It's proving quite difficult to get started on even cataloging the whole 8 days of the TransAlp. It may just be the post-stage race depression talking, but there's just so much that has happened in that time, that it hardly seems possible to commit it to paper and give you a feel of what life is like in an MTB stage race across the alps. But i'll try. If you can't be arsed to read what follows, just imagine it's a fantasy camp where chubbier, less naturally talented people pretend they're Grand Tour riders for a week, and you won't be too far wide of the mark!
The general pattern of each day is pretty similar. You have got to be ready, and have finished digesting in time for the stage start, which is usually 9am. This means you probably set your alarm for 6am, perhaps 6:15 if you're feeling particularly knackered from the day before. Frankly, it's irrelevant, as some very perky northern European will get up at 5 anyway, and either (a) turn the lights on, (b) make an incredibly loud squeaking noise getting off their inflatable mattress (c) fart or (d) subject you, at close quarters, to them applying the first layer of chammy cream pre-breakfast. Welcome to the waking world.
First order of business is to wriggle out of your sleeping bag, pack up your kit, retrieve your phone from wherever it may be charging and head for breakfast. This is usually pretty close to camp, and generally plentiful. Eat. Keep eating. When you reach the uncomfortably full stage, head back for another bowl of muesli. In the words of my partner "It just becomes a matter of posting it in your face". When you're sure you're close to popping, head back to camp, join the unbelievably long line for toilets which will have only one of locks, loo roll and a working flush. You have to embrace the European way!
Finally, put on your kit, drop your bag off with the nice people who more all your crap from stage to stage, remembering to first pack your chammy cream in the bag (i once did a whole stage of the TransGermany with a pot of assos bum cream in my jersey pocket!), and head over to the start for gridding. If you're in the nosebleeds, like we were, the pens open at 8am. Be there at 7:45 if you want a first line spot. If you've got UCI points or are doing particularly well, you get to head up at 8:45. Ditch your bike in the pens, head for coffee somewhere warm.
Be on the start line at 8:55, just in time for the warm up to "Highway to Hell". Start. Expect that if there's a road section to start with, it'll be carnage and you won't be disappointed. 1100 people all want to be as far forward as possible, and have very good brakes. Be ready for a big climb early on, as there often is, just to make you feel like you might get a second visit from your breakfast. Also be ready for the dash to the finish, the run in is often flat, and people really are racing for 300th place on the stage!
Good job. You made it to the next stage town. Now the housework marathon begins. Eat more, find your bags where you'll be resting your head tonight. Wash yourself first, then your kit, preferably in the same shower. Find a suitable wire fence to hang your kit from - it'll usually be dry by evening, even at 1900m, in July. Lay out your bed. Eat some more. Nap & read until the pasta party starts at 6pm. Try to find a sneaky plug socket to charge your phone/garmin. Curse the people who got there first. Give up.
Go to the pasta party. Meet up with fellow racers, recount the stories of the guy who went over the edge on a fire road trail and had to be hauled back up with a rope, or the girl who got pushed the whole way up a 1000m climb by her partner. Eat more. Get pasta-poisoning, where even the thought of Bolognese is enough to make your stomach do backflips. When your done eating, the entertainment begins - watch the day's winners crowned, see the photos of the day and the video of the day, and then suitably tired, head out for a recovery vino rosso!
When you get back in the evening, try to remember to bring your kit in (i somehow lost a sock in Livigno, although i'm used to sacrificing the odd one to the god of washing machines anyway...), put your stuff ready for the morning, wash out and refill your bottles, and hit the hay, ready for the 5am gas attack. Rinse, repeat. Wax on, wax off.
I've somehow made it sounds like a real trial by tedium doing a stage race, but nothing could be further from the truth. You get to ride some fantastic trails, in this case 620km, most of which i had never seen before through fabulous scenery. There are kind people to fill your bottles and ply you with food at the aid stations, others to take your bags from town to town, mechanics a-plenty, bike washes (free and done for you if you're lucky enough to be able to afford a Scott) and local kids to cheer you every turn through every village if the sun is out. Okay, the routine can be a bit tiresome, but there's something so fantastically indulgent about knowing that your aim is to go, ride, have fun, ride fast and that for those 8 days, nothing else comes close in significance. If you're on the fence about trying it, try it, you might just like it!