The Alpen Tour is 4 day stage race taking part in the Austrian Alps surrounding the world famous ski town of Schladming. It’s the largest UCI sanctioned race for solo riders outside of the Crocodile Trophy in Australia and attracts a load of top guns looking for World ranking points and $. Last year Team Kona came here with 4 of us riders and we were welcomed to the European climbing insanity with a mix of rain, sleet, snow and eventually a cancelled last stage. It was memorable in a weird frozen type of way as we battled hard for our 21st-35 overall positions in the very deep field. This year the field was a little smaller at around 300 riders versus 350, but the depth up front was insane with 13 National Champions. Fields like this are rarely seen anywhere outside of World cups or Championship races.
Tackling the race solo, it was a bit of a show just getting there after landing in Munich and finding out my rental car booked at $300 for 2 weeks, was going to cost $1100 with the mandatory insurance the Germans require. “So you will take the car then?,” . Ha, hell no!, I mean no thanks. Where’s the train station? The train ended up taking a little longer then driving but was scenic and a relaxing way to travel into the Alps. After a couple days getting over the jet lag and cruising into the Alpine it was time to get the games started.
Stage 1- Stage 1 started off with a 14 km, 1100 M vertical climb up to the top of the ski lifts in Schladming Austria. The start here last year was crazy with myself being the polite Canadian, ending up in about 200th position after the neutral start. This year I got serious and put bar ends on and managed to jab 2 different guys which weren’t abiding to the neutral start rules. This worked great as I defended my top 10 start position, but soon enough the fun was over as the start pistol went off and we headed towards the heavens.
There’s no hiding in the pack in this sort of race, everyone is exposed and left to fend for themselves with whatever climbing legs they have. This one is built for European and South American mountain goats as right after the big climb, we turned our bikes straight down a 8 km fire road descent to get to the start of the next 1000 m vertical climb. Single track isn’t favoured in European racing thus most descents take place at a million miles an hour down gravel roads. This way you can get to the start of the next climb right away without wasting time playing around on trails. It is quite an adjustment from single track heaven over in Canada but makes you really fit really fast. I was struggling on this day and was quickly drifting out of the top 30 as the legs were not on board. Some days you got it, other days you got jack sh*t.
On the second climb we headed into the alpine surrounding ourselves with majestic lakes and hanging glaciers. There were still snow patches on the ground but the high tundra was starting to come to life with some early vegetation and flowers. It was rad, we even hit some single track which catapulted me into the top 20. From here we descended alongside a crystal clear creek full of trout back towards Schladming. It was a great place to race a bike and made for some great moments amongst a lot of dizziness and short breath ness. Capping stages 1,3 and 4 at the Alpentour is a 2 km piece of bermed single track heading into the finish at the base of the ski lifts. I must admit the Alpen Tour does a pretty good job putting whatever trails there are around into the stages, unfortunately there just aren’t many trails in the area. I was chasing Chiles national champ down this last descent and got a little too excited to be back on trail, crashing hard on my shoulder I just dislocated for the 4th time before coming over here. For some unknown reason it stayed in its socket and I hit the finish line as the happiest 19th place guy ever.
Stage 2 was a 14km, straight up to the top of the ski hill. 58 minutes of cross eyed ness on this day. At the top was an illusion as it looked like 90% of the Euros were catching the chairlift back down the mountain instead riding the single track descent. I didn’t understand. In Canada we take lifts up the mtns so we can ride sweet trail down. Here they were riding gravel roads up so they could take the lift down!? I was confused by the whole situation and had to get out of there to regain my sanity. Opting to take trail #51 down the backside of the mountain instead of the popular flow trail down the front was questionable move as it seemed pretty overgrown and built more for hikers. I eventually got down to some overgrown creek, bush wacked out of there and then cruised through the peaceful and very clean Austrian countryside back to basecamp. It is impressive how well the Austrians look after the homes and acreages with everything from stacks of firewood to there cow paddocks organized and clean as a whistle.
Stage 3 was a highlight, riding 70 km, 2900 vertical, with even some small sections of single trail mixed in. The first climb was over an hour long up to the famous Dachstein mountain. For the first time in my career I managed to stick with the worlds elite climbing up there, yo-yoing off the lead pack of 13 riders. The only thing that saved me were 3 or 4 small sections of trail which I could regain contact with the group each time. My eyes rolled to the back of my head with the effort and eventually the engine blew as we neared the top.
From here I would ride with a couple of Russians for the next 1.5 hours. We got lost at one point as we couldn’t see any signs. Instead of taking the boring switchback road down the mountain, we followed a couple other riders straight down the tramline. It was the best riding all week as we hung off the back of the saddles skidding down the mountainside. It seemed insanely hard for the race. At the bottom it occurred to us we were off track as we hit a dead end at an active luge track. We crawled under it so we wouldn’t get taken out by ay luges, hiked through some bushes. then popped out at the bottom of the ski slope, across from were the lame gravel road track came out. We got a weird look from the 20+ so spectators who pointed us back on track. It was the raddest part of the whole week, although it probably cost us a couple minutes as we spent a lot of time getting past the luge track. From here it was another hour of cross eyed climbing to roll in for 14th on the day.
Stage 4 began with tired legs as we road up and down fire roads before hitting the final 13 km, 1100 M ascent. My heart rate wouldn’t go above 150 for the first half of this climb, which sent me from the top 15 back to 25th or so. Half way up the switch turned on and the heart rate charged back up to 162-165 allowing me to plow into 15th to finish the stage. I’m not a scientist but I think fatigue may have something to do with the low heart rates on the last day. 3 back to back to back 20-25 hr training weeks before this race may have been part of it. Overall I would wind up 16th on gc, 1 place out of the money but I was stoked for getting my Canadian beef over all those mountains ahead of a lot of pencil necks!
Racing over in Europe is a good way to humble your ego as there are loads of fit guys and often the races are 1 dimensional meaning it comes down 100% to how fast you can climb. The top 10 in this race was World Class, from 11-40 you had to fight every second to keep your position. I could hold my own around 14-18th on the climbs which should translate into some solid results in the coming months when I hit more multi-dimensional races.
Next up is the Sellronda Hero in the Italian Dolomites. This 84 km, 4200 M vertical race attracts over 3000 riders and will be the World Marathon Champs in 2015. The Mongolian bike challenge paid for most my flight over here and arranged everything for the Italian part of the trip were I will be joining MBC organizer Willy Mulonia and one of his partners Roberto. Huge thanks to these guys along with Rob Fawcett back in Canada, and Kona for making this trip a possibility!