A four hour train trip from Riva Del Garda to Munich is the perfect opportunity to reflect on Europe 2012. That said, I have a strange feeling that I am not really sitting in my seat and I may get booted out any time around Bolzano but until then I have a window seat, no neighbour, a small table and charging station. I am just not 100% sure on the German train booking and seating situation but there is a little yellow tag above my seat, and every other seat in the carriage, that says ‘reservierung’. This highlights one of my biggest hurdles while in Europe: LANGUAGE, without being disrespectful it is embarrassing to be in a foreign country knowing very little of the language. It is true that most Europeans speak English but it is worth learning a few commonly used phrases to alleviate the embarrassment of complete inarticulation, even if it it just to say “mi dispiace che non parlo Italiano, parli inglese?” or “tut mir leid, dass ich nicht sprechen Deutsch, sprechen sie Englisch?”
Europe 2012 started in Munich and will finish in Munich, in the time between there was a unique adventure comprised of two races, several countries and a collection of new and old acquaintances. The first stop after Munich was Villabassa for the Dolomiti Superbike race. The Dolimiti Superbike was an acute reminder of the extreme nature of the climate and terrain in Europe when compared with Australia. It has been several years since I was in Europe and now I recall the unpredictable and rapidly changeable climate, the amazing ascents and descents and the effects of altitude on your lungs. After experiencing a mere few weeks in Europe it is easy to understand why the Europeans are so far superior in the mountain biking prowess to the Australians. They start young, they are immersed in the bike culture every day and they ride until a very very ripe old age, it seems the bike is not only recreational but an essential form of transport for many Europeans.
I was correct with respect to the yellow ticket above my head, Bolzano station and I was booted from my seat by an angry elderly lady with a back pack and walking poles flashing a ticket in my face. I apologized, secured my luggage and moved forward to the dining cart, no yellow tickets here, but no caffe either (machine broken) too early for alcohol (1100) so mineral water it is!
Back to Villabassa, I have already touched on the benefits of having an amazing international network of Subaru-MarathonMTB.com team mates, many of whom I met here for the first time. Traveling with team manager Mike Blewitt was an extremely emotive experience as his passion for history, regional knowledge and affinity for maps added another dimension.
Then from Villabassa to Livigno by road, a gorgeous explosion of green through the alps that took us through Switzerland and Austria then back to Italy. Mike is a practically a Livigno local with experience and knowledge of the local trails and a familiarity with those trails that we were to be riding in TransAlp 2012. Our time in Livigno was spent riding and acquainting our bodies with the oxygen depleted air between 1800-2400hm, something they would have no choice but to deal with the following week at TransAlp. The riding in Livigno is postcard perfect and the town is at 1800m making it an ideal training ground for many sporting disciplines, for the not so sporty family members, Livigno is a ‘duty free’ shopping haven with a fabulous array of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.
Livigno to Oberammergau by road again with a brief reprieve in Scuol to climb 18km of the 22km start of stage 6 Transalp 2012. I admit that at the time it seems quite unnecessary to ride up a hill for an hour-plus, a mere 36 hours pre Transalp start, but on race day it all made sense. The focus of team Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Europe trip 2012 was to race TransAlp 2012, Mike and were racing as a mixed team, both have raced team events before but this was Mike’s first time racing mixed and my first time racing with Mike. In Australia we are geographically challenged when it comes to team training, Mike is in Sydney and I am in Noosa so there was no training together pre race. Livigno was a crash course in riding together and sussing out team strengths and weaknesses before hitting the start line in Oberammergau.
The mixed field was strong and deep, as expected at TransAlp, and the rate of attrition (18 mixed teams disbanded over the 8 days) in all categories was quite high. Fortunately for team Subaru-MarathonMTB.com, our race of consistency payed off with a 5th place in the mixed category, after eight grueling days of riding. Not so true, as not all eight days were grueling. There is much to be enjoyed at TransAlp as a race it is tough but there is the benefit of riding beautiful trails, visiting great towns and witnessing amazing views (if one has the time). Post race there is the infamous Transalp camp atmosphere, the relationships cultivated through several days of riding and suffering together, the gondola rides to dinner and recovery vino rosso. During the race there is much pain, frustration, animal noises, mechanical and physical hardship common to all race participants and for those that endure, there is the coveted TransAlp Finisher Jersey and gelato in Riva Del Garda which makes the journey worth while.
In many respects our team was lucky, we suffered two major mechanical problems on two separate days but neither terminated our race. We lost lots of time, 45-60 minutes over these two days, but still managed to finish in 5th position in the mixed category. We both reached Riva Del Garda physically and emotionally shattered but in one piece, able to enjoy the warmth and culture of Italy for a few days before heading home.
The important points of a team stage race of this magnitude are: we finished as we started, a team: the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com TEAM, we had clean kit every day (thanks to Mike pushing and towing me), we survived the Transalp camp relatively unscathed, we maintained a mutual respect for one another and, if asked, we would both do it all again!
Thanks to Subaru, MarathonMTB.com, Fox Suspension, Maxxis, ADIDAS eyewear and Solasport it has been an honor to wear your colors and thanks to Mike for being such a great boss and team mate!