The final stage of the Bike Four Peaks started with a flat 50km ride down an asphalt bike path. The first 25km of this was sketchy as we had over 300 riders onto the fairly skinny bike path. It was a non-stop battle to keep our position, as riders were overly excited to get rolling and had their elbows flying. There were also a lot of fresh cow pies getting splattered everywhere, as the cows seem to spend a lot of time travelling up and down the bike routes in Austria. On one steep descent, we caused a mini-stampede with four cows running beside us. One was a holy cow, flinging his legs and fresh cow crap everywhere. Lucky for us, the fat beef steaks kept to their own today and let us riders pass unharmed.
Eventually, we hit a steep 4km climb, which cleared things up. About mid-way up the climb was a steep hike-a-bike section that I tried using my old tree planter legs to get back with the lead group of 20. Hopping back on the bike, I used what I though was a fence post to push off of, but it was a gate that came lose and swung closed on the guys behind me. Whoops, sorry guys!
After this, the climb entered a thick forest and eventually opened up on a fireroad. I was 50ft behind the last of the lead group and gave it everything to close the gap but came up short as we hit a long traverse across the hill and then a steep fireroad descent back to the bike path. From here, I was in no man's land and eventually sat up and waited for a group of three, behind which contained my powerhouse Kona teammate Barry Wicks.
Tearing through the Austrian ranch land we would get glimpses up some of the skinny side valleys that led to gorgeous glaciated peaks. The contrast of white snow between the bright green hillsides would get any photographer horny on the camera trigger.
Once again the highlight of the day was in the feed zone as we had our four seconds of motivation from Dave. Having Dave in the feed zone is always uplifting as he has a way of putting a positive spin on the race that gives us a mental break from trying to burry ourselves trying to keep up to Euros in 20th place.
Heading up the climb, things turned more interesting the higher we went up as we ascended from pavement to logging road to semi alpine 4x4 roads. Eventually traversing around the hill to the Wildkogel-Trail. There was still a lot of snow up in the Alpine section, so the organizers had to shorten the race and take away 400 meters of vertical climbing. This prevented us from hitting the top end of the legendary trail. I think at this point in the race 99% of the field was happy to not climb anymore and instead head down towards the finish line for beers and ice cream.
Coming down the last descent was a blast as it was proper singletrack with steep pitches, rocks and roots. There aren't many better ways to end a solid four days on the bike then a 5km singletrack decent to the finish line. Picking off a couple Euros, I managed to squeeze into the top 20, which is starting to feel like a solid accomplishment over here. At the finish, riders were treated to their hard earned beers, ice cream, finisher medals and jerseys.
The sun was even out in full force, causing us to lose our T-shirts and flash around some white North American skin. What a contrast from the week before at the AlpenTour Trophy!
On the way back to Lofer tonight, we stopped in at the lakeside village of Zell am See for one last touristy lunch of Austrian cuisine. We ate like hungry hippos as all of us are battling the shock we just sent our bodies into after chasing Euros up and down mountains for the last week.
The racing was an eye opener and one heck of a good time. For now, there are a few days to relax in Salzburg visiting some friends before making the trek back to Canadian soil on Wednesday.
Thanks Austria and Germany for the great adventure!