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Bike Transalp 2018- An experience report

Originally, I wanted to report every day from my experiences during the tour. Already during the stages while riding,  I formulated whole passages in order to be able to express my experiences later.

But no way! This idea was harder to implement than expected. After six to eight hours of mountain biking in the legs, the day’s remaining goal was only to have a shower, eat sleep and recover. There was a large Expo area in the finish, where not only the host town had a stand and handed out cakes, fruit, rolls and drinks, but also other sponsors of the race had their stands.

For me, this destination area also provided the ideal setting to meet other bikers, to talk to them about the stage and to chat a little – after a whole day with only a little communication on the mountain bike, a nice thing.

In fact, after the stage, there is almost more work to be done than during the actual race, and so I come to my second reason not to have written any daily reports: first of all, we have to reorient at each new place. Sometimes we were lucky and all the stations like Bike Wash (where you can wash the bikes), Bike Park (where you can safely drop off the bikes during the night), Expo terrain (the finish area), the camp (mostly gymnasiums where some participants stay) and Pasta Party (the evening event with dinner) were all in one area.

Sometimes, however, the villages were a little smaller and did not provide the necessary infrastructure for it and one had to walk here and there to manage everything.

Since my Transalp team partner is even more organized and disciplined than Me (I call it “German”) he had a tight program of bicycle washing, bike storage, going to camp, taking a shower and setting the sleeping space. Only then were we basically free.

If, like me, you chat with Hinz and Kunz and get through the finish line a little later in the day, then it’s time for dinner already.

A little I regretted not even finding the time and energy for some sightseeing after the daily stage, to stroll and eat ice cream. Only on the fifth day we actually sat once in the old town in a small village in the Vale del Sole in Italy. Otherwise, I was just too exhausted to spend energy on sightseeing. In addition, I actually had seen a lot all day long during the race.

But let’s be more structures: It all started with Hinrich picking me up from the airport in Munich at 5:30 am. on Saturday. He came from Hanover, I fresh from Delhi and then we went straight to Lenggries, just south of Munich. Radl Rasti was already waiting for us in his grandiose bicycle shop. Rasti knows Hinrich and me from the Hero MTB Himalaya Race, which he looks after as the best mechanic in the world. Now he had organized a mountain bike from our mutual friend Christine, which I was allowed to use during the Transalp. What a gift! It is super expensive to travel with a bike and also super expensive to transport it by plane (if you fly with Lufthansa at least).

Rasti and Christoph, his trainee, were really busy, but still took the time to get my rental bike fit. I was really relieved. If the two had have an eye on the bike, it must be in the best possible condition for the race.

After a few hours in the shop, we said goodbye.

By the way, I used the time in the store to inspect all my new acquisitions, which I had bought before the race and sent to Hinrich. It was like Christmas: bars, sunglasses, new gloves and bicycle shoes! I was lucky that the gloves and shoes fited like cast – otherwise it is probably not a good idea to try shoes for the first time at a race.

We traveled for two hours to Imst, the starting point of the race.

I didn’t worry much about the race itself. As soon as the first stage started, everything would be organized and would work. I was more concerned about whether we would get everything organised on the Saturday before the race. The first part with the flight from India, picking up the bike and reaching Imst had worked smoothly. Now the accreditation, parking of the car, finding the camp and packing the Transalp bags was on. As a Transalp participant you get special bags and only these are transported by the organizers to the next station. In addition to bicycle clothes, our energy supply, leisure clothing, cosmetics, mattresses and sleeping bag had to fit in that bag. It is not so easy to decide what comes along and what not.

Hinrich and I finished the first day together with a pizza. During dinner, we also discussed our tactics. Not that we had any ambitious plans to be at the forefront. Getting through was our declared goal. Despite Hinrich and me being quite different in terms of riding (I am good uphill, he is good downhill),  but the race is a team race, we wanted to try to stay together on the first day.

First stage Imst-Lauders

After an uneventful night in the local gym – except for a few snorers didn’t happen much – we went to the first breakfast. For this we had received extra stamps, which I forgot to tske along. Well, great.

Kindly, a table neighbour gave me his stamp and so I still came to my two buns with cheese and sausage – not really an athlete’s breakfast! Hinrich and I immediately became friends with Karsten (the breakfast sponsor) and Peter, his team partner. The two are already over 55 years old and come from Berlin.

While we had a fairly relaxed breakfast, it started to rain. What a start to a seven-day stage race!

Due to our rear start numbers, Hinrich and I started in the last blog. On the way we past all the other starters and met Luis Pinto, a Portuguese elite rider whom we already knew from the MTB Himalaya race, which he had won three times. So it was also international world class here and not only us.

Nevertheless, with 320 teams, the number of participants this year was significantly lower than in recent years, in which up to 600 teams participated.

For me, however, 640 participants were already a huge number.

The starting gun was fired. But since we started at the back, we didn’t start rolling until about 5 minutes after. Enough time for one last photo and to turn on the GPS watch.

By now the rain had stopped and when we road the first kilometers out of the city, I felt like participating in the Tour de France, with all the riders in front of me.

Suddenly, I was filled with joy and a lightness that I often feel when I am sitting on my bike. I enjoyed the cheers of the spectators and Hinrich next to me made some wheelies to cheer the audience.

The first stage to Nauders was quite long with almost 90 km and 2300 meters of altitude, but technically simple, almost without single trails.

In the beginning it was not easy for me to find my pace. With so many participants in front of me, the field kept moving apart and together. Hinrich was also a little more leisurely than I was. I drove away a little bit in front and stopped again and again for a photo in between. The alpine landscape was magnificent and I loved the small villages through which we came in between. At the catering stations Hinrich caught up again either through his fast-paced downhill skills or I waited for him a bit. I then ate watermelon, pineapple and cake and talked a little with the organizing team.

I developed a special interest for the Motor Cross doctors. In fact, we had a whole team of doctors with us who drove the same routes with their motorcycles and were able to provide immediate first aid in the event of an accident, etc. Madness! We lack that in India.

After 7 hours we trudged to the finish, Hinrich completely done, I was thrilled with the first stage!

After some cakes and rolls in the finish we went to work: Bikewash, Bikepark, Camp.

In the camp I met two Brazilians and immediately became friends with them! More than 40 different nations took part in the Transalp this year.

Since the Austrians are not quite so well in English, I helped the Brazilians with the communication. Later we all took the gondola to the mountain station for the award ceremony and the pasta party. Tomorrow we would have to cover the same route with the bikes – without a cable car.

Second stage Nauders -Livigno

The stage from Nauders to Livigno was over 102 km long with 3500 meters of altitude. This king stage would be the longest and toughest of the whole race.

Since it was not only a lot of altitude meters to climb, but also some technical descents were included, I set off on my own from the beginning. Our plan was that on the one hand I would testmyself how I was actuallydoing  it in terms of performance in international comparison (I had no idea, because I am quite alone in India as a woman in mountain biking), on the other hand I wanted to organize everything for Hinrich in the finish and prepare the camp, so that he only had to recover, once he reached.

In hindsight, this second stage was my favourite stage. It had everything to offer: long ascents, flowing single trails and a great landscape!

Within a day we cycled through all heights, rode through small villages, along enchanting mountain lakes and raging rivers, through forests and meadows where huge cows grazed with their ringing bells. There are no such big cows in India!

Sure, the stage was hard, but I liked it and was anxious to supply myself with homemade bars along the way and with cakes and fruit at the catering stations.

The trails and descents were pretty much rideable for me. For the first time in my life, I was on the road on laid-out bike paths and advertised bike routes – what an experience.

The beginning, which started with a long 12 kilometer climb, was a challenge, because I started at the very back of the peloton and  in front of me everyone was so close together, that it was very difficult to come by. But over time I caught up with.

In the end I reached the finish line just under 8 hours and enjoyed the cheese and ham rolls and the melon. A hot shower and already Hinrich came to the finish – also tired, but a strong performance. He became stronger by the day!

If you reach the finish line after 8 hours (i.e. 5 p.m.), then there is hardly enough time to create all the target work, let alone to recover. My legs hurt quite nicely and with a few stretching exercises and self-massage, I tried to prepare my legs for the next day.

Until now, I had only thought of overcoming the longkings stage well. But now I realized that there were still 5 stages waiting for me!

After all, I was lucky that I got along so well with the rental bike including the saddle. Me and the little fullsuspension bike did great. Ok, it was only a 26, a bit heavier and I would have liked a few smaller gears. But otherwise we both harmonized  and were a great team until the end. At this point, thanks again to Lenggries to Christine and Radl Rasti and team!

Third Stage Livigno – Bornio

In the morning I woke up with heavy legs, tiredness and in a bad mood. My body didn’t feel likeriding on the bike today. In addition, I also had great respect of the 67 km stage: 22 km single trail should be there today- oho!

I decided to start the stage slowly and together with Hinrich. I wanted to start  the single trail behind everyone else, so that I could ride it my own way and not being in anyone’s way.

The first kilometers were hard. My legs didn’t like having to kick again. But after 5 km, behold, I was warmed up and it went again. After a sliding passage we reached the highest point at 3000 m altitude. It was cold and windy up here. And in an attempt to leave some air out of my rear wheel for a better descent, I accidentally opened the clamping valve and the poor Hinrich had to pump in the cold too!

Windbreakers on and on the single trail. It was a landscaped trail of legend….with pump tracks and so-called berms. At first I didn’t even know how to get around these artificial curves and rather slipped them down, but Hinrich stayed behind me and taught me to ride the neighboring curve and with time it was really fun to ride this flowing eight kilometer long track.

Hinrich and I rode together today and I had a lot of fun riding many paths, both downhill and uphill. We met many bike tourists on their (e-) mountain bikes and I was thrilled about this cycling tourism, which does not even exist in the Indian Himalayas.

All in all, we had a great mountain bike tour through a wonderful alpine landscape today.

The camps became more and more funny. Today we slept on artificial grass in a tennis hall. For some it was too sandy, I found it funny. At night, however, it was almost cold – the roof clearly had no isulation.

Overall, the overnight stays in the camp were very pleasant. I had already been a bit worried about the mass accommodation in advance, because I heard stories of overcrowded camps, dirt, cold showers, stench and not enough toilets.

But due to the small number of participants, we were also only 90 men (including maybe 7 women) in the gyms and sports halls. In addition, we mostly only had good weather and never had to dry lot of laundry inside the hall. There was also a free laundry service from the Transalp organization, which I was happy to use.

The pasta party with award ceremony was as usual: pasta with bolognese or tomato sauce, sometimes a salad and yogurt. Not really good, not really varied, but the hunger made us eat. The destination cities are responsible for the catering. Maybe they should be briefed a little better, because only pasta and sauce are not a good sportsman’s food in the long run- Vegetables clearly fell short!

Stage Four Bornio-Ponte de Legno

From Bormio we went  to Ponte de Legno and the stage was shortened by another 10 km to 57 km the previous day.

It was a good stage for me with a long climb to Passo Gavia, then a single 3 km single trail- for me a hiking trail. I had to walk it almost exclusively. This Singletrail was more similar to Indian conditions. But only a few were able to master this technically difficult section and so I didn’t lose quite as much time, although I noticed that I was even slower walking down, than others.

At the very end came a great technical bike park trail. Unfortunately, my concentration and strength was no longer 100%, so I had to go down slowly, but surely this would be the perfect training trail for me.

After today’s stage we were lucky to have all stations at one campus – so no long distances to cover anymore today. Our accommodation was a sports stadium.

Today the pasta party was actually really good with lots of vegetables, meat side dish, soup and…… Noodles, of course.

Stage 5  Ponte de Legno – Vale del Sole

The shortest stage of the tour to Vale del Sole with 50 km was actually quite relaxed and we reached the finish already at 2 pm :).

Of course, there was also an intensive uphill right at the beginning. The subsequent 8-kilometre single trail on a high-altitude trail frightened me- on the right it went down steeply into the void and although the path was easy to ride on, I often had to get off the bike and push. Looking into the depths, I got quite dim. So, as in the last few days, all the race participants overtook me again, with whom Ihad caught up with you before. What’s the point, I arrived safely down, albeit a little later. Another woman on a guided bike ride behind me wasn’t so lucky and crashed. She could be recovered, but it is still a shock.

Then it was almost only downhill to the finish. The descent was easy and I got faster and faster and then all of a sudden a sharp little rock came – I jumped over it, made a jump, landed safely and was quite pleased to have mastered this little obsticle,But I didn’t go far: I had a flat!

I slowly started to dismantle the tire and got the tool out amd Hinrich came from behind. Although some other riders past me and asked if I needed help, it was nice to have a partner. We quickly changed the tube and then rolled on to the finish line together.

Despite the short stage I was tired and used the longer afternoon for a nap. Such a multi-day tour is quiteintense.

Through the midday sleep I actually gained enough energy in the evening to sit with Karsten and Peter in the small Italian old town Of Pellizzano to drink a café – something that we should have done more, our stage places were so beautiful!

Stage 6: Vale del Sole – Roncone

The second last stage of the race had it all again with 80 km and 2800 meters of altitude. There were some crisp ascents and some very steep and later very muddy descents, because it started to rain. The morning before the stage, I had thought back and forth whether or not to take a rain jacket with me.

The last few days I always had one with me, in beautiful sunshine. Not today and it was raining. But the rain was warm, so no problem. It’s just stupid that the trails become so slippery in the rain after 500 bikers had rode on them before.

Stage 7: Roncone – Arco

The last stage- Juhu! This time I had the rain jacket with me and that was a good thing, because we drove almost from the beginning onwards in the rain only. The ambition was gobe, the fatigue prevailed and for me and Hinrich it was only about arriving in Arco on Lake Garda without falls and mechanical problems. Hinrich and I rolled through the olive trees and vine yards to the finish over the cobblestones of Arco.

Juhu, we and our bikes had made it!

After we had washed the bikes and sent them back to Imst through the bike transport, it actually stopped raining. Here on Lake Garda it can get really warm! With an Italian ice cream in hand, we strolled through Arco before heading to the last pasta party followed by a closing party.

The next morning we took the organized Shuttle to Imst and then continued to Lenggries to leave my loyal rental bike.

Again an adventure has come to an end and what a beautiful experience it was once again. Not only because I had a great tour through the beautiful Alps and a lot of fun riding up and down the mountain, but also because I could meet many nice people from all over the world and wonderful friendships were formed. For sure I had the best Bike Transalp Partner in the World!

Conclusion: Next year I will come to the Bike Transalp for the east tour through the Dolomites.

I still have to work on my downhill skills though