Monday, 27 July 2009

Salzkammergut Road Trip

This year for me has been pretty disjointed... with the advent of the new Genesis Bikes/Alpkit team coming late last year this year has been all about sorting the little details.. getting new riders.. deciding how the team will operate and what are goals are..

In all this although I have been following my normal training as laid down by Mark Forgy in Colorado I have struggled to get a race calendar together that fitted really with my new goals on the bike of going as big as possible... I had a cool 2 week cycling tour planned which I had to shelve due to finances... my 24 hour race goal was cancelled... I tried to get racing as much as possible but I felt like I was a little lost.... then I remembered Salzkammergut Trophy.

I had a set time booked off work and it just so happened that this race fell on the first weekend of this time... my friend Matt Barton had done it a year or so previous and it took him 15 hours and he is a good rider... the basis of this event is an almost single lap 208km race with 7000m of climbing... singlespeed rideable... I had to find out.

I mentioned the possibility to James at Genesis Bikes of hitting this race road trip style..driving out to Austria and doing the race then trucking to France to catch the tour and bag some big road climbs and cheeky singletrack... luckily he was instantly sold on the idea and convinced the gods at madison to provide a van for the trip and generously contribute fuel and ferry costs too the cause.

With the trip loosely planned we still had to find another passenger to share the driving and luckily my brother, Guy, decided that it was a trip he couldn't miss and joined the now 3 bound for Austria and big climbs:)

My Brother and me left Manchester on the Thursday morning and en route called in at Alpkit for some supplies for the trip.. namely excellent t's and a sleeping bag for my bro... the guys also sorted some stickers for some guerilla marketing on the trip.. leaving there we drove to Madison at Milton Keynes to meet James and load the van up... load up we did.. with a good supply of spares and now 2 bikes each we were set.. only one more stop to meet Paul West to collect a couple of jerseys and new shorts for the race... all that was left after this stop was to catch our ferry which we did with about 20 minutes to spare.

Arriving in France it was my turn to drive and the idea being to drive for a few hours then park up and camp but being the endurance type I decided I could drive straight through to Bad Goisern, Austria from Calais in one hit only stopping to refuel... a drive of around 10 hours... to say I was a little tired would be an understatement but my bro kept me entertained during the small hours and we arrived at the race campsite on the Friday morning leaving all day to relax in the sun and eat and drink..

Drink I did... the weather was scorching... I sunk bottle after bottle of SIS electrolyte drink fearing dehydration before such a massive effort.. in the sun we set my bike up with an 18t sprocket on the back instead of usual 16t.. 32x18 I hoped would be just low enough to muscle the long climbs but not so small I lost a ton of time on the fast open descents.. we then fitted a fresh set of Continental Race Kings.. 2.2 on front and 2.0 on back.. bike was looking real fast.

Out of nowhere you could hear thunder in the distance and black clouds were rolling in fast... in no time we were forced to take refuge in the back of the van as the rain hammered down... this didn't look good.. after an hour it stopped and seemed to be moving further down the valley.

After a trip to the race village, which was full of trade, stands.. a big area to eat and generally a great atmosphere it was decided a reasonably early night were needed as race start was 5am.

I woke up with my alarm at 4am.. at first I didn't register the sound all around the tent but quickly I became aware that this sound was rain.. and lots of it:( My brother told me I was mental for going out in this and I had to agree although you don't drive over 1000miles to cry off racing for fear of getting wet... I had already laid all my gear out in the van so quickly got ready adding to the layer a waterproof jacket... forcing food down my throat trying to cram in as many calories as possible James joined me in the van.. I was expecting no one to be up at this hour but he said he was going to come down to start and take some pics.. welcome company.

The ride down to the start was in the dark and by the time I got there I was already soaked... reassuringly allot of people were already there and the big crowd eagerly awaited the start.. while I am sure by no accident the organizers played AC DC's 'Highway to Hell' track as the start gun went... what had I let myself in for.

As everyone shifted up the gears on the flat road I had to jump wheel to wheel spinning like a mad man trying to get up the field although this flat didn't last too long.. after about 2km we started what I knew was the first climb of 10km and 800m gain.. I soon started to make my way up the field as everyone eased into a steady pace and I had to turn my gear of choice.

The weather showed no signs of letting up with lightening and claps of thunder nerve rackingly close.. especially when I realised all these euro boys riding their exotic carbon machines and me riding the biggest piece of steel on the mountain!!!

The riding was good... the climbing although relentless was pretty much manageable in gear I had chosen.. the descending was a mix of fast fire road with some tech stuff thrown in too.. although I was running technically a dry tyre I still had an acre of grip and past alot of the guys that seemed to be struggling in the technical stuff... great thing about riding rigid is usually the only way to get away with it is ride everything full on so you can 'glide' over as much as possible without getting bogged down which means you can be as fast if not faster than guys on suspension and in the mud rigid singlespeeds are king:)

At well placed intervals on the course were feed stations stocked with locks of good things to eat and isotonic drink to restock bottle as on advice I had ditched the hydration pack and gone for water bottle instead... good move as it would have driven me mad... the number of people manning the stations was amazing.. the weather was horrendous but still people were out there marshalling and manning the stations.. not to mention the spectators on the course.

I had no watch, gps or computer so just had to guestimate my position... this wasn't an issue as I felt super comfortable on the bike.. stacks of power and was following a well laid down feeding plan which kept me feeling good and although it never stopped raining you can only get so wet and as I was warm enough I was happy...

This was until the raindrops started to get bigger and come down slower.. and settle! SNOW!!!

At the tops of the climbs the temperature really started to drop and the feed stations took on more of the appearance of POW camps with riders huddling for warmth and shelter.. luckily this weather is standard fair for any British rider so it was not felt so bad.. although my hands went numb I couldn't brake so descending was tricky as soon as you got lower you warmed up and were good again.. some of the feed stations had warmed some drinks up which was most welcome and at one feed station I drew a small crowd of disbelievers at a single speed bike competing in this distance race. I had one guy poking my chain and another trying to shift an imaginary gear with my brake lever.. felt like I had just wandered into a different world in which its inhabitants although may have read fantastical tales on these one geared beasts they had never actually experienced one first hand.. I also discovered that singlespeed is called singlespeed in all languages:)

As time passed I worked out I was over the half way point.. we had had the 100km leading race guys pass us now I was mixed up in the much shorter race entrants... at a feed station I was listening to a marshal explain to a racer where he was a gesticulating a cut off at around 150km... unfortunately no one spoke English and I have no experience of Austrian or German so I guessed that we were maybe a little off the pace and were going to come close to missing a time cut off... how had this happened?? I had felt good the whole time out on the bike...I really pressed on after this point out of the saddle on the gas on all the climbs and not stopping for anything.. when I got to a railway crossing the barriers were down and I was told to stop... I assumed that we would be going over crossing when we could and as I waited a marshal cut off my transponder.. I was a little lost and the same happened to a fellow competitor that had also heart sunk.. I had missed a time cut off.. devastated I rode back to the campsite... how could I have felt so good and been so slow?? how was I going to explain to James, my brother and sponsors that they had backed me to complete this epic race on a singlespeed and I had had come up short?? I was a little angry too as glancing at the marshal’s watch while he cut off my transponder I noticed I had 6 hours till race end and only I guessed 60km to do.. I would easy do it.. my toys came out the pram and I tore off the race number from the front of my bike... as I got to the campsite ready for the disappointing looks of James and Guy I saw James coming towards me relieved he had found me.. apparently the race due to the snow and severe weather conditions had been stopped... I was immediately relieved that I hadn't failed but then just as quickly very angry that I hadn't been able to finish.. I had ridden the worst and been out on the bike for 10 hours... this was the first race that I had ever ridden that had been stopped.

Nothing left to say or do a well earned shower was taken... and plans discussed about next year and how we would come back and do it again.

Bikes and kit packed we drove towards France.. think again after an epic post I will dodge more text and photo diary the rest of the trip:)

Results are up although not sure what they are based on but when they called it a day i was 31st.. not too shabby for a man with one gear and no suspension in a world of carbon fibre pervery