By Steve Medcroft
The eighth adidas Bike Transalp Challenge wrapped up in Jesolo, Italy last week. The UCI-accredited endurance stage race pitted unsupported teams of two racers (who must stay within two minutes of each other through all race checkpoints) over eight stages for more than six hundred kilometres of trails and over 15,000 meters of climbing.
Canadian manufacturer Rocky Mountain Bicycles sent three teams to the event. German-based Rocky Mountain riders Karl Platt and Carsten Bresser won the men’s overall competition, Andreas Hestler and Alison Sydor took second in the mixed category and the women’s team of Gretchen Reeves and Leslie Tomlinson fell to illness and had to withdraw.
But attending the event was as much about personal challenge as getting race results says former Canadian national champion, cross-country world champion and Olympic silver medalist Alison Sydor. “Our team has a bit of history with this race. It was Gretchen and Leslie’s fourth time. Karl and Carsten have done it a few times. Andreas has done Trans Rockies. I’ve been racing for quite a long time and there’s not a lot I haven’t done so I was excited for the personal challenge of racing what amounts to eight marathons in a row.”
And it was a challenge. Sydor talked to her team-mates, studied past results and looked back at her stage racing experience on the road in events like the Tour de France Feminin or the women’s Giro to prepare but, she says, she may have underestimated just how hard the race would be. “It was extraordinarily hard. We raced World Cup pace four to five hours a day. We rode some of the longest, steepest climbs I’ve never seen; a lot of singletrack and rough, bumpy descents. Every time you’d come out onto a road, everyone would go like they were in a road race. Every day was tough. On the last day alone, our group averaged 31.5km per hour.”
The dynamic of racing in a duo team was new to Sydor as well. “The idea of staying with a partner adds a whole different dynamic and sporting aspect to racing,” she says. “Andreas and I know each other well and have ridden a lot together and we have complementary strengths but it was a constant game to work together to maximise our strengths and minimise our weaknesses.”
Sydor says the challenge of depending on, and being dependent to, another rider had a surprising payoff. “I had never ridden with one person for so many hours and I came to trust him more than I’ve ever learned to trust any other rider. It was the same with all the riders. You got to make friends with people you were competing against.” Sydor says the camaraderie was uplifting. “It was a motivating and stimulating environment.”
The main highlight for Sydor was the race’s backdrop though. “The Alps are so different from any mountains in North America,” she says. “The people here have an access to the high country we never see. We’d climb for hours up a gravel road in the granny gear only to find old people in a café cheering us on at the top. It was amazing.”
And when you got to the top, “It was impossible not to stop to look around.”
Sydor says she’d love to do races like the Transalp Challenge again. “It was such a different world from cross country and it challenged me as an athlete. It was one of the most positive racing experiences in my life; a chance to be with people who are so positive about the sport, about mountain biking, and race in such beautiful scenery.”