Friday, 31 July 2009

Day 3 - Highway to Hell.

Mayrhofen to Brixen

Today's stage is the longest in the race. 95kms but only 2122m of climbing. The catch is that pretty much all that ascent is concentrated into one single climb. It's a pretty stark reality - ride uphill for 30kms then ride downhill for 65kms. There are one or two "blips" on the downhill where the trail goes up for a wee while, but apart from that it's pretty much like freewheeling all the way from Inverness to Invergarry, albeit reaching speeds of 84km/h on some of the steeper bits.

Of course, being a race, no-one is much bothered about freewheeling and we spend most of the road sections tagging onto fast chain-gangs to maximise speed and minimise effort. The descent is initially on fast gravel tracks which Dave seems to thrive on. I try to go as fast as I dare but the penalty for messing it up on the loose corners is always at the back of my mind and I find myself holding back a wee bit. The danger is the front wheel breaking away on the loose stuff and the skill is to trust the traction through the racing line where the road has been swept clear. Dave is good at this - I'm not, lacking the necessary flow.

The climb gives a good insight into how to pace ourselves for the week. It's on tarmac initially then onto steep gravel switchbacks. There's even some singletrack but everyone is off their bikes and walking creating a huge bottleneck. All a bit frustrating. Eventually we reach the dam below the pass at Pfitscherjoch and there's a feed station. Beyond this it gets steep and rocky; great technical riding which we manage quite a bit of despite the legions of pushing Europeans getting in the way.

The stage finishes in the Cathedral square in Brixen and it feels good to barrel into town through the cheering crowds. Longest day done, but Hell is just around the corner on the next stage...

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Day 2 - the race gets underway.

Reith im Alpbachtal to Mayrhofen

Today is the day. We will finally get to ride our bikes. There is a lot of nervous fidgeting in the start corral, particularly from the Johnny-come-latelies at the back (that's us). The day starts with AC/DC "Highway to Hell" being pumped over the PA system and that is our cue to saddle up and ride. Except we have to stand around for 5 minutes while the 1000 riders in front of us who are faster or better at getting up early make their way across the start line. The stage starts with a steep climb on a gravel road and it's all very slow as riders jockey for position for the first hour. Because the weather had been diabolical the day before and we're expecting snow higher up, everyone is over-dressed. Before long we're slogging uphill on a scorching Austrian summer morning with too many layers and too much kit in our packs. The riding is still slow but it has progressed beyond the trackstanding of the first few kms. We stop to fill camelbacks from a roadside stream and to peel off arm and leg warmers. There's another team doing the same - Scots, of course.

The first climb ends on tarmac and is followed by a brilliant road descent. We weave our way past lots of riders who seem hesitant to take the racing line. In my mind I'm riding like Fabian Cancellara chasing down the TdF peleton, cutting inside riders on corners and enjoying the traction from the Bonty tyres. We're soon onto the second climb of the day and it's a tougher proposition. The field has spread out a bit more and we've made our way through to a group of similar-paced riders who slog up the steep gravel tracks. Writing this over a week retrospectively it seems like one of the more trivial climbs of the race, but I remember feeling a profound relief when the feed station came into view. Feed stations become the subject of some very, very intense focus on a race like this. Each one is an sanctuary from the suffering and some are the most welcome sights of one's entire lifetime. Today's one is a chance to stuff far too much food into already over-filled back pockets and drink far too much High-5 energy drink. The climb is soon over and it didn't hurt too much.

The last descent of the day is mostly on gravel roads with a bit of fast singletrack. Dave is much faster than me on the gravel downhills and seems to be immune to the gnawing uneasiness that grips me on off-camber ball bearings. There is more tarmac which takes us down to the valley at insane speeds and then a few kms of undulating roads to the attenuated stage finish. Dave phones his daughter Katy to find she has become British Youth XC Champion - a superb achievement which knocks our 88th place out of 147 Masters into a cocked hat- so he allows himself a pint that evening. We chain-gang it up the 30kms of cycle path along the floor of the Zillertal Valley to the proper stage finish in Mayrhofen and fill our bellies with cheese and ham rolls and watermelon.

I feel much better for completing a stage, but still apprehensive about what tomorrow might bring.


Saturday, 18 July 2009

Day 1 Historical

Stuarts words were "if it pisses of rain is freezing cold and a bit of snow we will win"

We were kept awake by the rain all night the tent leaked and the gazebo had a pond feature inside it. It was freezing we get soaked packing up and there is snow on the hills, so its all looking good for the win:

We get a good soaking cycling into mittenwald to find that for the first time in Transalp history the stage is cancelled. Gutted.

We are now at the start of the next stage and will start our race in Reich. It hasn't stopped raining and at the highest point planned for the day there is 40cm of snow. So day 2 will miss out the 2200m peak and we will be timed for the first 55km before cycling another 34km to the stage finish village at Mayorhen. We will have sno to cycle thru at the earlier peak of 1700m.

Tonight we are sleeping in the van, thank god we have the gazebo to put all the stuff in. It is supposed to stop raining at midnight. if it doesn't tomorrow will be grim its as cold as Scotland in November

Friday, 17 July 2009

In Mittenwald.

Arrived in Mittenwald on Wednesday after a 30 hour journey from Dunfermline, though this did include a 5 hour rest stop in Peebles to allow Dave to do all his packing.

We have managed to get signed on for the race and we´re now just hanging around the town feeling increasingly nervous as Zero Hour approaches tomorrow morning at 10am. Having the "Scottish Cycling Team" van is attracting a lot of attention, particularly as it is being driven around town by three out-of-shape looking middle-aged blokes. Duncan, driver and team manager, is enjoying the Weissbier as Dave and I sip from water bottles and try to stay out of the sun.

All the other racers look impossibly fit and honed. I´ve got The Fear.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Annusol and Vaseline

I had my first dream about the Transalp and it had nothing to do with Annusol or vaseline, more on that later.

Stuart and I had arrived at the finish of the first stage and I had forgotten to pick up a ticket from the start which would allow me to check in. I couldn't finish the stage and I was frantically trying to find a solutiuon that didn't involve cycling back to the start.
There are of course no tickets required, it was, I think a stress dream. 6 Days to go and counting..........

Back to the Annusol and vaseline. Friday, Stuart and I meet up at Costco to buy provisions for the trip with bulk bags of pasta and cereal bars bought it was time to concentrate on the mdeical side of things. We had the trade packs of Ibuprofen and Paracetomal(with more than enough to off ourselves if it gets too much) but there was the secret lotion that Transrockie competitor Lesley had told me about. After my complaining about the pain experienced during fit your butt to the saddle Lesley had passed on the Transrockie secret potion given out by the medical team for those suffering in the nether region. Hamerroid cream mixed with vaseline offers an anasethetic soothing that no other cream, lotion or spray can match.

So it was that stuart and I ended up at Sainsburys pharmacy asking for Annusol cream to numb the area and vaseline for lubrication!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not even a raised eyebrow from the assistant our school boy humour was not shared, we were in Edinburgh after all.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Steep frowning glories.


Chris and I did a circuit of Dark Lochnagar today. Starting in Braemar, we ride out of town on the road practising our "through and off" technique in a 1:15 ratio - 1 minute at the front for Chris, 15 for me. This takes us to Invercauld Bridge and then up into Ballochbuie Forest past some languid toffs watching a group of young stags and seemingly unimpressed by our vulgar presence. After a bit of navigational laziness, we get on the track out to Gelder Sheil and then up to the start of the path to Meikle Pap. I spot a pink dot in the distance and have to chase it down. It's a husband/wife combo and we soon leave them churning in our wake.

Chris suggests that we take a contouring trail around to pick up the path from Glas Allt Sheil rather than carrying bikes all the way up to the plateau. This looks a bit doubtful from afar but it turns out to be 100% rideable and takes us to a recently-surfaced path leading to the summit. We manage to ride a lot of this though one or two of the drainage ditches are just too wide to bunnyhop going uphill in the second lowest granny gear. There are a couple of steeper pitched sections where we are more or less compelled to carry the bikes, but we arrive quickly at the summit plateau, just in time to be enveloped in a rain shower. I'm glad that I've packed a waterproof and that the rain doesn't last, lest I be found out for being woefully under-prepared for a day in the mountains...

"Have you got a map, son?"
"Spare clothing?"
"First Aid kit?"
"Does piriton count?"

The way down from Lochnagar has some brilliant riding over sandy/rocky/peaty paths. There's another short push before it begins to head down to Loch Callater. This is one of those descents where you have to stop periodically to shake out your forearms. It's really absorbing biking, down steep rock-gardens and slabs, over drainage ditches and through some serpentine singletrack before spitting us out at Loch Callater Lodge.

We get back to the Glenshee road and consider the possibility of tacking on an ascent of Morven to round out the day. Were it just an ascent, the idea would be dismissed out of hand; however there is a pay-off in the form of a steep dotted line on the map which brings us right back to our starting point in Braemar. We start up Morven...

I'll not dress this bit up in fancy-dan prose - the climb up the land-rover track to the summit of Morven is a complete bastard. Probably not too bad in a Land Rover, but on a burly 5" full-suspension mountain bike, it's a complete bastard. I don't know how long it takes but it just seems to go on forever; never slackening or steepening particularly but just maintaining its complete-bastardness for many hundreds of metres. The sun has come out now and it's giving me a bit of an insight into what Transalp climbs might be like. Pleasingly, my legs don't hurt from the effort though I do start to develop a niggling ligament pain in my left knee and my right shoulder is aching like a ... complete bastard.

The summit of Morven is like a moonscape, albeit with a great big mobile relay tower pumping out gigawatts of microwave energy which further cooks my flesh and my brain. The descent turns out to be worth the suffering to get to the top and in what seems like no time we're back in Braemar buzzing from the adrenaline, or the microwave irradiation - hard to tell the difference sometimes.

(Apologies to languid toffs everywhere, including Lord Byron)

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Two and Half minutes

2.5 minutes its a pitiful time for any endurance sport but this was going to be my work out. It had to be at maximum effort, its going to make up for my inability to get out for a long ride and the poor week I've just had and its only 150seconds so how hard can it be? Very........

The Trans Cairngorms weekend made my total for that week 23hours but by Sunday the following week I had managed just over 2 hours. Travelling to and from Bournemouth for a British XC race in two days hadn't helped making me knackered without having done that much. At least I get to ride the course as Coach Dad. I'm begining to realise that fitting in training around life is as much of a challenge as physically doing the riding.

My bold plans had been to make amends and go out for a long road ride on the Sunday after recovering from 8hours travelling the day before and a late night. Suited and booted I leave the house to get my bike only for it monsoon down. I can't face going out in it and make an excuse of not wanting to get ill. The only thing for it is the 2.5 minute work out.

Some bods have done research that found that by doing a workout that consisted of five 30s maximum efforts with 5minutes rest in between gave the same aerobic benefit as riding for 2hours. It sound really easy warm up then ride at max for a mere 30seconds rest for 5 minutes and repeat. Riding the turbo you need a goal to make it bearable

The radio is on in the shed and warming up is a pleasant process. As the start of the first 30s approach I move onto the drops and shift into the big ring ready to start. Accelerating up to full speed my legs are a blur, I'm focused to get the max out of this workout I've been going for ages and I quickly check to make sure I don't do too much. 5 seconds have past and I am struggling to read the garmin as my vision is blurred after 10 seconds its a real struggle and I battle through to 20sseconds at this point my legs are screaming my heart is pumping and I'm getting slower. I now wish I had gone out in the rain. Finally its over and I flick the gears to as easy as possible just keeping my buckled legs turning. How does Chris Hoy sprint like this time after time? The minutes in between gives me times to adjust the Garmin display to have the time as big as possible so I can read it when I go cross eyed in pain. Only 2minutes to go.........

I manage the last four sessions the 5minutes rest are as much a time for mental recovery as its for physical. If only I had Heather Graham cheering me on. I think Stuart and I have found our official mascot for the Transalp