the finish line. I have no idea where I finished but this day could turn out to be the turning point of the race year as something awoke inside me when we hit the chilly conditions up high in the mountains. Tommorow is a 15 km uphill time trial. Not really sure what to expect here but it will be something.
Time to keep snacking and get some shut eye.
Stage 2 of the Alpen Tour was a 15 km, 1100 M vertical time trial up the ski hill here in Schladming, Austria.
It would’ve been a great day to be skiing down the hill, to be riding up there in spandex and bare skin was about as logical as having a soccer match on a skating rink. Riding to the race my teammate Kris Sneddon made the comment “Apparently we haven’t smartened up much in life if were still flying 1/2 way around the world to freeze our asses off riding bikes up snowstorm engulfed mountains.” The rain we started in at the bottom of the mountain quickly turned into heavy snow as we headed skyward towards the heavens. The once muddy track, turned into an unrideable sloshy mess of snow ice and mud. We went from bike racers to mud runners in a matter of metres. A little further up we hit icy compacted snow and were able to remount our bikes and ride on a small packed down path between 6-12 inches of snow beside the trail. It was just like riding mountain bikes up in the Canadian Rocky mountain town of Jasper in the middle of the winter. The Freewheel boys up there use fat tire bikes to train in these conditions and I’m starting to figure out why. From now on I will make sure too pack the Kona fat tire bike being released in 2014 for any uphill time trials I do in the Alps.
Overall the experience of riding bikes in close to a foot of snow was pretty cool. For the first half of the climb I was getting caught by a number of pencil neck euros but once we hit the snow and the bike ride turned to a hike a bike/ sketchy bike ride I turned the tables around and started passing the skinny freezing boys back. At first I had to wrap my head around the fact I was pushing my bike up a ski hill then I started to pretend I was a cold tree planter running from a bear and started trotting up the hill. At one point we had to get out of the way for a Euro retreating downhill in full panic mode. Not sure where he was going but I’m pretty sure he would’ve been better off trekking the last couple km up to the ski lodge rather then face a 7 km snowy descent back into the rain!
At the top as we hiked through the finish line we continued the race straight into a warm ski lodge for hot chocolates and warmth before our bodies had a chance to realize what we just put them through.
When I saw race organizer Gerhard Schönbacher in the ski lodge we both broke into a laugh as the last time we saw each other was in the +42 degree heat of the Australian outback. (Gerhard also organizes the legendary Crocodile Trophy) He was smiling as he told me there were a lot of guys asking him to cancel the stage today. We both had the same thought of why in the world anyone would want to miss out on such a rad adventure. After all It’s days like this that make a person truly feel alive!
PS they are also days you question your sanity….
Tommorow calls for more rain and +8 weather down here in the valley. What lies up in the mountains is no longer a surprise as we are starting to smarten up and dress like skiers.
The 3rd stage of the Alpen was cut down by 20 km to avoid the high alpine snow. Thus making the estimated win time 2.5 hrs instead of 3.5. Shortening races is never cool, but in these circumstances it was a wise choice.
After being the polite Canadian in stage 1 and giving away 175 positions in the neutral start I had a different game plan today. Elbows as wide as the Mississippi I made sure no rider threatened my top 25 position in the lead out. At one point a skinny pecker head tried to ride up the ditch then chop into my spot as a sign post was quickly approaching his line. He had 3 choices, sign post, my elbow in his gut, or to back down. He drifted back to were he belonged and I had a top 20 position when the start gun went off! Barry Wicks used the swerve all over the road tactic to scare the other riders so they wouldn’t pass him. It worked just as well. Once on the first climb it was chaos as euros sprinted everywhere, I dropped from top 20 to 50+ then back to 25ish within a couple minutes as a lot of riders didn’t seem to understand the race was 50 km long, not 800 meters.
The stage was shortened but this probably just made it harder as guys could now ride faster without the chance of blowing up in a long stage. The route had 2100 M of climbing on a bunch of shorter 2-3km climbs, mixed in with some pretty cool trail, a bit of bike path and some gravel roads. It was a perfect mixture and provided for a steady day of riding. Starting hard worked well, as the race went on I slowly made my way into the top 20, with Barry Wicks not far behind as he was also having a steady day. Kris and Spencer were right in there as well as all of team Kona has been right together this race. I think we were all hoping for a longer race (except for our XC specialist, Spencer) as a lot of guys seem to disintegrate around the 3 hour mark.
The thing about racing out here in Euroland is that everyone in the top 60 of the 400 rider field is super fast. If you let off the gas for 10 seconds you’ll drop 2 or 3 positions. At the same time if you can find an extra gear for a minute, or clean a rough trail section you can easily jump a position or two.
All day there was a line up of 5 or 6 riders within a minute ahead of me, and the same behind. I’ve learned fast that its not worth ever looking back as there’s guaranteed to be someone there. All you can really do about it is put your head down and drive the pedals as hard as you can until you see the finish banner (that’s if a snowstorm isn’t blocking it).
A nice change was the weather today as it didn’t rain or snow! A light shower or two and plus 8-10 degree weather seemed tropical after what we have been through. Mother nature doesn’t want to leave us dry and hanging for too long as she is pouring hard tonight with more of the same expected in the morning. Someone apparently forgot to give us the post it note the sun fell out of the sky when we left North America.
Stage 4 – Cancelled
The final stage of the 2013 Alpen Tour was cancelled due to heavy rainfall, mudslides, fallen trees, and the threat of flooding. The decision was made in the interest of safety for the participants.
Overall results HERE.
More info at www.alpen-tour.at