1st August, 2016
Not stopping to admire the views felt almost rude, a crime against the beauty of nature, but as my husband Steve frequently states (even riding to the shop!) 'it is always a race' and this time it certainly was!
Having broken my foot carelessly running down the stairs and missing two months of training I fully expected to be travelling slow enough to admire the views at Transalp and take in the spectacular scenery.
Transalp is billed at 'the hardest MTB stage race in the world', the 19th edition this year started in Imst in Austria and covered 519km with 17,736m of ascent traversing the mountains of Austria and Switzerland before finishing in Arco in Italy on day 7.
Five years ago Steve and I competed in Transalp and I am not joking when I say it took me 5 years to get over it and even consider doing it again! You can read the story (with some interesting German to English translation) of our 2011 race and engagement here.
This time I knew what was coming and had 5 years more cycling experience...............
Day 1 89Km/2960m Imst to Nauders - OMG! What have I done! Talk about a shock to the system!
The chaos of a mass start of over 840 mountain bikers in teams of two is something worth seeing! Nearly 60 mixed pairs started in Imst, but only 46 completed the full race! The majority of other competitors were all male teams.
My Facebook post that day read "Smiling at the beginning, washing bikes at the end! No photos from the middle as although the scenery was stunning I was mostly trying not to cry on my stem!"
It was an epic ride, with 3 major off road climbs, with an average of 13% on the second climb. The temperature was in the thirties, this combined with the technical nature of the riding, the mental climbs and some major episodes of cramp meant our average speed was only around 13kph!!!!
Day 2 56Km/2126m Nauders to Scuol - A routine begins to develop.
Another epic day of mountain biking with some beautiful views! Despite climbing in 32 degree heat and desperately trying to stay upright in the crazy enduro section I began to settle into my rhythm and was delighted not to have any more cramp.
It took nearly 5hrs for 56km, so a tough day in the saddle passing through 3 different countries!
Post-ride our routine has fallen into place, sit for 5 minutes and demolish all available food washed down with Coke, wash bikes then locate bags and hotel.
At the hotel we crack through our tasks, shower, wash kit, change brake pads, make drinks for the next day, pack our camelbaks with food etc, lay out our kit and then head to the pasta party to inhale a ton of pasta!
Today's party involved a cable car and at least another 1500m of climb!
Day 3 72Km/2598m Scuol to Livigno - The most spectacular scenEry I have ever seen.
Most of the day we were up at 2000 metres or above, there's not much air up there!
This was definitely the most spectacular day I have ever had on the bike! Some terrifying drops gave amazing views.
My legs had come to accept what was expected of them and we started to pick off many of the pairs who had beaten us in the previous days and even finished with a sprint (well a slight increase in pace!).
Day 4 74Km/2537m Livigno to Bormio - Over half way!
After a couple of testing smaller climbs (a 5km steep forest climb and a 15km steady climb) we headed to Bormio via the Umbrail Pass which was nearly 20km in 35 degree heat, the last 4km was a technical single-track climb! By this point much of the field was walking and we were able to gain a few more places.
However the descent was terrifying in places with lots of loose stuff, big rocks and sheer drops; it was a case of point the bike downhill and pray!
Day 5 86Km/3073m Bormio to Mezzana - The Queens Stage!
Today was listed as 5 out of 5 for difficulty and distance, climbing to a maximum height of 2621m on Passo Gavia! It really was a day of highs and lows and ups and downs!
I felt broken and old on the first climb which was almost 31km of continuous climb! The enduro section today was so steep and technical I was reduced to a walk.
The second big climb was super steep and rocky and I had a second wind and chased down some other mixed pairs and the final 20km was all descent through forests, gravel and single track and we flew home on some of the best trails in the world!
The emotions today included fear, joy, exhaustion, exhilaration, frustration and feeling truly blessed to ride on trails over the tops of mountains and see views that most humans never get the chance to see.
Day 6 88km/2364m Mezzana to Trento - So close but so far!
Day 6 is a tough day mentally; you are nearly there but soooooo tired. Fatigue caused me to fall in the enduro section, but no serious harm done. Bizarrely today's stage went through a 2km long service tunnel where the temperature dropped to 6 degrees and we rode in the dark through icy water! Not a pleasant experience.
Day 7 54km/2042m Trento to Arco - The rain!
After being so lucky with the weather all week, today everything changed! It rained for most the day, creating some super slippery rocky descents and plenty of mud. It was like riding in Wales but with longer climbs (the first 25km of the day being uphill).
The feed station at the top of the climb provided much welcomed hot tea, but we didn't hang around as the signs on the trees warned of bears!
I had 2 little lie downs in the enduro section before we powered through the last 10km of vineyards to the finish in Arco.
The final stats:
43 hours in the saddle
Final finishing position 35th
4 brake pad changes
35 energy bars
30+ energy gels
Several tons of pasta and muesli