It's been two months since the race, but better late than never!
Day 1 descending the Hahntenjoch
Day 2 nearing the summit of the Timmelsjoch
Finally! Sunshine on the Valparola
Adnan comin' in hot!
Christoph comin' in hot!
It's been two months since the race, but better late than never!
It has now been over a week since the TransAlp finished and I have had a bit of time to just relax here in Copenhagen and think about the journey and the race. Last year, after finishing the TransRockies, I thought I wouldn't do anything like it again. When Christoph first suggested it, I said no way. He then told me that he meant the road version, and my interest was piqued. I am still pretty sure I won't do TransRockies again, but the TransAlp was different.
For one thing, we always had a nice place to sleep. This was our doing, as the organization had arranged lodging each night on the floor of the local gymnasium. This was adequate, but not what we were looking for in our alpine holiday. At TransRockies you have no choice, but in the Alps there are plenty of places to stay. Most are in ski villages and always at summertime rates, which are much cheaper than in ski season.
Next, we had Stacey generously and patiently driving our bags and equipment, as well as us, to and from each hotel to each start point and then from the finish to the next hotel after each finish. Having this was invaluable as it meant we always had a bottle of mineral water and some nice snacks waiting for us at the finish without having to fight through the crowds of other tired riders and their bikes each day. We certainly did that enough during each stage! Also, it meant that we didn't have to ride to our hotels, which were sometimes up long climbs. The TransAlp organization provides a hotel-to-hotel baggage service for those who prefer to book ahead, but not having to use this gave us more options in daily equipment choice as we didn't have to hand over our bags at 7am each morning. Of course the biggest plus was being able to be with Stacey - awesome!
Also of great importance is the race organization, which was first class. The roads were closed to traffic, the signs were all in place and easy to see, and the police always patrolled complex intersections with a smile and wave. The timing was flawless and the placement of the feed stations perfect. The race food could have been better, but it was more than adequate and, anyway, most people prefer to use their own. My stomach is not easily upset, so I just ate and drank anything they handed me and I was fine.
The course itself was stunning. We began at the edge of the Bavarian flat lands to the north of Oberammagau, rode straight through the heart of the Tyrolean Alps, and finished at the Adriatic in the hot sunshine of mid-summer Italy. We rode through picturesque villages like Zwischenwasser, and ritzy towns like Cortina d'Ampezzo. We did 2+ hour climbs to 2500m and 35km descents at over 90kph. We rode through pouring cold rain, with snow on the roadside, and then through blistering sun in the thin mountain air. It was fantastic.
While I am up here on my personal web podium, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the following people. I would like to thank Stacey for her patience, dedication, encouragement, support and love. I want to thank Christoph for coming up with the idea and being the perfect teammate, even when I was cranky! Thanks also to Christoph's family and his wife Jen for helping with logistics and giving us a lovely place to stay before and after the race. Thanks also to Eric at VeloEuropa for sorting me out with a sweet Cyfac bicycle and Dirk at Big Shark Bicycles for hanging some nice Campagnolo kit on it. Thanks to Mark at River City Bicycles for all of the bike-related details. Also, thanks to Mike B for the happily unused first aid kit, and to Andrew at Cycling Innovations for all the sweet lightweight Tiso parts. Thanks also to the King, Erik V., Brad, Mark, Tim, Monty, Corey, Eirik, Josh, MJ, Jim, Ian, Anthony K, Jason M, Phil Z and Jeb Stewart and all the others with whom I ride for their support, encouragement, and advice. Thanks to Dave and Brittany for taking care of our house. Thanks to Hunter Allen for my cycling shoes and, more importantly, for guiding me in my career and making it flexible enough to be able to do things like this and not get fired! Thanks to my athletes who have been patient with me while I prepared and who always shared my excitement about the event. Thanks finally to my parents for always encouraging me in whatever I want to do.
I have learned a great deal from this race and in the next articles, I will endeavour to share a bit of that. Until then, keep the rubber-side down.
We woke early at our comfy B&B lodging in Villabruna in order to savor the beautiful, humid Veneto morning and get ready for what would easily be the fastest day of the TransAlp. This was one day we would not have to worry about whether or not to take a vest or rain cape, as the it was already 25 degrees C when we began to pack the car for the short drive to the start in Feltre. I like hot weather and after the fickle conditions of the high Dolomiti I was ready for some heat and humidity.
The course was somewhat downhill in the beginning making for ridiculously high speeds – nearly 50kph for the first hour – and more than a few accidents and close calls. One week of riding in the mountains had not taught the less experienced how to ride in a big bunch and this, coupled with a week’s worth of fatigue, made for scary ride. Eric had the outside of his Sidi grazed off in the first big shunt, which didn’t seem to actually hurt anyone. I spent about an hour of the race chatting with him, in between bouts of extreme fear for my safety.
Once in a while, a local rider would jump into the bunch and just ride along, always without a helmet, hair perfectly gelled, and, curiously, always with a ritzy pair of racing clinchers. One fellow was on Zipp 404s and another on Mavic Cosmics. I have begun to think that most young Italian riders actually train on their expensive aero racing wheels. Or, perhaps they all have sets of Lightweights tucked away for their Sunday adventures? All I know is that I can't afford to train on wheels like that!
Eventually, the roads turned into flat, levee-top farm paths, giving a somewhat Flandrian feel to the whole event. Gone were the mountains, and in their place heat, wind, and tiny, rough roads snaking through orchards and wheat fields. It was beautiful and I was happy as I no longer had to haul my 80kg body up mountains and could finally put the hurt on the midgets who had been torturing me all week.
So, put the hurt on them I did as we constantly had to close gaps left by others in order to stay in the main group. Christoph, not being a regular bike racer, had a bit of trouble with the repeated accelerations, but we managed to stay in the game rather well. The confusion came in the feed zones where many had stopped for water and food. This led to mass confusion and lots of hammering to get back to the bunch. Eventually, we all settled into our groups and carried on towards Bibione.
I pulled the rookie move of the week by showing up at the start without any food in my pockets. The two bottles of energy drink I had didn't last long and as the temperature rose to 37 degrees C, I was soon out of fluid. A quick refill stop at the second feed took care of that until about 20km from the end where a generous hand-up from the Sparkasse support guys got me the last bottle of water I would need. I begged some food off a nice Milanese fellow in our group and about 15 minutes after that, I was all set to hammer into Bibione.
And hammer we did as neither Christoph or myself could wait to get home safely. Christoph's family had driven down from Munich to see him finish and Stacey was there as well, having already had the first of her two refreshing dips in the Adriatic.
It was both a relief and a feeling of great accomplishment to ride over the line together after a tough week of Alpine racing. Christoph and family headed out for a week of R&R in Siena, while Stacey and I made a beeline for the nearest gelateria. Ah....Italia!
On paper, today looked to be mostly downhill (warning, PDF file). What goes down, however, first has to climb up. Climb is exactly what we did, to the tune of 2600m, to a maximum altitude of over 2000m on the day. Although the amount of climbing is tough, it's also the altitude that takes its toll. For example, the rainy climb of the Timmelsjoch on day 2, which took us to over 2500m, was excruciating. The steepness, cold, rain, and absolute altitude made it a leg crusher.
Today was not that bad, and the fact that it was warm and sunny throughout made it racing in Italy at its best. The first climb, right out of Falcade up the Passo Valles, was hard, but it was still cool enough that we just cruised. It was easy to see a lot of the people who had been pushing it all week were already in the red. That can't be a good feeling. We have found, though, that we always seem to pace ourselves properly and seem to finish having given just the right amount at the right time.
The next climb, the Passo Rolle, was true to its name - we rolled right up its shallow slopes and took advantage of the feed station at the top. The descent was an absolute treat! Long, windy, smooth asphalt and completely closed roads made it possible for me to live out my Moto GP dreams, if only for 25kms. Some people had some trouble, but we raced down without problems. Maximum speed: 91.8kph. Nice.
The bottom marked the beginning of the last major ascent of the week - the Passo Cereda. It started a bit steep, but leveled off a bit before the summit and the tricky descent through what seemed like about 342 short tunnels. It was dry and sunny, but in Italy all of the road tunnels seem to be filled with water. Today, ours were also filled with cow pie residue. I am not sure why the only covered part of our ride was the only wet part, but perhaps the folks at the Servizio Strade can answer that. What it meant was that, on a lovely day, we entered the tunnels dry and emerged covered in wet cow crap. The stains are on my shorts and, as those who know me are aware, that drives me nuts!
So, irritated by being covered in grub, I put it in Classics mode and was compelled to ride as hard as I could to the finish. I was on a super day, and so was Christoph, so we set about making the pace for our group the entire way home. 60kph descents were followed by short climbs through scenic villages and we were often obligated to wait for the others in the group at the tops of the climbs. We averaged 38kph in the last hilly 1.5 hours. It felt fantastic!
Tomorrow is the last, mostly flat ride to the finish in Bibione on the Adriatic Sea. Hopefully, we will keep it upright and come home safe and sound.
Another beautiful day took us over the Passo Cibianna followed by a sunny, hot, and shadeless ascent of the Passo Staulanza. Today's route was stunning, although at 5.5 hours no easy spin. Christoph was initially feeling the effects of the last days, but came around to finish strong. I felt great all day and was never in trouble. It was hot, though, and I was really happy to see Stacey's smiling face at the finish. Apparently, convicted dope cheat Matthias Kessler only finished 15 minutes before us. I'm not sure how hard he is riding here, though, as he looks like he is just having fun.
One of the great things about racing in this part of Italy is all the support we get from the villages we pass through. Sometimes it looks like the whole village is out to cheer us on, with clapping and shouts of "bravi! bravi!" as we race through town. The support we got in South Tyrol was fantastic, but the Italians here take it to a new level. Everyone who rides should have the experience of racing in Italy once in their career. It's awesome.
Another thing worth mentioning is the diversity in nations represented here. Today I met an Austrian and a Greek, and there are Canadians, a couple of Americans, and it looks like some Kiwis in addition to the usual complement of Europeans. The Germans are by far the biggest group, and it's no surprise since the enterprise and organization are German.
Tomorrow is the last mountain stage, as the 150km to Bibione on Saturday is mostly flat. We are feeling good and, at last glance, came up a bit in the rankings today, even though we had planned to just take it steady.
Climbing the Passo Staulanza
Today was awesome! For the first time in this race it didn't rain at all on the stage, or even afterwards. It was to be a relatively easy stage, over the Passo Valparola and then, following a beautiful fast descent into Cortina d'Ampezzo, a climb over the Passo Tre Croce. The latter had some 14%+ grades, but it didn't seem hard compared to what we have already done this week.
The stage started out with a 5km descent into the town of Zwischenwasser, followed by a long false flat and then the main climb. The descent was supposed to be neutral, but despite the warning from the officials most people ignored the neutral order. I can't say I am impressed with the way many people ride here. Simply put - they're not smart. They ignore the officials, take stupid risks on descents (we saw the results of two accidents today), and don't respect other riders' safety. In addition, they seem to start every stage flat out, only to suffer later, as the minutes tick beyond the 4 hour mark. It's one thing to do that on the first one or two stages and then learn your lesson, but these people don't seem to get it. As such, Christoph and I more or less took it easy today and still gained in the classification. The distance is beginning to tell on those who don't know how to pace themselves.
It's not all irritating Germans, of course. We have met some really nice people and have had some good help in the bunch. For example, today, on the long downhill false flat into Dobbiaco, a couple of guys didn't quite understand the "faster as a group that cooperates" idea. I had a quick chat with them and soon after, with the help of a couple of big Dutch guys (who definitely know how to ride in a group in the wind, by the way), we were soon flying along at 55kph. That is when this sort of race is the most fun, and today was the best yet!
Today we managed to not get rained on for all but about 15 minutes of the stage. Really, though, it was so light you can hardly call it rain. We started the day by riding for 2 hours straight up the Wurzjoch, known to Giro d'Italia fans as the Passo delle Erbe. This climb is never steep, but very, very long. It was one of those climbs on which you actually get colder as you climb instead of warmer. By the top I had on my gloves and armwarmers - no vest, but with a thick base layer I was okay on the descent. Speaking of which, it was fast and twisty, with many decreasing radius corners and guardrails over witch there was only thin air.
The village of Zwischenwasser marked the end of the descent and the beginning of a bunch of short, sharp, leg-sapping climbs on what were basically paved goat paths. I love riding on roads like these, and it was a treat as we wound through the Tyrolean woods. One thing worth mentioning is how when events like this come through towns, everyone who is around cheers on the riders. We feel like Giro pros as we race through the often technical village centers, the crowds are so loud and supportive. This is in sharp contrast to the US, where most people just stand around and stare, mouths agape. The notable exception to this is Portland cyclocross.
Now back to our original programming....after the town of Olang, where we are staying tonight, we began the climb of the Furkelpass, also known as the Passo Furcia. It is a brute - not long at around 44 minutes for us, but with three steep sections approaching 19% grade. Since the first climb of this race, I have not once regretted putting on a 29-cassette. After the Furcia, we raced down the twisty descent to the cheers of the people of St. Vigilio and the even louder cheers of my wife. Her support here has been priceless and I always look forward to seeing her after a hard day of Alpine climbs.
Today could only be accurately described as EPIC. We began in Soelden in a downpour that only ended 5 hours and 2 Alpine passes later as we raced down into Brixen. The started out with a 16km climb up the Timmelsjoch which took us about 1:36 and up to 2,500m. These are the true high Alps and the rain, altitude, and and cold were unforgiving. On the climb I had noticed that my chain had lost all of its lubrication, so I begged some chain lube from the Team Sparkasse car (thanks, man!). That solved that problem, but worse was soon to come as the descent was treacherous, with several dimly lit tunnels and thick fog with rain pouring through it. It was miserable and, although we had donned rain jackets and gloves (in addition to the caps and long sleeve jerseys we were already wearing), I started to shiver I knew I had better eat some food as soon as I got to the bottom. I waited a few seconds for Christoph and did just that. It didn't make a lot of difference, though, as about 10 minutes from the top of the 1:42 Jauffenpass I began to see stars. Christoph took off down the descent while I had some more food and put my gloves back on. This descent was nearly empty as the bunch had exploded, so I made the most of it and quickly caught and passed several groups of riders, including Christoph! The asphalt here is different from anything I have seen in the US and seems to have a lot of traction even when wet. It's nice.
Christoph had opened it up a bit and was only 20 seconds or so behind as the road flattened out we joined a fast group on the main road to Brixen. Several of us at the front worked well together and before long we were really flying. The organizers did not want to make it easy on us, though, so they through in several more short climbs which took us far into the orchards above the town. The last descent was dry and sunny and I topped out at 87.5kph on the way down. 5 hours and 30 minutes after we started, we were finally done. Tomorrow takes in the Wurtzjoch and the Furkelpass, but the weather is forecast to be a bit better. I will post more when I have it. In the meantime you can see photos from the race at the TransAlp website.
Today saw a beautiful beginning to the race as the sun shone brightly and the temperature at the start was already a balmy 28C. The mountains where we were headed were forecast for thunderstorms, so we left with our rain capes tucked in our pockets. That would turn out to be a good move. I was nervous about the start, but being number 235, and as such able to start in the first 250, there was none of the nervousness that the first kilometers were rumoured to have. Sure, there was some dumb riding, but I saw no one fall. Some easy rollers took us to the Plansee, and then we found ourselves dropping sharply into Reutte where the road opened and the separation in the groups became more clear. Christoph and I hung in and as we approached the high mountains, we could see the rain ahead.
The first slopes of the Hahntenjoch were steep and it soon became clear which riders had given too much in the early hours. We kept a steady tempo and only stopped at the feed station to put on our rain jackets and get some extra water. The rain came within minutes and immediately we were drenched at the highest point of the day. Luckily for all of us, it was not too cold and there was no danger of freezing. That didn't keep me from keeping my jacket on all the way up the climb, though. On the descent, there were several accidents, but both us managed to avoid them. I found that, especially in the wet, it is better to go around slower riders than just stay in a group. The slow ones cause you to brake too often and always at the wrong time, actually making going slower more dangerous than just letting it flow.
The rest of the ride was a seemingly endless series of rollers into Soelden, the last in the company of Eric from VeloEuropa, who were kind enough to help me sort out a bike for this race. Having worked with Eric for several years but never met him, it was fun to finally run into each other on the first day of the TransAlp. After 5 hours and 10 minutes, we were happy to be finished and we did well to end 238th overall.
My honey arrived today and I couldn't be happier. After picking up the Focus station wagon we hired for the week, we drove to Oberammagau to sign in and pick up all the promotional materials they seem to stuff you with at these events. The one particularly useful item we each received is a huge Jeantex duffel bag. I put everything I brought into it and it is still only half full! Now we are safely in Bad Kohlgrub for the night.
The weather is beautiful, but is predicted to become quite nasty in the coming days. So, we have been preparing as best we can and we hope for the best. In the meantime, here are three of the things that make me happiest - my wife, my bike, and a the mountains:
As the race draws closer and the mood grew more anxious, I took a train into town and went to the BMW Museum in town to relax a bit and learn about these famous cars. It is a beautiful building inside and out and what I liked best was their collection of rare roadsters and the timeline of their motorbike production. The latter had one bike for every era on display and they have been building them since 1923!
In the afternoon we had a nice 4th of July barbeqeue. Christoph’s friends and extended family were there, so we took the opportunity to pose for photos with our super light climbing bikes:
We don't get them much in the Northwest US, but thunderstorms come often this time of year to Bavaria. This one was (is, actually, since it is happening as I write) particularly fierce with high winds and lots of lightning and thunder.
Just one hour earlier, Christoph and I had finished our training for the day. We made a nice, 1.5 hour loop with views of the Bavarian Alps intertwined with quiet forest roads. The day had been hot and sunny with little hint of the storm to come.
This is the view of the storm from Christoph's house:
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