Incredible highs can bring tremendous lows, and Mountain Bike stage racing is able to deliver this in spades. The week has been full of drama across many categories. Stage one was wet and cold, and a flat tyre suffered by the Topeak-Ergon mens team has had them chasing the lead for days – they will don the leaders jerseys tonight, thanks to superb riding from Alban Lakata and Robert Mennen. Previous Mixed category leaders, Black Tusk, suffered a crash on Stage 5, and have relinquished their lead. Stage 4 winners on the Mixed category, Mountain Heroes, ended their race with a crash on Stage 5. The Masters category has seen three top 10 teams drop out due to illness. And today, the Team Bulls combination of Sahm and Dietsch retired with illness.
The Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Mixed Team suffered quite a lot on todays 6th Stage of the 2012 Craft Bike TransAlp. Both Naomi and I certainly felt like it was Stage 6 this morning, with double macchiato’s ordered at the bar before a warm up through the chilly 12 degree air in the Livigno valley. The start was brought forward an hour, in light of the 107km length of the stage, coupled with a lot of climbing. Feeling pretty sub-optimal, and with tight trails for the first 25km or so, it wasn’t really possible to do much more than provide moral support for Naomi. Backing up this start with about 25k of flat and fast terrain also hurt. We were in a group with the Black Tusk mixed pairing, but as we almost all had a head on collision with a bus through a tunnel out of Cancano, the attacks went and being stuck near the back lead to the inevitable. So the next big climb to the Passo di Verva was almost solo into an unrelenting head wind. The Bizhub Ladies team caught us, and we started the 20km descent from 2300m to 600m together. Naomi descended really well, and although the Bizhub team were having a great day, a broken pedal on the descent slowed them down for a while.
Such a descent brings a big climb, and the climb up the Mortirolo, and then beyond above Malga Salina was not as bad as you would think. Sealed road (albeit steep) but in the shade. Naomi climbed really well, and we caught a few teams, until her chain kept getting jammed a few kilometres from the top of the pass. The chain would not stay on the jockey wheel. Each time we untangled it, we lost time and rhythm.
Teams caught us.
We carried on, keeping the chain line straight by using the middle of the cassette and a lot of pushing and towing as appropriate. No use, it wouldn’t hold. I was gutted. It felt like we had just thrown the race away. Looking at the part, it was really worn. That small task of bike checking after each stage had fallen aside after yesterdays elation, and now it was costing us dearly.
In the end we removed the jockey wheel and ran the chain with lots of noise and friction over the bolt instead. I had to internalise how upset I was, but I knew that I wasn’t doing a good job. So much time stopped on a demanding climb had seen the Fiat-Rotwild mixed team catch and pass us. And although we were 15 seconds off the Black Tusk mixed team at the base of the climb, that small gap would have expanded dramatically.
Naomi put it well: “You mean I put myself in the box for an hour and half this morning for nothing?!”
The ‘repair’ worked for the next few kilometres, until a friendly dutchman was able to lend a spare jockey wheel. The repair was poorly thought out and inefficient, but by the time we were done the Radical Lights Team and AW Cycles Team were with us – friendly faces and useful wheels are always welcome in a stage race.
Beyond the Mortirolo we climbed in silence, before the ‘eyes wide open’ descent. The 10km of downhill involves every kind of terrain you can imagine, and has little room for error – save for course marking. Some teams were missing corners – or so it seemed. Looking at the final results shows one team ahead of us who never passed us today. That’s frustrating.
So bikes are being repaired, legs rested, kit washed… all at the foot of the Gavia in Ponte di Legno, ahead of tomorrow’s 72.25km and 3234m. Lots of up, and some great high single track above the Passo Tonale. Stage Racing has great highs, but can deliver lows too. You just have to roll with them.
Although Multivan Merida took the win today, it was a close finish, and Topeak Ergon have taken the lead in the men’s category. Sally Bigham and Milena Landtwing continue to lead the women’s race. Team Gisler should still be in the lead, despite a stage win by the Press Riva del Garda Team in mixed. Adamelloski are tearing Masters apart, and Bixs Suisse lead the Senior masters.
Full results are on Datasport.ch