Now I know why it is called Mountain Biking

June 25, 2009 Andy 1 Comments

What can I say? I love mountains, I love mountain biking, and I’m starting to get into this personal fitness thing. So, based on that, this holiday could only be a great thing.

Despite all the training I threw myself at, the trip was physically very very tough. Quite possibly toughest physical exercise I’ve ever done. Rubbed in by the fact that everyone around me was much fitter. Still, I feel pretty proud of what I achieved. We covered over 534km in total, with a cumulative elevation gain of 11,096 metres.

This was the third trip for Christian and some of the others but for me, being the first time, I was not sure what to expect. There was more tarmac than I envisaged and initially this was a disappointment, but to be honest after a while I began to dread the gravel climbs. For a start these tracks are a lot steeper than tarmac roads and secondly you waste a lot of energy on loose gravel. Likewise, although this trip was about off road, the downhill stretches on tarmac were amazing. Hurtling down at ridiculous speeds towards hairpin bends, hammering the (quite incredible hydraulic) brakes as late as possible before leaning right down and being launched out the corner the other side. Great fun! I can only imagine how good that would feel on a road bike.

It was the tarmac stretch coming down from the pass that put us into Italy that we hit our top speed. 74kph / 46mph. Pretty fast on a bike, I can tell you.

Downhill on the gravel was even more fun. Speeds were not so high, but due to the bumps and slippy surface still felt very quick. Again, as the gravel bits were often steeper, it was quite incredible how quickly you pick up speed. One has to be constantly on the brakes, but very cautious at that to avoid locking either wheel.

Something else I hadn’t anticipated was the amount of walking we had to do due to the terrain being too rough or too steep a climb. This is easily avoidable on a short trip with known trails, but when covering the distances we were, it was inevitable. Technical single track is what we all crave, but finding good stretches is very hard. That said, the long walks (usually on the last stretch up to a peak or pass) paid dividends when coming back down again.

During this trip I tackled some of the steepest declines I’ve ever done, which at times gave me the fear. It is counter intuitive, but on the really steep and slippy bits, it is better to be off the brakes (weight as far back as possible) leaving you to gather it up after the steepness or obstacles.

We also did quite a bit of ‘Belgian queueing’ (as the direct German translation works out at) while on the flat tarmac too. This is when, as you might have seen on the Tour de France, where one guys leads a pack, then drops back to let someone else lead. I’d never imagined that this would make much difference, but how wrong I was. As a group of six, the leader would cycle as fast as possible, with the rest of us being dragged along in his wake. Due to the slipstream the effort required to keep up was minimal. Granted, you had to be close (generally 1 to 2 inches from the guy in front’s rear wheel) for it to work well, but once I got over the initial fear of riding that close to someone at speed this was no problem. This was so effective that on some of the gentle downhill gradients, despite the lead guy pushing as hard as he could the rest of us would have to brake gently to avoid running into those in front.

Obviously the guy at the front pushing as hard as possible can’t keep it up for long, so drops to the back of the line to recover allowing the next one to take his place. Using this technique we were able to maintain a very high pace over some of the flatter sections for long periods.

We had great weather apart from one afternoon when the heavens opened. This was just after the climbing our second 2000 metre peak of the day, leaving us to negotiate a particularly steep track, which instead of being nice fine gravel was more like a bed of rocks. Hard work in the dry, this was particularly treacherous in the wet. A balance between arresting your speed, but not allowing either wheel to skid out of control.

Knowing only Christian (my house mate when I moved back to Bristol), it was great getting to know his friends. A great bunch. I’d love to say it was a great opportunity for me to practise my German, but in reality it was a great opportunity for them to practise their English.

It was great having the company, enjoying the riding, good beers and good food together but above that, the support and encouragement they gave me on the long climbs really helped. Being at the back, which I invariably was, is really tough psychologically, but both Rafi and Daniel helped me out with that.

As Christian said to me before the trip, anyone could manage the trans alp, but the fitter you are the more you would enjoy it. Having done it, it seems a pretty fair comment, although I wouldn’t have wanted to have attempted it without any of the training I did do. One thing that is pretty obvious, but was made clear is that to do this you need a lot of fuel. I, generally speaking, eat a lot. In fact, I really should be fat. But I’ve never eaten as much before as I ate during that week. Breakfast was generally a five – seven roll affair, stuffed with ham, cheese or jam. Lunch was lighter, but still a few sandwiches, or a stodgy soup followed by the ubiquitous Apfel Strudel. The evening meal was where we really went for it… Starter, main and desert, and often in the pizzerias we found ourselves ordering more pizza after all of that.

One evening after a few beers and rather a lot of food, Christian quite possibly amazed by my culinary intake, laid down a bet… That in ten years time he will have a slimmer waist than me. The looser buys the winner 10 crates of Weissbier. So, come June 2019, we’ll be digging out the tape measures…

Towards the end of the trip we had a day off lounging by and swimming in a lake. The following day we then went for a ‘fun’ ride – no luggage, no destination, just a mapped out route on Christian’s GPS. This was going pretty well, but I was curious about noises of some pretty potent automotive machinery being ragged, for lack of a better word, about the mountain. I initially put this down to the local boy racers, but after hearing the distinctive noise of several Porsche flat 6s I new that wasn’t the case. A little later on my eyes got to feast on what my ears had already gorged on… a classic car rally / hill climb was being held on the local roads.

This being a post about mountain biking I’ll try not to go on too much about the rally, but there was a Delta S4 there. Those that know, would appreciate why I was rather excited at seeing one for the first time. For those that don’t… Group B, Supercharged, Turbocharged and 680bhp might give some idea. Or perhaps not.

On the final day returning to Munich, first we got a train up to the Italian Austrian border. From there we had an hour and a half to get to Innsbruck some 35 kilometres away before our train to Munich left. Thankfully it was all down hill, so some more ‘Belgian queueing’ and the help of some ultra fast road bikers who came past (that we tagged onto) we made it in a hour! On one stretch we were even being held up by cars!

I haven’t talked much detail about the route or the views as hopefully the map and photos will tell the story much better (see photos added to the previous posts). All I will say is it was fantastic being in the amongst proper mountains again. The Alps really are pretty special!

View Route

View route in Google Earth

Before signing off, I would just like to say, being airborne on a bike is an absolutely wonderful feeling, both wheels sliding out of control despite not touching the brakes is not.

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