Saturday, 11 June 2011

TransGermany Day 4 - the home straight (and flat!).

Having bitched relentlessly to Hamish about the profile and surface for this stage (flat, and a lot of tarmac), I find myself in the embarrassing situation of having to admit I rather enjoyed it! The initial section of tarmac that took us out of Garmisch was, as is always the case in these events, nothing short of terrifying – it never ceases to amaze me the carnage that braking waves in such a large group can cause, and I had an unfortunately front-row seat for no less than four separate crashes! More amusingly, we were told by the organisers that the start of the stage would be delayed due to a train crossing being closed, only to find the crossing closing as we got there! The train must have decided to wait for us as well!!

Once we hit the first section of gravel road (schotterstrasse auf Deutsch), things calmed down a little, and I managed to work my way forward slightly, only to find a massive bottleneck waiting for me at a gated bridge further down the course. I was left queuing in a long line of elbowy people, and kicking myself for not wading through the knee-deep stream when I had the chance. This impromptu pause was doubly vexing because of the nature of the stage – it was split into two timed sections divided by an untimed “transition” ride of around 35km. My plan had been to treat to the two timed sections like time trials, and to chill out, refuel and catch up with Hamish on the neutralised transfer in between.

After the timing point I grabbed a banana and some watermelon (both staple foods at the feed stations on these events), and sat down in the sunshine to wait for Hamish. Just as I was settling down, he arrived, and we grabbed a bit more food to sustain us over the flat 35km to the next clock start point. We rolled along the valley road in a group with some wonderfully exuberant Italians, and A German dude who was so into the music on his iPod he couldn’t hold a line, and kept trying to run me and Hamish off the road (either that, or it was something we said!!).

Once we got to the second feed, and the clock restarted, I took a gel and got going on the big climb of the stage (things had to be re-routed last minute, and thankfully included a 600m climb for me, unlike the route profile above). I decided to use all my remaining energy on the ascent – it’s day four and it’s not like I need to do much tomorrow apart from get home, in an attempt to make up for time lost earlier in the stage. I crested the top after 45m, with the ego-boosting experience of passing all the riders around me on the way up, all that was left between me and a weissbier was a final schotter descent, and then a flat drag on the tarmac bike path around the Achensee. The descent was littered with fallen riders, including one guy who was hauling himself out of the river at the side of the path (it was hot, but not THAT hot), but by the time we got to the tarmac, I found myself in a good working group. The sign on the edge of the village told us we were going 34kph, not bad I thought, and we worked well for the last few km, dragging weary bodies to the finish line in Maurach. United by our mutual working experience, we all shook hands, then had an awkward moment where we realised we couldn’t really communicate further! I grabbed a finisher’s jersey, and was given my finisher’s medal (which only just fitted over the peak on my lazer helmet!) – job done! I finished 163rd on GC, 3h13m behind Christoph Sauser who took his second victory in the event, in spite of Alban Lakata throwing everything (including the kitchen sink) at him over the 4 days.

To me, there is a nice symmetry about coming back to stage racing. The transalp in 2006, where I raced with Hamish for the first time was what got me hooked on racing for multiple days through fantastic scenery, and ultimately caused me to give XC a go. To say that first race was anything much more than a waymarked holiday would be a fib, whereas the TransGermany felt more like a genuine race to me. I’m now plotting my return next year, but I can’t decide which one to go for. Only 6 months to decide before entries open for 2012!!

Thanks as ever to for supporting me, building me a front wheel at short notice and for the fantastic Giant bike that got many admiring glances. Thanks to Plan B racing - the organisers – for organising a fantastic, safe and enjoyable race once again and to for the excellent photos.

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