Since 2007 I have enjoyed doing a selection of races in Europe through the months of May until September. Some years it has been more, some it has been less. In 2009, I was accused of just ‘entering everything’ – and the same was said for 2010. Far from needing to race overseas to find a challenge (I’m not good here, or in Australia either) racing well outside your comfort zone and meeting new people is a continuous challenge. Whether your trip is planned out, or a bit more sporadic, there ere ally is an element of living hand to mouth that means you need to stay alert constantly, planning what you’re up to next.
Often, some people will comment how jealous they are that I get to live through an endless summer. This is quite far from the truth. During most trips to Europe, I’ll end up with a few days of what can only be described as ‘alpine misery’. Getting snowed or sleeted on is one thing, but when the shit really hits the fan, and you’re caught out without adequate clothing – those days hurt. The Swiss NP Bike Marathon was the most noticeable last year, and that still hurts.
Stage 8 of this years Craft Bike TransAlp traveled from Madonna di Campiglio to Riva del Garda. Not overly long at about 75km, and with only about 1800m of climbing, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Rolling out of the multi level garage that served as the Camp for the night, in search of a cafe, my Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Team mate Naomi Hansen and I felt good. Unlike the past few days, our legs felt fresh as we pedalled into town under dark skies.
Herein lies a problem with racing on a budget. The camp requires your bag to be packed by about 7:30am usually. The race start is at 9am, and we can only enter the A1 start block after 8:45am as the UCI commissaire checks each team in. So although the skies seemed to be clearing as we dressed, they looked to be worsening as we headed into town. Lacking a support crew to throw jackets to, or provide extra clothing or nutrition on course makes a big difference at a Stage Race like the TransAlp.
After a warm up, we sought solace in a hotel cafe, finding warmth in doppio mach’s. The neutral downhill 12km start was as expected. Sketchy, wet, and seemingly pointless. When the first climb begun and the race officially started, it was good to be able to warm up, as the constant drizzle and downhill gradient did not make for a comfortable experience.
Our start was good. The occasional boost through traffic, a push here, a tow there and we were well placed. The rain increased.
Naomi felt her tyre was soft. We had a new one fitted on Friday afternoon, by one of the technical providers at the race expo. Maybe it hadn’t seated well? In quite wet conditions I put a CO2 cartridge into it, but it didn’t seem to make a big difference – however Naomi was happy with the result.
Soon after, she wasn’t so sure, feeling the rim donk on the occasional bigger rocks on the climb. It was really wet now, and edging below 10 degrees. I was cold, and had no extra clothing to pull on. The single track over the top was a mud bath with rocks thrown in. Our main goal was to get down from 1900m as safely as possible. With Chris Pedder and his team mate Nick nearby, we all had a similar goal.
I couldn’t control my shivering.
Naomi bombed away on the descent.
I tried to maintain vision of the rider in front.
Partway down, I saw Naomi pulled over, needing more air in her rear wheel. But I was done. I couldn’t speak, stand properly, stop snot leaking out of my head, or even remember if I had another gas canister.
“How does the pump work?”
I didn’t know. I probably didn’t know my name.
We wasted a few cartridges once we found them, broke valve stems, pumped without the hose on properly, and generally suffered for what appears to have been half an hour.
With some air in, we continued the descent, barely able to control our bikes on the sealed descent, due to our bodies convulsing. I was nauseous, and had some breakfast back in my mouth, as my internals were moving around so much as my body tried to create warmth.
Had we thrown our position away again?
Once on the road, we talked and supported each other, pushing as much as we could on the flaw flats, and then the second climb. The sun came out, we pedalled hard through the mud and we did what we could to minimise the damage.
Rolling into Riva with a race time of about 4:30 was not what we expected. To finish out of the top 10 of the mixed teams on the stage wasn’t expected either. But it was an apt result for not paying the high mountains the respect they deserved.
As Naomi pointed out yesterday, a Mountain Bike Stage Race is a race of attrition. This has been evident across many categories, and quite noticeably in the mixed category, with top teams like Mountain Heroes, Fiat-Rotwild, Ghost Factory Racing and notebooksbilliger.de failing to finish as teams. We have ended up 5th on GC by riding as best as we could, supporting each other, and backing up day to day.
Thanks for making it an amazing race Naomi Hansen, and thanks to the Craft Bike TransAlp for having us at their event. I’ve been really proud to represent the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Team and it’s sponsors here with Naomi. What a race.