Fast and slow
The morning of the first stage greeted us with sunshine and some rather warm weather. Harry and I both carried backpacks, which were both a blessing and a curse throughout the stages. A blessing in that you had extra food, clothes and water when needed. A curse in that the extra weight added up on your back and shoulders.
There were nearly 600 other two-person teams, making it a rather bunched beginning. The start was fast, and was a gradual climb on a highway for nearly 30 kilometers. Harry and I wanted to be conservative at the start, knowing that it will be a long 7 days, the hardest stages were ahead of us, and getting in a mishap on the first hours of the week would really suck. It was definitely the easiest part of the week.
We soon crossed into Austria, and hit the first segments of forest roads and singletrack. And more foreshadowing of the week ahead began. Trying to funnel down 1,200 bikers from a two-lane road to a gravel road, to a narrow path, brought us to a standstill. We were backed up several hundred deep as riders had to push their bikes around an obstacle on the trail. There were no alternatives, since the trail snaked along a high, steep ridge for several kilometers. The delay was frustrating, but the weather was clear and most folks were in a good mood.
Then the real riding began, and I knew it was going to be a long week.
At the start, the organizers gave you a small book that contained each day’s stage description. I would learn to study the stage closely. Under the tour data, the track’s characteristics were given: asphalt, radweg asphalt (paved bike path), shotter (gravel), wald (forest trail), pfad (path) and schieben (push).
As part of the “race within the race” sections were marked sections that included a timed hill climb (who could climb 100 meters in elevation the fastest) and an Enduro section that, as best I could figure, was supposed to be ridden down. Through the week, I made it down two Enduro sections without stopping, or crashing, or walking. I made the decision that there is no shame in walking if it meant no trips to the ER.
I was struggling to keep a good pace, and the weather wasn’t helping. It was getting hotter, and I knew one big climb remained to the top of Marienbergjoch. At 1,810 meters, the total climb would be about 800 meters over about 10KMs. The clouds started gathering and a gentle rain began as we started the climb. It was a ski run, so the open space allowed me to view what was ahead…a serpentine crawl up to the top. The final few meters had us pushing our bikes. At the summit, we donned vests for the ride down.
When looking at the course profile, it’s easy to get complacent when you see a downhill finish. And from KM 75 to the finish in Imst, with the exception of a small climb it was all downhill. But the road was a mishmash of gravel, washouts and large boulders for the first few KMs after the summit…along with some sharp switchbacks. It was a challenge to keep the bike steady, but we soon got back into the cover of the trees and worked our way further down the mountain.
We crossed the finish line in Imst, Austria, found our hotel, and walked back to the start/finish area to get something to eat and see the day’s winners. We also got a preview of the second stage from the organizers.