Monday, 30 July 2012

Transalp 2012 - Day 1, Oberammergau to Imst

Getting to races that start in the south of Germany. It's always all about the super-efficient Bavarian train system, which can get you from Munich airport to seemingly anywhere, as long as you don't mind two changes (bit of a faff with a bike bag) and 2hrs of very nice scenery out of the window. So it was to Oberammergau. Bikes built, and a first not-too-traumatic night in the Transalp camp, and Nick and I were ready for the first day. It was wet. This was an unpleasant surprise. I warned Nick that i may "accidentally" have ticked the box that said "UCI Elite" team, and that we may end up gridded somewhere towards the front as a result. I don't think either of us were quite ready for being called up individually, and by name to the 3rd row of the grid, however. The line of people we were going to get in the way of behind us seemed endless, and included multiple British champ Sally Bigham and her partner Milena Landtwing. Oh dear.

Thankfully, we had the calming influence of Mike Blewitt and Naomi Hansen (or as the organisers would have it, Hansen Naomi) riding for Mike's team MarathonMTB.com before the build up to the Highway to Hell, a track that even now causes my resting HR to jump by 20bpm.The start was an extended road section that headed slightly uphill towards the start of the first offroad section for the race, the Plansee Trail. I got massively carried away with the "not getting in anyone's way", and ended up riding with the front group. Eventually, the sight of so many high-quality elite riders made me remember i shouldn't be there, and that i should also probably be looking out for my poor teamie who'd never experienced the frightening semi-organised chaos that passes for the start of a Euro marathon race.



I stopped for a pee, and to have a bite to eat, waited a bit and saw Mike and Nay come past. I made a mistake that i would make several more times through the week - i saw a guy in a red helmet, assumed it was Nick and got going again. A few km further on, guy in red helmet passed me on the road - Nick had grown quite a lot in the preceding 45mins! I stopped again, and this time waiting until i could definitely see the real Mr. Herlihy! We rode well together, eating up the miles and taking in the views. We reached the top of the Lermoos freeride trail, a steepish, slightly technical but short descent into the town that had apparently people problems in the TransGermany in 2011. I suggested to Nick that we should probably be in front before the descent so as not to form part of the rolling roadblock. It wasn't to be sadly, we just caught the next group on the way down instead!



There was only one significant climb on the whole day's route, the Marienbergjoch. It was a 800m vertical ascent, not too steep and quite tame in the context of the mountains that were waiting for us in the Dolomites. It also had the advantage for me of having been on the route 6 years ago, so i knew that even when slow and crap i could get over it (okay, slower and crapper). We were not ready for it! It was a brute, i was straight into the granny ring, and very soon at the top of the block. The top section was marked on the route profile as "push/carry" (schieben auf Deutsch), but i had confidently predicted that it would be an easy ride, really, it was just the organisers being over-cautious with their gradings for the first day. I kept riding, slower and slower, until it became clear that 3rpm was not the way to go, and got off. I joined the ranks of pushing people, looking across to see Nick looking a little shell shocked. Double oh dear, had this been a really bad idea after all?! We wobbled our way to the top, feeling a little bruised of spirit. The descent to the finish in Imst was a classic Transalp "kitty litter" affair and a good warm-up for things to come. We whizzed along the forest roads in a group of riders, stopping the clock at 4:44 for 82nd place on the stage, comfortably inside the top-100 we decided was a sensible aim in the men's category. I have to admit, the thought of another 7 days, most of them harder, had me more than a little scared!

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