The first stage of a stage race is always the one I’m most keen to get out the way. Before hand I always worry about the pace, where I’ll finish, how I’ll feel and loads of other random thoughts. When I woke this morning the weather was typically alpine i.e cloudy and wet. After nearly freezing to death on the final stage of the Andalucia Bike race I was keen to avoid another such predicament. So I headed to the start in my rain cape, gillet, arm warmers, knee warmers with some top secret Juice lubes warm up balm on, which know one knows about, or at least didn’t until I told you all!
The start area is situated right in the centre of Schladmig and as we rolled up the rain got a little heavier. The Alpen tour is a UCI ranking race (my first participation in a UCI ranking race) so many of europe’s fast boys were in attendance. In fact I recognised many of the riders from the world cup at Offenberg the previous weekend. As you can imagine I was a bit nervous and wondering if I may have jumped in at the deep end a bit.
The first climb revealed that I probably had jumped in at the deep end, and then been ducked under by the bigger kids. The pace up the first mountain was pretty fast. I still lack the top end form due to all the enduro training I’ve been doing so I pushed on as hard as I could. My heart rate was bang on threshold and still pretty much the entire elite field cruised past me, followed by most of the masters! It was here, about half way up a 1700m climb that I began questioning the whole cycling thing. Maybe I’m just not cut out for it? Maybe I should just grow up and get a job? Luckily this phase soon passed and I was caught by Aussie Mike Blewitt. He seemed to be in a similar state to me, i.e maxed out and still going backwards, so we rode together up the climb comparing notes on how much we were suffering (you know its bad when you’ve popped a Torq caffeine gel after 30mins!)
Finally we reached the top of the climb after nearly 2hours. Over the top were a couple of steep slippery single track switchbacks. Here I managed to gap Mike and catch a couple of euros ahead of me. Unfortunately most of the descent was fire road but it did give my heart rate a chance to dip below 170 for the first time in 2h!
Once we hit the valley floor things began to improve. My legs started working and I gradually began to bring back riders ahead. I caught about 5 riders over the next few Km’s before we hit a nice steep single track descent complete with roots and switchbacks and decorated with Europeans sprawled on the floor.
I brought back another 7 or 8 places here before we hit the next big climb. By this point 3h in my legs were just starting to work properly. Luckily for me everyone else was starting to blow a bit. On the next steep fire road climb I settled into a nice steady rhythm and gradually picked off the riders ahead. Between here and the finish I brought back another 10 or so riders.
It was a nice feeling to finish strong and quite satisfying that I wasn’t caught by anyone after the first big climb. The only problem is that there were so many people ahead of me on that first climb that I finished 74th, not good!
O well, todays in the books now so I can only look forward to tomorrow. Hopefully it’ll be a bit better for me and I can hunt down some Aussies who are a few minutes ahead!