Vaughan Caseley is an experienced Australian endurance Mountain Bike racer. Now residing in Switzerland and operating the guiding service MTB Villars, he is starting to get into the European racing environment.
I left off my pre-race report with the words ‘Grimey’ mountain bikers, well these words were some what prophetic as I’ll come too as I describe my race in the Montafon M2 with many highs and few lows.
Friday afternoon saw me arrive in the quaint little village of Schruns, Austria, the epicentre of the Montafon-M3 mountain bike marathon. With my digital traveling companion successfully navigating me for the 4.5 hour trouble free journey from Vaud Switzerland the words ‘You have have arrived at your destination’ rang out right at the front door of my pre-booked accommodation. I was pleasantly surprised to find my room, while being a little dated, clean, comfortable and warm and my hosts’ excellent command of the English language enabled me to find my bearings and arrange for breakfast to be available at the customary 3 hours prior to my 9am start, this is a real bonus!
Back into the car I drove the 5 minutes into the centre of town which was a hive of activity as volunteers and workers scurried around putting the finishing touches to the start/finish line, entertainment and village cross activities programmed for the evening ahead.
Effortless registration, a quick nosey around town, unpacking and organizing my race clothes filled the rest of my afternoon before heading back into the centre of Schruns.
What a difference a couple of hours make, returning to town the workers were gone and Schruns had turned into party central. Being a 2 race veteran I’m starting to get a feel for these Euro Marathons, Race Hard – Party Hard. With the Pasta Party in full swing and the beer flowing the disco atmosphere took a temporary reprieve as the main evening event – Village Cross started.
Village Cross, 16 professional riders are selected to compete in a series of 4 rider heats and finals culminating in the fastest 4 racers going head to head for a sizable prize pool with the winner pocketing Euro 500. The course was short and sharp right through the cobbled main street of Schruns, past beer and pasta alley, with tight turns, steps and a couple of man made jumps put into the mix and to add to the spectacle. It was a fun event and a great addition to the overall experience but on it’s completion it was time for me to hit the sack, though I think some guys were probably there a little too late and with a little too much beer to be competitive the next day.
Race day dawned and I was super pleased with myself as my morning pre-race schedule was coming together nicely. Having scoffed my pre-arranged ‘early’ breakfast I packed the car and headed into Schruns centre despite my race not starting for another 2 hours. Doing this allowed me a prime carpark and did enable me to see the start of the 145km Extreme race and to meet MarathonMTB.com racer Will Hayter, after quick pleasantries the ‘Extremists’ were off.
With time ticking down and my pre-race warm up complete I headed to the start shoot where I met MarathonMTB.com followers and friends Georg and Elke. Elke was racing in the women’s event and proudly wore the MarathonMTB.com gilet, so after a quick chat about the benefits of 29’ers, yes Elke was riding one too, the 1 minute to go signal went off.
Before we knew it we were away, the start was frenetic and one over enthusiastic racer hit the deck pretty hard. Luckily the speed wasn’t too fast due to some tight corners but with the race opening onto a long steady climb I suddenly found myself being left behind. Determined to ‘race’ in this event I found myself bridging numerous gaps to finally settle into a group of about 15 riders, we were the third group on the road, with Elke 4 riders in front we ploughed up the hillside.
The first town of note was Silbertal, this was 6km into the 16 km long first climb and came in a blur and surprisingly I found myself in the big chainring as we hit a short pinch climb, when did I change into the ‘dog’? After this point the road became gravel and with a modest, by alpine standards, gradient we steadily weaved our way up the mountain. Finding myself riding granny/middle cassette I knew we were gaining elevation quickly and I was on a ‘good one’. Topping out we had a short reprieve from the climbing with some fast gravel road sections to allow the legs to recover before once again heading skywards. This was the first of two ‘short’ (approx 2/3 km long) pinch climbs and it was much steeper than the previous climb but I was still tracking well and made the most of the good legs and pedaled on.
Lesson number 5 from my virgin Euro MTB marathon two weeks ago was to have a profile map of the race course on the handlebars, so armed with this extra knowledge of the course I ploughed on, absolutely ‘bombing’ the short descent to base of the last 3 km kicker. Rounding a small lake I got to show off my MarathonMTB.com jersey and my cornering skills to a video cameraman before embarking on the climb up to 1752m some 1000+ metres above the start line.
Cresting the highest point on the course is usually greeted with inner cheers and some personal gratification however with cloud rolling in and with light rain falling for the previous 10 minutes a sense of foreboding replaced this moment of triumph ….. 10 km of high speed WET descent. Not usually one to shirk the challenge of alpine descending, traversing the crest of this climb on muddy slippery singletrack and intensifying rain made me reconsider how I was going to tackle the next part of this race course.
A lonely figure clad in high visibility gear appeared amongst the cloudy haze which signified the start of the descent, so donning the gilet (it was quite cold now) my oversized front wheel was pointed downward. My fears of the descent were initially diminished as a racing line was formed on the gravel road and being damp the traction on the bends was superb. For the first 5km the gravel road was interspersed with bitumen sections and alpine meadows where friendly Austrian bovines must have wondered what on earth these strange humans were doing. On one particular section I came perilously close to one such beast and copped a soggy tail across the chest for my foolishness.
Unperturbed, I barreled on covering ground quickly until a young woman standing by a ‘3 downward arrow sign’ and waving her arms frantically while shouting something in German at me. As I turned left I immediately fully understood her German and translated her words into ‘Oh S*&t. ‘ As the rain poured I was confronted by the first technical part of the course a wet slippery timber staircase followed by and innocuous looking grassy piece of singletrack. Having navigated this tricky little section I carried on only to be confronted by a very scary steep rocky, extremely wet, ‘teflon’ root infested series of descending switchbacks with an absolutely no room for error drop to the side. I will proudly say I rode this whole thrilling section, all 1+ km of it, passing 20 + competitors on the way before being spat out on a farm road where the First Aid tent was setup awaiting the inevitable carnage which probably had and was likely to take place as all the racers came through.
Pedaling along a flattish piece of road a German guy who descended behind me rode up next to me, his face beaming, we exchanged high 5’s in the knowledge that what we had just achieved was pretty darn cool. The two of us descended the remaining kilometre or so before sharing the waterlogged workload across the valley floor. Taking turns on a route interspersed with fun bits of singletrack, steep little climbs and descents we eventually started the final big climb of the day together.
From the profile the next 6 km were going to be challenging and we weren’t left disappointed. Starting on a loose gravel section we went through the final ‘feed zone’, there were plenty spread across the course and well stocked with Nutrixxion gels and isotonic filled bidons. Calling iso (pronounced eeeso) I grabbed my last bottle for the day and started the final push to the finish line. Accompanied by my German friend and another competitor we churned as big a gear as possible up the steep 10% to 15% bitumen climb. As we ascended this last obstacle I was reminded this was a race as one of the other guys, having sat on my wheel for 4 of the 6 km, starting attacking me and my German friend, however unlike the Tour de France these attacks appeared in slow motion and happened one pedal stroke at a time. I bided my time and eventually brought the antagonist back only to be passed by my German friend who glanced across offering me his wheel which I didn’t have the strength to follow.
As we reached the summit 300m separated the 3 of us, with me right in the middle this became a race within a race and inspired me to forge on as hard as I could. Mike Blewitt had warned me of a number of false crests and with this in mind I kept just enough in the tank to be able to pedal over them in either the big or middle rings. This final section of the course was thrilling as we navigated more slippery singletrack and gravel road sections before the final plunge to the valley floor on a wet bitumen road with too many switchbacks to count. Pushing as hard as I dared this section was a ‘hoot’ and having reached the valley floor the final 1 km blast to the finish line brought a huge smile to my face, well internal smile anyway.
I had managed to stay away from my climbing buddy but didn’t catch my German friend in the end 3 minutes separated us. Despite being covered in mud and Grime I am certainly keen to return fitter and stronger to try the 145 km Extreme race next year. This event is smaller than the previous event I raced but it is run on a fantastic course, very well organized and has all the facilities available to make racing here a pleasure.
On a competitive note, despite finishing 36th in Masters 1 with a time of 4:05, I felt I raced really well on this course, climbing in much higher gears than 2 weeks ago and riding a highly technical section of trail in treacherous conditions. And besides I’m 6 months off the Masters 2 category where I would have been a top 10 finisher, roll on 2012.