Alpen Tour

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!

 

 

Nimby 50

The Nimby 50 is quickly becoming one of the go to races here in Canada.  At just over 37km long the distance is manageable and the riding is unforgettable as it takes you up to some terrific views over the beautiful Pemberton valley before sending you down a fairly gnarly xc decent and eventually onto some tough rolling terrain to the finish . 1 lap is hard,  2 laps would be unreal for a Marathon race which I’ve been trying to convince the organizers of doing one year in a Nimby called “Cowboy up”.  For now the 1 lap still leaves us riders with a bit of energy to enjoy  the great BBQ after on the acres of North Arm Farm.  The setting is perfect situated below the craggy Mt Currie, and the food is fresh, apparently local and some even right from the farm!   What makes the Nimby really cool is the organizers have put an Enduro into the race, which is a 6 minute + timed descent down Overnight Sensation.  This adds a race within the race and makes it interesting to see how us spandex laden xc guys stack up against some of the local dh and freeride specialists in the area.  My Kona Hei Hei dualie was chomping at the bit to tackle this rough technical race.

 

Good buddy Dave Mcnaught and I camped out the night before up in the mountains at Mosquito lake.  Thankfully the lake didn’t live up to its name.  Dave was our Kona Mechanic the last few years so it was great to get to catch up and bring back some old memories sitting around the campfire telling stories.  After a jump in the lake to wake up in the morning it was back off to the valley to gear up for the race!

 

This year the race was pretty quick with World Cup podium guy Max Plaxton around to set the pace.  I stuck with him for the first part of the 100 switchback climb before he slowly pulled away, .2 seconds every switchback to be the first up to the Paraglide launch about 1:30 ahead of myself.  Behind me were Ricky Federau in his baggie shorts and t-shirt, and XC Canada Cup guy Evan Guthrie from Kelowna.  These two are possibly the two best downhill xc racers in Canada and had me pinning it up the climb so I could gap them enough before the enduro section down overnight sensation.  Luckily I had big enough gap to hold these two off on the descent (which they finished ranked #1 and 3 on).  From here it was 45 minutes of punchy climbs and great fun over some technical rocky terrain before rolling into the finish line at the farm.  Plaxton had a good ride to take the win in just over 2 hours with myself coming in 2nd,  2:30 minutes behind, followed up by Ricky and Evan a bit later.

All in all it was another great weekend at the races and a real treat to be back racing in Canada as we do have the coolest courses here!  The Nimby organizers (Terry Evans, Russ Wood & Dean Linnel) are big mountain bikers themselves and put up a descent prize purse to help support us racers which we greatly appreciate.  They give back to the trails here as well and deserve a lot of respect for the effort required to pull off this event every year and what they bring to the sport out here on the west coast.

Back to Victoria for the week for some last few days of training before heading over to Europe to tackle the 4 day Alpen Tour in the Austrian Alps.  The build up continues towards the World Marathon Championships in South Africa at the end of the month…!

 

Home Turf- Nimby 50

Since last August I had spent a total of 3 weeks at home in Victoria BC.  It has been epic, lots of great times overseas, a bit of time up North in the patch working and then also a week visiting mom in Jasper.   Every once in a while you need a break though, some time to kick back and spread your belongings out.  A chance for some home cooked food and good old Canadian past times like watching Hockey night in Canada or some Beavers build a dam.

I had big plans to hit the ground running when I returned from Australia but my mind and body had other ideas.  Landing in Canada on May 6th it was off to Kona USA to pick up the new rigs and visit with the Bellingham based Kona crew.  On the way back into Canada I learned a lesson on importing goods.  I must of had a four leaf clover stuck to my shoe as the border guards gave me a get of jail free card on this one.  All I can say is don’t monkey around with the Border dudes as they are clever and have the power to run your show.

From here my body had the full meltdown and I spent a few days holed up in my Condo in Victoria trying to battle out the jet lag and a drained system from pushing overly hard the past few months.   Luckily I escaped without being overcome by an emerging sickness, in big thanks to a diet of garlic, apple cider vinegar, oil of oregano and vitamin C.  It takes a while to bounce back from these long trips overseas and I’m slowly becoming more accepting of this although it can be a bit depressing going from the highs of travelling and racing back to normal life.  

Having the past 3 weeks in Vic has been stellar, a little side trip up to Barrier to visit my Dad and Eileen to ride horses around one weekend was a nice break from everything.   They spend there summers in the backcountry camping and exploring around the mountains with there horses which is super rad.  Getting to tag along once in a while is always a treat. 

Also in the mix was a fun race up in Cumberland, part of the Island Cup Series.  This is the grassroots of mountain bike racing and what this sport is suppose to be all about with a chill atmosphere, BBQ’i ng, great single track courses and good company.  Other then that the days have been full of getting my Canadian life back up an running, a bunch of good training, and some good chilling out at Nourish Café.  The boys down at Russ Hayes bike shop helped get the new rigs dialed in and are always around there shop sending off good energy into the cycling world. Every time I come back to Victoria I appreciate it more and more for being a perfect place to call home for a bike racer as this town has everything an athlete needs and then some.

Next up on the schedule is an emerging Canadian mountain bike classic called the Nimby 50 over in Pemberton this weekend.   It’s only in its 5th year but has quickly gained a reputation of being one of the most technicaly demanding and fun 2 hour races around and quickly sells out its 400 spots.   It starts with a 100 switch back climb up a mountain, followed by an epic decent, eventually finishing up with a flowing 40 minutes through rocky rough terrain to the finish line. All capped off with a solid after party-BBQ on a country farm.  Canadian mountain biking is a thing of beauty as the courses we have out here on the west coast are second to none! Can’t wait for this one.