Somewhat daunted by our initial skirmish the Marienbergjoch on the first day, we nervously looked over the stage profile for the following day. It was very similar, in fact identical, to the second day of the Transalp 2006 covering the 78km from Imst to the "proper" mountain town of Ischgl. Nick looked carefully over every kilometer over dinner in the tent outside the sports centre in Imst, and we concluded that (a) day 2 was probably harder than day 1 and (b) we should probably treat it with some respect and try to ride a bit more steadily than we had the day before. This reminded me of having exactly the same conversation with my partner of six year previously, Hamish, in much the same spot in Imst. Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose!
The small shaft of light for us was that the weather app on my phone was predicting somewhat better weather for the following day rather than the on-again off-again rain and soaking trails of day 1. We settled down in our makeshift beds (miles from the pasta party, i'm sad to say) to ready ourselves for the following day.
Sunday morning dawned damp. We went for breakfast hoping it was just a shower and that it would brighten up. It didn't brighten up. We discovered the previous day's ride had been good enough to get us into start block B, where the reasonably serious people go (there were two ahead, A1 for the ultra-fast, and A2 for the still pretty damn quick), and so set off to stick our bikes at the front of the block before heading off for what would be the first of many coffees with Mike and Naomi before they got gridded with the big boys and girls. We were joined by Catherine Williamson (bizhub) one half of the second-placed women's team, and who was to become another regular eating companion, all of us nervously looking through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the hope that the rain had stopped. It hadn't.
We went to our bikes and stood in the now more gentle rain, waiting for the strains of AC/DC to
filter back to our more realistic start block so we could at least get going and warm up a bit. The start of the stage was a little more typical for the Transalp than the previous days 40km/h asphalt-fest - a short section of tarmac before we hit the first big climb of the day, the Venetalm.
After the previous days shock, the Venetalm reassured me that we could get through things, it was much as i remember transalp climbs being a gravelly fire road up at a grade of around 10%, and then a similar descent down the other side. Having crested our first 1000m climb, it was important not to get carried away, however, there were still two more significant climbs to go, and then a nasty sting in the tail in the form of a gradual climb up the valley to Ischgl which was peppered with little 20-50m climbs and descents. We first had master the road climd to the Pillerhohe, and then survive some of the most tricky technical riding of the week down to Landeck. It was mostly rideable, although an unfortunate racing incident involving another rider changing their mind as to whether they would let me ride past as they walked part of the descent left me on the deck. As some point down this descent, the weather decided it would be kind, and the sun came out to give us a magnificent rainbow over the mountains.
Despite my worries, we rode the final 20km still feeling strong, and despite backing off compared to our previous day's pace, still finished 101st in the Men's category in a little under 5.5hrs. Ischgl's camp had fond memories for me, every time i opened my transalp bag from the previous trip, little green rubbery bits of the indoor tennis court in Ischgl that would be our hostel for the night would fall out. The town sits in a magnificent valley with the skyline utterly dominated by the imposing mountains around, including the two peaks on either side of the brutal Idjoch pass that was on the menu for the following day. A quick wash of the bikes showed i had a more pressing concern, though - my spill had put a scrape along my non-drive side chainstay that had gone through the top layer of carbon! Argh.
Panicking more than a little, i went to talk to Dave Padfield, who now works as a road manager for the Topeak Ergon team, and was mechanic-ing for the top men's and women's teams in the race. He took a calm, collected look at the scrape, and told me not to worry - Trek make their carbon strong, and it'd probably be ok for the race. I should keep riding it, as the alternatives would be to pull out or try to buy a second bike - neither of which were really viable! Reassured, i headed back to camp to the daily chores, leaving my poor mal-treated bike in a multi-storey car park overnight.
Pasta party done, washing up, it was time to put everything ready for the morning and go to sleep. Nick and I made the obligatory check of the following day's profile. Man, the Idjoch was going to be tough. Almost 1500m climbing straight from the gun, and steep. Let's hope the weather improves, and there's no fresh snow on the tops of the mountains tomorrow morning.