Wet and wild day at TransAlp

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.

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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.