- Cory Wallace
June 09, 2013, 15:23 BST,
June 09, 2013, 16:26 BST
Wrapping up the action at the Bike Four Peaks
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!
- Cory Wallace
June 08, 2013, 15:31 BST,
June 08, 2013, 16:37 BST
Stage 3 at the Bike Four Peaks
Stage 3 of the Bike Four Peaks was considered the "Queen stage" of this year's race as it rolled 82km over two mountains between Kirchberg and Kaprun (host of the 2002 cross country world championships).
All the beds were taken in Kirchberg, so we backtracked to Lofer to spend the night. This would've been a splendid plan, but the recent flooding and road closures meant the 38km drive turned into over an hour. No big deal right? Except for the fact when we drove by the start line at 8:10 am this morning, there were already hundreds of racers lined up. By the time we had our bikes together and pulled up to the line at 8:30, it was very clear we were going to be starting at the back. Already screwed, we figured we should at least get a warm-up in and hopped on one of the thousands of bike paths in Austria and tried to get the legs fired up for the huge climb up and over a 2000-meter peak to start the day.
As the gun went off at 9:00 am, we stood there for another 30 seconds, waiting before we could start rolling on our bikes. From here, it was go time, Kris [Sneddon], Spencer [Paxson] and I made like a bunch of angry hornets and started hammering up the sidewalks, weaving around hundreds of cyclists and eventually up to the head of the race in 10 minutes time.
Lucky for us, the start was on a wide road and was relatively slow. I looked at Kris and gave him the thumbs up as it looked like we had dodged a bullet. Nope, we got content again and drifted back into about 40th position and then the road turned into a gravel path which was still ok, until three cows got spooked and hopped in the middle of the road, blocking everyone out of the top 30. Spencer made a bold move and rode up the ditch. At the same time, one of the fat cows also moved to the ditch, pushing my teammate into a barb wired fence. With one hand on the cow's ass, and the other one on his handlebar, Spencer pushed the cow out of his way and snuck by. I was cracking up, but also getting pissed at the cows as they weren't getting out of the way.
I remember hearing about Steve Gaffney from Calgary getting kicked in the face one year by a cow he tried to pass on the Bow 80 course and wanted to avoid the same fate. Eventually the cows cooperated and we rode by them, only to have a panicked cow 100ft up the road try to jump out of his pasture. Being a fat cow, he instead went through the fence and hauled all kinds of wire into the middle of the road. All the Euros started yelling "Ashtung".
Once we got through this mess, I looked up to see the lead group over a minute up the road as they hit the first climb. It was still a lot better than the start on stage 1, but we now had our work cut out for us. One thing I have learned really fast down here is that you need to stay in your own pace and trust guys will blow up later in the race as it is too easy to go over your limit with the adrenaline running high. In Euro land, everyone is fit, so sometimes you feel like your not going as fast as you actually are.
Near the top of the climb, I put in a big effort to try and make sure I had a fast group to ride with once we hit the long, flat 35km paved bike path section on the other side of the mountain. I gained about 10 spots, getting close to the top 30, with my teammate Spencer on my tail. Reaching the summit, we came upon snowfield after snowfield, where Spencer used his mounting/dismounting cycle-cross skills to leap across the snow and gain another five spots. He left me in the cold; I tried to gain some time back by riding through a steep snow patch but ended up burying the front wheel and taking a header over the handlebars. I found out the hard way why nobody else was riding the snow.
Heading down the descent, I caught a floundering Euro on a steep section of trail as he went over the handlebars. Seeing he was ok, I started to chuckle a bit, but then hit a large route and cracked my nuts into my seat. This was a bad experience and some riders were soon passing me on the trail for the first time all week as I was holding tears back trying to keep my focus while not worrying too much about having children in the future.
Finally down the descent, I had a fit Euro catch me from behind and from here we started ticking the kilometers away and catching riders one by one. Eventually our group swelled to seven riders, which was great for pace-lining against he headwind as we neared the 65km mark and the final 10km climb to end the day. The base of this climb was up a steep, wet grass ski hill. It was like riding through molasses and sucked away every once of energy we had left.
Hitting the top of this bruiser, we were awarded with another 8km climb up a gravel-logging road to the drop in of the 2002 world championships downhill course. I passed Spencer half way up the climb. He was contending for a spot on the USA Olympic cross country team last year and can rip. This is his first stage race, though, and he hit the wall 3.5 hours into the race today, like so many other riders do on day 3 of such a hard race. He later told me he felt like he was pregnant halfway up the climb and was having hot flashes. Knowing Spencer, he will likely rebound just fine tomorrow and rip up the final three hours of racing we have left on what has been a memorable Euro trip.
The final downhill into Kaprun was a rough trail cutting across cut blocks. I had to shake my arms out a couple times before I hit the bottom as some massive arm pump was going on.
Coming into the finish line, there were again riders right ahead of and behind me as it is always an all out sprint right to the end. Right now, we are all pretty wrecked and in need of some days of R&R. I know I'm starting to crack when I start ordering vanilla sundaes for lunch rather then spinach salads.
Tomorrow is the final stage of what has been a splendid tour of the Alps. It is guaranteed to end with a bang as we will trudge up a 2100-meter peak to top out once again on top of the Austrian World before plummeting down the legendary Wildkogel-Trail into the village of Neukirchen.
- Cory Wallace
June 06, 2013, 20:08 BST,
June 06, 2013, 21:13 BST
Mixing it up with the favorites on stage 2
Hopping in a cold shower this morning, I new it was going to be a good day on the bike as my body embraced the freezing water. Yesterday, my body shied away from the cold shower. I'm starting to figure the response to the cold shower is a sign of how much my body will adapt to the suffering on the bike that day.
The whole cold shower idea came about last week during the AlpenTour Trophy, when our team masseuse Katharina started giving me a bad time about starting so slowly every stage. She told me in a very a matter of fact way that a cold shower is necessary first thing every morning to properly wake up. It seems to be working.
Stage 2 of the Bike Four Peaks started in downtown Lofer, a small Austrian ski town surrounded by towering Alps. It reminds me of Lake Louis Canada, although a bit bigger with 2,000 residents and 2,500 tourist beds.
The start was hard as we cruised up some bike paths for a few kilometeres before hitting the first climb of the day, a 700m vertical 7km climb. The fireworks went off early and once the smoke cleared, I found myself going over the top in the mid 20s with my teammate Barry Wicks alongside. The backside desent was a steep gravel-logging road that tested my nerves as I drifted around corners trying to keep up to the kamikaze Euros. The Euro riders embrace these sketchy downhills and really let their bikes fly down them. Once the descents turn to trail, our contingent on Team Kona has a huge North American advantage, and we must ask politely for other riders to pull into the slow lane so we can rip by.
As we hit the bottom of the first descent, Barry and I bridged up to a small group ahead and started hammering down the bike path as we could see the lead group not far in the horizon. I was leading as we came around a corner with a small gate ahead and two large cows guarding the entrance. Remembering the cows chasing the rider across the field yesterday, I tensed my shoulders up and tried to size up the cows, giving them the old headshake to chase them away. They didn't budge; I crossed my fingers and split within inches through the middle of them.
Soon after this, we caught the lead pack, which swelled to 30 riders. We cruised for over an hour on gravel and asphalt cycling paths through the impressive Austrian countryside. Ex marathon world champion Christoph Sauser and Alban Lakata switched off pulling the group along. It was a bit of an uncomfortable pace for us just to hang on in the draft, but the thought of losing the group and falling into no-man's land was enough motivation for us to hang in there.
Just before the final 12km climb of the day, Barry and I came through the last feed zone with empty bottles, crossing our fingers our support man Dave Mcnaught had made it there all right. It was a huge relief to see him, I don't think support staff at bike races get the acknowledgment they deserve sometimes as us biker racers are often blown out of our minds, but trust me when I say we greatly appreciate the help and would be in a rough spot without it!
Heading up the climb, Barry and I settled into the only pace we had left and drug our bikes and ourselves up over the top. The thought of the long singletrack ahead was the dangling carrot ahead of us, which we finally got to devour. First, we had to take a second to look around, as we were high up on another ridge with a million dollar view surrounding us. I know they say the province of British Columbia in Canada is the "most beautiful place on earth" but I am starting to think that sign should read "one of the many beautiful places on earth". As far as I can tell, there are a lot of amazing places in this world and the place we are currently riding our bikes in the Austrian Alps in one of them.
Barry and I were excited to be finally heading into the long singletrack descent to the finish. The Euros had just put us in our place going up the climb, and now it was time for some revenge. We cruised through some snow patches, down some soggy ski runs and eventually into some pretty solid rooty singletrack which will be part of the marathon world championship course in a couple weeks. Within the first half of the descent, we passed five riders and we continued on like a couple of wolves tracking down its prey. Too bad for us we had lost enough time on the climb that we caught no other riders. We eventually came to the finish line in 19th and 20th place, with 13th place just one minute ahead. We needed another few kilometers of singletrack, which we didn't get but we were stoked to be done another hard day against the Euros.
Our Kona teammate Spencer [Paxson] rolled across a few minutes later in 23rd, with Kris [Sneddon] coming in soon after in 26th to round out another solid day for the North American contingent. It's always nice to be in contention for the win, but sometimes too get better you need to jump in with the sharks (top racers in the world) and lay your cards on the line. We now see the cards the other guys are playing and will need to show up with a few more tricks up our sleeves to close the gap in the future. For now, we are really enjoying the European hospitality and are trying to soak in as much of this culture as we can during any time we get off the bikes.
With five hard days of racing in the legs this Euro trip, and two more to go, we are starting to feel the effects and are splitting our spare time between napping and eating. It's getting to the point where eating is starting to feel like a real chore.
Tomorrow, we will continue to bang our heads against the wall as we line up at the base of a 12km climb to start the third stage, which is also the longest at just over 80km long.
- Cory Wallace
June 05, 2013, 20:42 BST,
June 05, 2013, 22:00 BST
A tour of the Bavarian countryside as race kicks off
Bike Four Peaks is a four-day mountain bike stage race covering 295 kilometers and 8,800 meters of climbing through some of the most beautiful parts of the Austrian and German Alps.
Stage 1 was 69km leading over some small mountains from Ruhpolding, Germany to Lofer Austria. It started with a 20-kilometer neutral start on the highway as the original route had been recently washed out by torrential rains. After getting screwed over pretty good in the first stage of the AlpenTour in Austria last week, my three North American Kona teammates (Kris Sneddon, Barry Wicks, Spencer Paxson) and myself were determined to have a better opener for this race.
Kris made the first solid move 3km into the neutral start right after being swarmed by a bunch of slower riders from the back. He took the matter into his own hands and rode through the outside patio of a roadside café to gain back his top 20 position with Barry at the head of the 900-rider field. Spencer and I spent 40 minutes of the neutral start fighting to stay in the top 50 and were doing great when the lead car pulled off and the race began. There was a big problem, though, as the course immediately turned left off the highway and backtracked beside the highway for a couple hundred meters.
I saw the first cheater drop down off the highway, cutting across the ditch and thus going from around 400th position to top 20. All I could say to Spencer was "Uh oh" as 300 other cheaters did the same move, thus swarming us and acting like a giant funnel. Spencer and I went from top 40 to 300+ position in a matter of 10 seconds.
I was laughing, but a little pissed and wanted to jersey the boneheads who were cutting course. We were screwed and came to a stand still for a long time; a couple riders jumped a barbwire fence beside us and started cheating their way across a farmer's field. To the entertainment of everyone, a bull chased after one of the boneheads, but unfortunately didn't get him.
After a three-minute hike up the side of the cluster bomb of riders, we were finally able to hop on our bikes and start racing, now minutes behind the leaders but at least we were moving. I wanted to body check every rider I passed over the next hour as I knew they had cut the course, but I was too busy trying save my race.
From here, the race was rad as we road over some beautiful Bavarian countryside full of lots of history dating back to 1806, when Bavaria was first proclaimed a kingdom. The track was full of diverse riding as we ripped along gravel roads, paved bike paths, up a river canyon and finally up a large climb onto a sub-Alpine plateau. It was a beautiful ride; the closer we neared to the finish line in Lofer the larger the mountains got. It was unreal racing under the huge glaciated Alps, making it often difficult to focus on the task on hand of riding are bikes at full speed down the mountainside.
Coming into Lofer the track was now mostly bike paths with a bit of singletrack mixed in making it a solid finish as I chased down a top 30 position. Much like the AlpenTour Trophy, the racing was tight to the end with Euro riders within seconds of each other all throughout the day.
After the race, we washed our bikes with firehoses, ate plentiful finish line food and basked in the sun for the first time since we arrived to Europe over a week ago.
Tonight we are resting up in the mountains at our historical Bavarian lodging as we prep for what promises to be another spectacular ride through the Alps tomorrow!
- Cory Wallace's Bike Four Peaks Blog
Endurance mountain bike racer Cory Wallace is racing the Bike Four Peaks in Germany and Austria from June 5-8. Follow him here as he details his adventures each day.