Mountain Bike Stage Racing takes many forms around the world. The typical division is either paired or solo stage racing – although some races curiously mix the two. And then you can have a variety of lengths. Weekend stage races, 3 day, 4 day, 5 days with a Prologue, 8 days, 10 days… they’re about the standards. No more 24 day epics like the original Crocodile Trophy that Meg Carrigan had to endure in the early 90′s.
After length, there is also the terrain and distance to take into account. Some stage races are like multi day cross country events, whereas others are like multiple marathons pasted together with gluten-laden pasta parties. Each type has merits, supporters and detractors. I like the multiple-marathon style stage race, although it is easy to fall victim of racing a stage like a marathon. Once you’ve turned yourself inside out, it’s hard to back up again.
The Craft Bike TransAlp is essentially the multiple marathon variety, although the race times are not what you may associate with multiple Australian style Marathon races. Some are longer, many shorter – depending on the amount of climbing, and the trail surface. Gravel is popular. Gravel trails are more waterproof. This is a good thing. There are five categories to enter at the TransAlp – thankfully this stage race is yet to be over run by endless amounts of categories like lap based endures. You can race in the Men’s, Women’s, Mixed, Masters or Super Master category. No mixed masters. No women’s masters, no under 23. I like it, but probably because I’m a guy, and so it gives me a lot of category options, especially as I get older.
For a while now, racing in the Mixed category has held some allure for me. In 2010, I discussed what was required for success with Tim Bateman. We settled on the following:
1. The woman needs to be a professional bike racer – super strong, great bike handler, and able to prepare themselves.
2. The guy probably needs to be ex-pro. Lots of miles in the legs, and not so edgy in races he wants to boost off the front with the overall leaders. He will probably need to tow or push at some point, dependant on the racing. It’s not taboo at TransAlp.
3. Support: you need a mechanic or manager of some kind with a van. Just to ease the logistics and reduce the amount of pre and post race stress.
4. Stay in hotels, not the Transalp Camp.
Naomi and I don’t really have any of those. But that’s ok, as we’re working on the vital element that is required for success in any kind of team event – support of your team mates. Naomi wrote about how good it is being part of a team, and that is really playing out this week. We’re aware of each others strengths and weaknesses, and riding with them as best as possible.
There is a lot of climbing this week (about 21000m vertical over the 8 stages) and thankfully Naomi is a great climber. neither of us are European, or Pro, so that slows us down a little. Being in starting block A1 does allow us to start near the front of the field, although you do then have the slightly depressing feeling of having about 40 other teams pass you through the race. When I can push Naomi, I do. When she can hold a pocket for a tow, she does. While this is taboo in some mixed pair stage races, it’s all on here. Right now it seems to mostly be a mental gain. Sometimes, pushing Naomi on her back, I’m much closer to holding onto her iPhone for a ride as opposed to pushing it into her spine.
Descending is different again. I’m pretty comfortable on gravel descents. Not flat out, but I’m able to get down them with pretty much no stress. Unfortunately, the rest of the field doesn’t descend the same way, and are happy to chop and snake as they seem fit. We are still working on how to deal with this, whether I should descend behind, or stay in front and guide a line. There are still surprises though – across a small rock fall today Naomi managed to ride it clean, while I dabbed and had to tripod my way over.
Feedzones take some work as well. Neither of us like stopping and starting again, but it is usually best if I can go ahead to grab any food or water tops ups, then handover as I finally manage to get back to Naomi.
So four days in we’re close to having it dialled. I push or tow as required (for which Naomi now washes my kit), I support as I can on descents, and I continually tell Naomi to eat more food. And she reassures me that I won’t get too cold or wet whenever I see a cloud. On such a short day like today (52km) from Nauders to Scuol, the racing was compact, There was nothing too game changing, but the time gaps behind us are small, and the ones in front are still big.
We have three decisive stages ahead, plus the last stage into Riva. We are crossing some of the most beautiful and challenging mountain biking terrain in this part of Europe. i hope we can continue to ride well and get this dynamic dialled.
Topeak Ergon took yet another win today in the Men’s category, and are inching closer to the overall lead. Stockli (Iceman Huber and Konny Looser) were in second, with race leaders Centurion Vaude/Bixs Swiss in 3rd. Milena Landtwing and Sally Bigham are comfortably leading the women’s race, and Mountain Heroes took their first stage win in the Mixed category this year.
Full results can be seen on Datasport.ch