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.