The final day of racing during stage 8 at the TransAlp
Today we raced stage 8, the final day from Trento to Riva del Garda, Italy. The atmosphere at the start today in Trento was pretty cool. People were definitely psyched to rip the last stage and reach the finish. There's a wide variety of racers in this event, from pros to weekend warriors. But by far the majority of people are not racing each other, or shooting for a particular placement or time. Instead they are simply striving to finish. Riva - the traditional TransAlp finish - is elevated to religious status as riders fix the place in their minds as their solitary focus for a week of deep suffering.
The finish-line celebrations in Riva are awesome. Since the race is focused on two-man teams, reaching the finish together seems a bit more special than finishing solo. The past eight days have included many tests of each team's ability to stay together. Inevitably, each rider has good days and bad days, and these typically don't line up with their partner's. Of course, this equals some frustrations, some difficulties, and certainly some cheerleading and encouragement. But it isn't easy, and to make it thru these challenges and arrive in Riva together is emotional for every team.
The course today was awesome. The big Alps are behind us, and the highest point today was only 1,000 meters above sea level, instead of the 2,500m in days past. We raced fast and in tight-packed groups. Some rain (thankfully, not cold) brought muddy and slippery singletrack, and we really loved getting back into our element. Don't get me wrong - it was still epic.
The opening climb rose 2,800 feet and lasted nearly an hour an average nine percent grade. But the other climbs were short and we had some very sweet scenery. The final hour was a long valley run to Garda, and we linked up with a strong group of guys who pace-lined down the bike path and slalomed thru the villages with great teamwork. I think there were five or six different nationalities in the group, and it was great to blaze along at a breakneck pace toward the finish.
The atmosphere at finish town of Riva La Garda is just awesome. It’s great to see so many weary racers with their commemorative finishers jerseys on. Whether walking around eating gelato or sitting at the pizzerias enjoying great food and large beers they are all celebrating a job well done. Congrats go out to all the racers and the sponsors for a fantastic event.
We must tip our hats to the race organization of the TransAlp which seemed to operate like you'd expect from a respected German company. There were likely hiccups along the way, but from our perspective everything seemed to run very smoothly. All the stages started on time, the courses were very well marked and thankfully there was always something to eat and drink at the feed zones and finish line. Not only do the promoters provide a great race, they also do many other things to ensure racers have a good experience. One example is the racer's luggage delivery system. Prior to the race all racers need to submit hotel information for each night of the TransAlp. At 7:00 am our bags were picked up at our hotel and then delivered to our next hotel. Note, there are nearly 1,200 racers in hotels all over the host towns and they pick up and drop off bags for every racer. Only one time were our bags not at our hotel when we arrived. Luckily it was the nicest hotel we stayed at on the entire trip so they gave us white robes and slippers to use while we waited for our bags. Now that was a sight to see!
As a side note, we were both excited to see Cadel Evans crush it in today’s Tour de France time trial. As you know he was a professional mountain biker back in the day and we can both remember racing against him. We didn’t meet any Aussies here at this year’s TransAlp, but we’re sure they are celebrating for Cadel tonight! Cheers mate!
Well, it is time to celebrate a big meal (or two) and some cold beverages. Thanks for following along on our adventure, and stay tuned for a final wrap up and hopefully some additional photos in the coming days.
Stage 7: How riding TransAlp is so different than any other mountain bike race
The penultimate stage of the 2011 TransAlp mountain bike race took place today and even though it was longest stage in terms of distance (120km). It was the most enjoyable stage for us. Maybe it had to do with the fact there was only one major climb and it was mostly rolling terrain to the finish - or the fact that the finish line is in sight tomorrow.
The course in a given day at the TransAlp typically includes a wide variety of terrain and surfaces. By far, the majority is gravel roads.
These are usually very old routes built for transportation over the high passes and valleys. They are pretty smooth and a consistent grade.
Nowadays they are used for recreation and access for mountain huts, hiking, skiing, and even stuff like logging or other commercial uses. We spend a lot of time on these, both uphill and downhill. On some of the huge climbs, we'll ride a road like this for an hour or even two. I have to say they suck for descending because they are often loose and have a thousand hairpins.
We also ride a lot of pavement. Usually narrow, winding, and really well-built alpine roads. These are sweet roads, especially going down where you have to really fly to maintain your position. No, it is not mountain biking, but it is part of the race.
Portions of today’s stage felt like we were descending a huge mountain in the Giro d’Italia. We bombed down some paved roads, which at times were a 20 percent grade. The difference between the Giro d’Italia and the TransAlp is that the roads we are racing on are open to the public. Open to huge trucks, crazy Italians in sports cars who think they are Mario Andretti and kids on scooters who think they are Valentino Rossi. Maybe we are just getting a bit old, but it is downright frightening descending a narrow, twisty road you’ve never been on before at 50 or 60kph and having no clue if a car is coming around the next blind switchback! In our mini-peloton today, there were some good descenders who took some big risks. We hung on for dear life.
The TransAlp is definitely not a "mountain bike" race like you would typically have in the US. It is more of a epic off-road endurance challenge with lots of road racing types of terrain and tactics. There is plenty of rough terrain and various segments of singletrack, hiking trail, cow trail, technical doubletrack, and even moments with no trail at all.
But there is zero purpose-built mountain bike trail, and the amount of other "trail" is probably only five percent of the distance. We sure wish there was more trail, but that is simply the style of the TransAlp.
Other stuff we encounter on a typical day: ripping through towns and villages, dodging down narrow alleys, and hammering on paved bike paths.
This stuff is just plain crazy at race speed and when also open to traffic. No matter how many stages we do, it is something we don't get used to. It is just amazing they can accept and/or manage the risk of 1,000 racers on this stuff.
It seems at this stage in the event, more of the racers are loosening up a bit. Maybe they are tired or just now realize with only two stages to go they are more or less locked into a certain place in the general classification. Today our group caught up to a racer on a climb and he turned on some hip-hop on his phone and started riding one-handed wheelies. Later on, guys in our group were sharing bottles and offering food to riders in need. It was the first time we had seen this stuff since the race started. We've been more relaxed than the riders around us it seems, having pretty much come to grips with the big time gaps and understanding that seconds don't count.
We have ventured south of the Dolomites and are now in Trento, Italy.
Tomorrow is the final stage of the 2011 TransAlp and after 74km and a few big climbs, we are going to be very happy to see Lake Garda!
Stage 6 is complete. Another nearly 50 miles and 10,000 vert. Today we are gonna write a bit about food... hmmm... I wonder why food is on our mind...
In every stage of the TransAlp there are two feed zones spaced on the race-course. However when you are riding for more than four hours, two feed zones is just not enough. We start each stage with two full bottles and a pocket full of Clif Shots. By the time we hit the first feed zone both bottles are dry and we need to stop to fill up. The top teams all have support staff handing up full bottles and food at many different locations, but when you're flying solo like us and most riders, we have to stop. It's not much of a big deal because we are pretty far behind the leaders on general classification, and losing a few seconds at each feed zone is worth it. Plus, the courses and climbs here are so long and punishing, not stopping could easily mean not making it to the finish. Truth be told, even with food, we are finding it hard to get to the finish line!
During the first stage when our muscles cramped badly, we were forcibly reminded we needed more electrolytes. The body can only process so many carbohydrates at a given time and electrolytes are key to preventing cramps. Luckily a Euro/UK nutritional company, High-5, is sponsoring the race and we were able to secure some electrolyte tablets to add to our drink mix during each feed. Now we have a system. When we arrive at a feed zone, we open the tops of our bottles and yell out, "High-5!" The feed zone support staff fills the bottle while we pull out a couple of electrolyte tables and drop them in the bottle, screw the caps on and we are off pedaling. If we are really hurting (which is often) we might grab half a banana and an energy bar. A running source of comedy for us in the small tomatoes and sliced cucumbers at the feed zones too. Maybe the Germans are on to something we don't know about, but a salad is not really what we are craving when about to bonk.
At the conclusion of each stage there is a big product expo and finish village. A bunch of food and drinks is provided for the riders. One type of food we've come to really enjoy - and crave - at the finish is a strange German product called "Tischlein Deck Dich." Its name comes from a German fairy tale with a magic table of food that is constantly replenished. Brandon and I have come to refer to it as porridge, but it is really just cooked mixed grains with chopped veggies. The main ingredient is quinoa. They prepare one warm batch that is served sweet, like oatmeal with cream and sugar. But our favorite is served savory style, loaded with condiments like olive oil, season salt, pesto, and parmesan. This stuff is far and away the weirdest post-race food I've ever had, but it also the best.
Today the course passed over the Passo Rolle, a monumental pass surrounded by stunning peaks and beauty in every direction. The area is grand on a scale of Yosemite or Yellowstone in America. There were hundreds of tourists and alpine hikers on the roadside and meadows. And right thru the middle of it passed the TransAlp racers, 1,000 strong. It is amazing how bike races are allowed in almost any location in Italy, and Europe in general. It is a striking contrast to the U.S., where so many places are off-limits to races. I'm sure there are places where races are not allowed in Italy, but I think generally they have it pretty good. Having said this, these alpine areas in the Dolomites are pretty heavily impacted in general compared to our protected parks.
On the results side, we finished 10th today but we have not checked in at the results board to see our overall standing. We are still riding good, and didn't run into any problems other than some really tired legs and waning energy. Six stages in the books and we have had zero crashes or mechanicals. Knock on wood, but we are pretty happy with that record. We've definitely turned back the throttle as the race progresses and the front runners open up a pretty massive gap on us. I'd like to say we are slowing down to enjoy the spectacle, but more than that we are just plain whupped. On the plus side, we are the top placed Americans, and I think (hope) we are still in the top 50 overall. Yea! Todays ride on Strava: http://app.strava.com/rides/982327
"Crap," I (Brandon) said to myself as I woke up to the pitter-patter of rain as it fell on the balcony outside our hotel room the morning of stage 5. For the second time in three days, we were going to start a stage in the 2011 TransAlp in the pouring rain. We were also going to climb above 2000 meters, into the snow, and descend again, which meant we were going to freeze our asses off.
My teammate, Pete and I are woefully unprepared for freezing rain, and for that matter snow. Sure, we have arm and knee warmers, long-finger gloves, light jackets and vests, but we just didn't anticipate it to be so cold.
Since we were so ill-prepared for such horrible weather, we had to use some small plastic bags we purchased at a local market to make sock covers and over-mittens. We also had to ask for trash bags, which we wore as ponchos for the start of the race when there is so much road spray. We also pulled hotel shower-caps over our helmets, and loaded wool hats and extra jackets into our packs.
Our feeble attempt to stay dry and warm was fruitless. By the time we reached the top of today's first major climb, I was soaked like a drowned rat and therefore I suffered badly on the long, cold descent. If you are a cyclist, you know that light jackets, knee warmers, and other basic gear is no match for a 45-minute descent in freezing rain. My body was frozen to the core, and all I could focus on was not losing grip on my handlebars.
At the start of they stage the announcer mentioned they may cut the stage short of the summit of the second huge climb for safety reasons. The second mountain went even higher than the first climb which meant it would be even colder with more snow. As luck would have it, I was just starting to recover some tiny bit of warmth when we passed through the first feed zone and a woman was holding a tiny, hand-written sign that simply said "Finish 20k." This meant no second mountain top, and it was the first time I smiled all day. (Insert from Pete: Actually Brandon smiled all morning and during the first hour of racing, as usual. It was only on the downhill that he became grim -- and hypothermic.)
My smile didn't last too long because after we finished the abbreviated stage, we still had to ride to the finish town which was 30km away... including climbing over and descending the Passo Falzarego. For those of you at home who do not know the Passo Falzarego, either Google it or just think big-ass-Giro d'Italia-climb. The ascent was not too bad because we were still cold and wet, so hard pedaling warmed us up. (But really hurts the legs.) What nearly killed me was the descent. I can't get over how long some of the road descents are here in Italy. They seem to go on forever -- and are even longer when your lips are blue and you can't feel your fingers or toes.
Pete Continues: The epicness of the weather was thankfully accompanied by the beauty of the region and the finish village of Alleghe. We are here in the Dolomites, and for me these are the most stunning mountains in the world. Massive spires of rock erupt skyward everywhere you look, and beautiful towns nestle in deep valleys. Today we passed the Cinque Torre, or 5 Towers, and the view of these vertical fingers of rock helped Brandon and I crawl over the Falzarengo and make it to Alleghe.
We also passed thru the famous olympic town of Cortina during the stage, and a glimpse of the legendary ski runs and bobsled track gave us some motivation.
What amazed me most about today was the flat-out toughness of the racers. Brandon and I have suffered thru our share of really cold days on the bike, and I like to think I'm tough, but after today I have a renewed respect and awe for how tough many of the TransAlp racers are. Most riders had similar kit to ours, and many had less. Yet they pushed on without a word of complaint. One rider even blazed passed us on the downhill with only shorts and a short-sleeve jersey for insulation!
Today we finished 12th, and slipped one spot to 7th on the G.C. I think. We backed off our pace to preserve whatever warmth we could, and made a handful of pit stops to shift clothing. We're a bit surprised we didn't lose more time, and are glad to be hanging in the top part of our class. With the top 3 places way out in front, we are happy to ride without fighting for every minute. Three stages still remain, and I'm sure they will be as taxing as the five completed so far. Let's just hope the sun comes out!
Pete and Brandon comment on a day of beauty in TransAlp on stage 4
As I type this I (Brandon) am sitting outside my hotel, which happens to be conveniently located at the finish of stage four of the 2011 Transalp in St. Vigil, Italy. It is 6:00pm in the evening and there are still teams crossing the finish line. We started at 9:00am. For those of you who can’t do the math, that is nine hours on the bike! For most of the Transalp competitors these difficult stages are some of the most enduring days they will ever experience on a bicycle. After the pros, masters and serious amatuers have finished, the enthusiasts come in by the dozens.
Long after the winners have eaten and taken a massage, there are still hundreds of riders still to finish. And, as they cross the line, they hold hands, high-five each other or let out a loud yell in a hearthfelt celebration of accomplishment. In my opinion, this is the essence of these multi-day endurance events. Hell, it’s the essence of mountain biking. Riding with your buddy, enjoying the scenery, pedaling hard and enjoying a cold beer afterwards.
Before I sat down to write this blog there were two guys sitting next to me who raced for nearly eight hours today. They did not go to their gear bags for a recovery drink, wipe down their dirty legs or check the results. These guys grabbed a seat at the café and ordered two large beers and toasted the day’s accomplishments. For me to witness this, it was a thing of beauty and really helped me put this event into perspective.
A couple days ago, we were approached by Bjoern Kafka, senior editor for Bike Magazine of Germany. They are doing a story on several teams competing in the Transalp for the first time. With the pain in our legs and lower back at each stage, Pete and I are wondering the same thing!
Bjoern and his photogragher Oliver have been interviewing us and snapping photos on and off the bike for a future magazine article. I think there are waiting for us to crack, and come crawling across the finish line begging for mercy. They may get their wish soon. This race is hard! So, so hard.
We faired well in stage 4, the Queen Stage of the Transalp, even though there were some climbs so long and steep it felt as though doing repetitions on a leg press machine with someone hammering your quadriceps with a sledge for 45 minutes. Tomorrow is stage 5 from St. Vigil to Alleghe, Italy - 74 more kilometers of difficult climbs and amazing views. I think we might stop for a slice of pizza and beer tomorrow on the way.
Pete and Brandon recount another crazy day in Austria on stage 3
We woke today to the sound of running water. It was the rain pouring off our hotel. I (Pete) had been praying the forecast for heavy weather would be incorrect, but a full-on storm had moved in and chilly temps with it.
It wasn't the rain in the village that had me worried, it was the knowledge that the top of the Pfitscherjoch pass 3,000 feet above us would be snow and frozen, with an hour-long descent on the other side in soaked clothing.
On the other hand, we've ridden in nasty weather before, and we had all sorts of tricks planned to stay warm. We wore our camelbaks, but instead of bringing a bladder full of water, we stuffed them with warm kit. Wool hats, dry wool gloves, rain jackets, rain vests, and dry knee warmers. We also had plastic bags to slip over our hands for extra rain and wind protection, and a sheet of thin foam to stuff up the jumper as an insulating and wind-blocking inner layer.
The stage started directly uphill, and the route would stay uphill for the next 2 hrs and 15 minutes (3 hours for many teams). The climb had everything: asphalt, singletrack, gravel, inky-black tunnels, soaring waterfalls, herds of dairy cows blocking the way, wind, and let me not forget the 20 minute hike-a-bike in snow and slush. We crested the pass, and stopped for a minute to dress up in our layers and pull our hats over our wet hair before dropping like a muddy elevator from Austria into Italy.
What followed was another crazy TransAlp run to the stage finish. Fast road, muddy trail, and sketchy bike path. We've mentioned it before here, but I can't get used to big-ring racing down asphalt bike paths open to the public. It requires lazer-sharp focus and quick reflexes to follow the course signs, avoid hazards, negotiate a hundred intersections, maintain position in the group, and basically rip at top speed on a totally unknown route. It is horribly frightening and awesomely fun.
Brandon and I finished strong in 8th for the day, and stand 6th overall.
The race isn't even half over, and we've been on the bike for 12 hours!
The leaders are more than one hour ahead, but the next few spots are in reach. We kept off the gas a bit today, because Stage 4 tomorrow is the queen stage, and rumors are that it's an ass-kicker. It has the most climbing of any stage this year, and it is relentless, with no flat. Up and down the whole dang way.
Racing a multi-day stage race is never easy. Doing it without any personal or mechanical support also presents significant challenges. When we decided to compete in the 2011 TransAlp we knew we it was going to be difficult to keep our bodies and our bikes well maintained without any support. One of the biggest hurdles is finding the motivation to wash and tune your bike at the completion of each stage. After several hours of hard racing all you can think about is food, a hot shower and rest.
Luckily for us we both happen to be racing on 2011 Scott Scale 29 bikes and come to find out Scott is providing free technical support for all owners of Scott bikes. If you are racing on a Scott bike, you can roll through the finish line, walk right up to their tents with your dirty bike and check it in for a free bath and tune up. Come back a few hours later and it’s ready to race. They even put on new cables and housing for free.
It’s like being pro without being pro! After today’s muddy stage they will wash and tune-up 140 Scott rigs. That’s a lot of carbon fibre to clean.
Thanks for reading again,
Pete and Brandon.
TransAlp Blog by Pete Webber and Brandon Dwight
Pete Webber and Brandon Dwight are racing the TransAlp mountain bike stage race in Europe from July 16-23, 2011. This blog follows their adventures just before and during the eight-day competition.
Webber, 41, is a longtime bike racer from Boulder, Colorado, USA, who rides for the well-known local team Boulder Cycle Sport. He was a pro mountain bike and cyclo-cross racer during the 90s and rode World Cups and world championships for Team Gary Fisher. As a masters athlete, he is two-time US Cyclo-cross National Champion. On the mountain bike, he won the 2010 US Master Marathon National Championships.
Webber is also a longtime bike advocate and trail builder, and worked for the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) for the past 10 years. His many supporters include his wife Sally and 8-year-old daughter Ella.
Dwight, 39, also from the US, is the co-owner of Boulder Cycle Sport, a popular Colorado bicycle shop with two locations and three times
voted a "Top 100 Shop" in the USA. He was a pro/elite mountain biker and cyclo-cross rider on the American circuit during the 90s and 00s and is a two-time US Cyclo-cross Masters National Champion. He is also the founder of Doperssuck.com. Dwight lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife Heather and one-year-old daughter Maggie.