Thursday, 23 August 2012

Transalp days 3 & 4 Ischgl-Nauders-Scuol

Having decided that the weather would definitely be kinder the following day, i did the most stupid thing possible just before going to sleep - i checked the crystal ball that is my phone's weather app. It told a rather different story, predicting 8degrees and some rain for the following day. Bumsocks. It was going to be cold.

We were back in block B, ditched our bikes near the front (after spending about five minutes trying to get them to "mate" in such a way that they didn't become a catalyst for bike dominoes through the whole pen), and went for coffee in a nice posh hotel in the centre of town. Mike and Nay had me worried, they were both wearing full arms, full legs, waterproofs, booties, and looked ready for a winter ride in the arctic. By contrast, i'd gone for knee and arm warmers, and Nick just arms and visibly pink knees on display. Were we going to freeze solid on the far side of the Idjoch?

There was a noticeable new layer of snow on the mountains surrounding Imst, which was definitely lower down than the 2800m we were going to climb up to. All i remember of breakfast was Nick coming out with the incredibly prescient statement "After a while, it just becomes posting it in your face, doesn't it?".

9am came all too quick, and before we knew it, the Block A party was off a minute ahead of us schmoes. The poor guy who had the job of removing the tape from the front of our pen almost didn't make it out of the way in time, and i had visions of him appearing for work the following day with tyre tread marks in his face until a graceful leap saw him clear the hard-charging euros at the front. Why you'd be keen for a hard start on a day that went straight into a 1500m climb, i have no idea, but don't underestimate the enthusiasm of these guys!

 We both gurned our way up the Idjoch, whereas previous climbs had been harder surfaced, and slightly more gentle gradient which enabled me to give Nick the occasional push, i'm sure more for encouragement than for actual aid, the Idjoch was so steep and loose that it was every man for himself. As we climbed higher, it was clear that the fresh mountain air coming into my lungs was getting colder and colder, and as we rounded the shoulder of the mountain before the final steep kick to the summit it began to snow. Lightly enough that none of us were quite sure to start with, but it was snow alright. We pushed on to the top of the pass, keen to keep the warmth in us that we had generated on the climb up, and apparently rode past 2m high snowdrifts i have absolutely no recollection of.

The descent was long, loose, and slightly terrifying. Nick was in his element descending like a man posessed, and several hairpins ahead of me after only a couple of corners! I was much more timid, and as a result lost a significant amount of time on my partner and more, ahem, confident (or foolhardy) riders.

 The rest of the stage passed in a bit of a blur, and i don't have any recollection whatsoever of the final climb up to the pretty little Tyrolean town of Nauders, but we must have ridden it somehow! We threw caution to the wind a bit more with pacing, and it paid off - we came in 76th on the stage. There was a great deal of disturbing artwork on the walls of the town hall, where we were staying, which frankly did nothing for the "emotional experience" of the camp (see transalp road book for details). On the plus side, we would be showering and breakfasting at a local 4* hotel. I drew the long straw on the shower front, and was treated to an unbelievable 7-jet affair that left me wondering if i'd ever been that clean before!  Dinner was up a ski lift at 2300m in blissful sunshine, although it was pretty chilly when we decided to come back down again. My dodgy right knee was starting to give me problems again, but thankfully a very helpful man behind the bar understood my pidgin German, and gave me a bag of ice for me knee, which then leaked all over me during dinner...

Day 4 was the shortest stage of the race, practically a sprint at just over 50km, and took us from one of the most idyllic places i have stayed in Austria to the only place i have ever stayed in Switzerland, Scuol.  Sadly, there would be no night in a nuclear bunker this time though, with our accommodation decidedly above ground, and mercifully lacking the glacially cold showers of 2006.

The usual morning routine done and done, with the most amazing array of muesli ever thrown into the mix to provide confusion and delight (and possibly dismay from the people who owned the hotel - the Transalp decimated their breakfast buffet!), we were on the line ready. Day 4 was the one i remembered from previous years as being very picturesque, and also the day when the fatigue stops getting any worse. This year was no different.

There was a bit of a chill in the air as we set off up the first climb of the day, but nothing that arm warmers alone couldn't keep off, and by the time we reached the top of the first climb they were off. The weather had improved hugely over the first three days, and with predicted temperatures in the mid-20s, we were altogether happier with the outlook. We had obviously acclimatised to the climbs too, as neither of the main ascents in the day's stage stuck out in my mind as particularly brutal, in spite of there being 1900m of climbing hidden in the profile.

The descent past the Schwarzsee was great, although sadly one section was justifiably marked as black, as Nick and I both attempted and then failed to ride it. What followed was an ever-steepening, loose forest track descent that bottomed out in the valley at 1000m, on the road that took us across the Swiss border. Under the watchful eye of the Swiss border officials, we grouped up with a couple of other riders and began the flat dash into Scuol. Unfortunately, this was the moment my brand new front XTR shift cable chose to split, leaving me stuck in the 28 on the flat. Cue a leg-smarting 5km of spinning 28*11 as fast as i could to keep the pace up, and before we knew it were we into Scuol, with a ride time of just over 3hrs.

Sadly, i only later discovered that a physics friend of mine was living in Scuol and looking out for me - at the time i was too afraid of swiss telecoms charges to switch my phone on! Post stage red wine was had on the balcony of the fabulous youth hostel in town, followed by an Alpenhorn-accompanied dinner up the mountain. What a way to end a day!

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