It was a huge, unforgettable, gruelling and beautiful experience racing the Craft Bike Trans Alp with Mike as my teammate! A full 32-hour week of mountain bike immersion covering 600 kilometres, 19,000 hundred meters racing on back roads and trails from southern Germany to Lago di Garda, Italy.
The fatigue and bruises are finally fading though the deeply embedded sunburn lines, and gash on my shin from a mercifully light crash on stage 5 are proving more resilient. What's for sure is that some amazing memories of all that went down and all we experienced together throughout this huge weeklong ride, will remain far longer. I am full of gratitude as I process the experiences down to the small details, and the lessons learned throughout this big mountain bike experience.
What currently stands out the most is how BEAUTIFUL the Alps are when seen from the perspective of a mountain bike and how humbling and incredible it can be to pass through them under your own power. We climbed up and over remote passes, sometimes trudging on never ending gravel roads sometimes ripping a tiny ribbon single track around and down some jutting peak. Other times on foot, carrying the bikes over unrideable sections of high mountain scree fields and rocky debris. To see and feel the immense beauty and steepness of these mountains is something special.
The terrain was as stunning as the weekly profile daunting - Looooong days filled with climbing on gravel and pavement, some flat and fast (draft necessary) bike paths, and from time to time really beautiful and technical trails. This race is known as a supreme test of cycling endurance and that stood true in this edition as the majority was all about how fast you could get to the top of the climbs. Have to mention that some of the trail sections we enjoyed at this year's edition were awesome but in general there were not a lot of technical aspects making the competition mostly about tactics and power to weight ratio, and again all about the climbs.
Mike and I we're really impressed with the organisation of the event! It's clear that the Trans Alp has a long heritage and that the race is really well received in all its host towns. The promoters did an amazing job of organising really everything - from breath-taking daily routes to the fine details of registration, food, host villages, transport, medic support, podium ceremonies, etc. All in all The Trans Alp stands out as a top notch event in allowing participants to make what they chose of the challenge while providing for a safe and stunning tour across the Alps.
Of course Mike and I came to race and as a team we fought hard and worked really well together every day. We put to practice many tried and true team tactics from our long history of mixed team racing and learned many new things as well. Seeing the professionalism and care that the top teams utilised to make the most of every second made us realise that we could stand to fine-tune our support system strategy. It seemed like we were in the minority stopping to fill up our own bottles, carrying our spares and trail tools but we know that these are necessary when you are out there essentially on your own.
We also took it upon ourselves to handle all aspects of our race week logistics like cooking and mechanic work mostly because this is how we prefer to do things but it was pretty clear that amongst the top teams we were in the minority not having full support along for this mission. These are some of the small details that really add up if you want to maximize your chances for a win. Nonetheless we were happy to find such success with our simple, self supported effort and we remain proud of how we made our attempt! Making the podium every day, winning the Queen Stage and finishing 2nd in the overall was a great feeling. Mike and I are happy with the outcome of our first try at this event.
Mike was consistently the best teammate I could have hoped for - throughout the race he supported and catered to all my needs, helping me go as fast as we could together. He was always sensitive to my condition - keeping a fast but always sensible pace I could draft, letting me lead when it was hard to see, he gave me pushes, encouraged me, and also carried the essential extra weight of tools, food and water. I felt like a queen.
We had some really tough competition in the Mixed category and with all the action that comes with a 1000 person peloton, we were put to the test daily. Our daily mantra was to ride 'swift and safe'. It felt really big out there and when pushing your mind and body to the limit, the potential for injury is great. Every moment requires utmost focus, dealing with the peloton, watching the wheel up front, staying in the draft, choosing the right lines, or times to attack, making sure to fuel enough, being respectful of other riders, passing safely, keeping the equipment together. We also wanted to make sure to enjoy the experience. And we did!! In a sort of masochistic way.
The suffering and discomfort that we endured was far eclipsed by the feeling of satisfaction in crossing such terrain on the bike. I believe that this would be true for most every athlete who took part - no matter how hard some may have had it. Seems like everyone we spoke with felt pretty lucky to just be able to physically handle such a ride and make their best on this challenge! Congrats to all the people who came out and gave their best efforts - It was fantastic to meet so many like-minded RAD people from all over the globe.
It takes a lot more than sweat, blood, tears, patience, trust, and determination to just complete these gruelling and gorgeous stages! Huge THANKS to our partners for providing us the right equipment for the job! Mike and I feel lucky to be running some off the finest equipment in the industry and we are honoured to be ambassadors!! Apart from a few unavoidable mechanical issues, our gear was perfect! Check out the pictures of our bikes to see what we are running!
We made it all the way from Germany (Ruhpolding), through Austria (Saalfelden, Mittersill, Sillian) - down through the Dolomites of Italy (Alleghe, San Martino di Castrozza, Levico Terme, and finally finishing in Riva del Garda). Phew! Huge thanks to all these beautiful villages for the hospitality and cool podium prizes! We are happily stocked up on regional Tyrolian products - cured meats, wine, salt, herbs, honey, cutting boards, even got the paperwork to adopt cows along the way! I especially love my new water decanter with a Swiss Pine stopper! The soothing effects of Swiss Pine has been know for thousands of years and it is often referred to as the "Queen of the Alps" - a fitting prize for winning the "Queen Stage" into Sillian, Austria on day 3 :-)
Mike and I are filled with a sense of relief and satisfaction that we made it through safe and swift. All those kilometres of breathing, pushing, digging deeper than we thought was possible, bring a renewed perspective of what we humans are truly capable of - if we really put our minds to it.
Cheers to finding new challenges and pushing your boundaries!
Mary and Mike
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MTB "super-couple", Mary McConneloug and Mike Broderick live together, train together, travel together and race together. They also share this diary on Cyclingnews.
Follow their adventures as they race the World Cup cross country circuit throughout 2009. Enjoy the unique, professional racing style of these two accomplished racers and world travelers.
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