A short ride to the inhospitable
Riding and racing in the mountains of Europe
We hammered back our morning coffees, looking to put a rough night's sleep behind us, and opted for a quick oatmeal as the first of the heavy snowflakes began to fall from what looked to be a significant storm front.
We had just completed our first night of mountain pass elevation training in the RV and were lucky that the snow had held off through the early hours of the morning, allowing us to return to more hospitable training grounds in the valley below. Clearly the 4,000 feet of pass we had summitted the night before to get to our 6,000-foot roost would not be anything to mess with driving down in the snow, with our trusty though summer tire shod RV.
In an attempt to make the most the short weeks between races, Mary and I have been taking advantage of the high elevation passes that are "easily" accessible across the mountains of central Europe. Here we sleep where the air is thin to push our bodies during our sleeping hours. We know from experience that the adaptive effects that come naturally from sleeping at high elevation can help to put that final touch on our hard earned race fitness. We are, of course, looking for every little advantage that can go into improving our racing and might even turn out to be effective in gaining that critical spot or two in that important race that makes all the difference.
For this it seems we are willing to suffer a bit since what sounds simple in theory is really a bit of a chore and up to the elements to decide if it is even possible. Right now this latitude of Europe is experiencing what is essentially a continuation of winter, and so we are having to be very picky about where we go and how and when we get there as driving an RV in the high mountains at this time could quickly become more of an adventure than we really want to get ourselves into.
There are an incredible number of fantastic paved passes in the Alps, Dolomites and all over the lesser ranges across central Europe that are high enough to provide a good level for acclimation. Unfortunately, for our purposes, most of the areas with this type of elevation are subject to stormy weather. Looking for a similar training advantage last August, we had a foot of fresh snow pin us to a pull off in the Swiss Alps for solid day spent waiting for the roads to be plowed to safely drive off the pass, a freak storm, so we thought, until an amused 4x4 driving local stopped in to let us know that snow in the summer is nothing short of common.
As you can imagine, our timing at this point is less than ideal but along with the scary bit of putting ourselves out there in the elements we are experiencing a unique time between the seasons when ski areas are closed and summer camping is still months away. Among the challenges we are experiencing a rare moment of quiet in Europe that seems impossible in the "right" season when we become just one of the incredible numbers that seem to clog every last bit of the good parts of the continent. At this time, we are often the only ones in campgrounds where the owners may even come to greet us in person, happy that our arrival might indicate the start of their money earning season. In some ways, it is certainly the most fantastic time to travel, although we can easily appreciate why others might wait until the season has really begun.
In the past weeks, Mary and I have been doing a good bit of driving and have competed in four UCI races, in as many countries. This included the second round of the World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium, the newly crowned high category at the Haiming Bike Festival in Oetzal, Austria, the legendary high category race "Bike the Rock" in Heubach, Germany and the Alpago MTB Trophy in Lamosano, Italy. It has been an incredible opportunity to get in solid race efforts against some of the best athletes in the sport as well as to attend a range of fantastic venues very close together in a way that presently only Europe has the privilege to enjoy. The competitive scene in each of these countries is at an all time high, especially in the developing ranks. Swarms of kids outfitted with the latest lightweight bikes, kitted out with bling accessories, matching team kits and dreams of going pro are basically the norm across Europe these days.
From a travelers standpoint, it is just amazing that so much cultural variation can be packed into a continent that would not be difficult to drive across in a couple of days. It is easy to get around Europe these days with English being well received and the Euro greatly simplifying (if not over pricing) a lot of things. But the character of each country is still very apparent and in general a completely different flavor is found over most every little town line.
Mary and I are now headed to the Czech Republic to compete in the third round of the World Cups in Nove Mesto na Morave - a difficult mouthful - and an equally technical race course awaits us in this remote Czech town, better known for cross country skiing but certainly becoming a solid favorite on the world cup MTB circuit for racers and fans alike.
It seems a bit hard to believe that summer is just around the corner given that we have just endured another lashing from a brutal storm that blanketed our RV in snow for the night on top of another mountain pass. It is amazing how much difference a couple of hundred meters of elevation can make in the climate and we hope in our performance as well. This time of year in central Europe the same town can be sheltered and warm enough to head out on a ride in shorts on one end, and raw enough to make you think twice about even going out without all the winter trimmings just around the corner. It has been a good reminder for us to make certain we are prepared for any and all conditions that we could encounter on any training ride. Because when you are out on the bike riding in unfamiliar territory or uncertain conditions, it can be a short ride to the inhospitable.
Hope everyone is finding some time to get in some charging by day and is tucked in safe and warm at night!
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MTB "super-couple", former US National cross country champion 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 and take on other adventures. Enjoy the unique, professional racing style of these two accomplished racers and world travelers.
You can also follow them via their blog at www.maryandmikeride.blogspot.com (opens in new tab).