The 2015 BIKE Transalp was significant as it marked the first race Ben Melt Swanepoel and I rode together as a team. Since then our partnership has blossomed and currently we are racing as Team Garmin at a few select events. The BIKE Transalp is one such an event and we were privileged to return this year hopeful of improving on our 9th place result from last year in the Mixed Category.
Like last year we will be writing an in depth article about our experience at the event which you can look forward to reading in the Mountain Bike Magazine later in the year. This report is just a short account for sponsors, friends, family and followers to let you know how we fared at the 2016 BIKE Transalp.
The BIKE Transalp is a 7 day mountain bike stage race traversing parts of the beautiful European Alps. On the 17th of July participants left the start line in Imst (Austria) arriving a week later in Arco (Italy) close to the shores of Lake Garda on July 23. In between, the event stopped over in Nauders, Scuol (Switzerland), Livigno, Bormio, Mezanne and Trento which were all unique and charming in their own way. In total the journey covered 519km and included a massive 17 736m of climbing. From this statistic one might think that climbing would be the fiercest challenge of the event and to a certain extent that is the case, but as the saying goes ‘what goes up, must come down’!
Ben Melt and I learned a lot from our first outing at the BIKE Transalp and arrived in Europe much better prepared physically, mentally and logistically than we were last year. Don’t get me wrong, the lead up to the event wasn’t all smooth sailing…
In a repeat from 2015 I dislocated my shoulder on exactly the same day as I did last year (guess I’ll be avoiding my bike on the last Saturday in May henceforth!), but with the help of Drs Paul Birdsey and Neil Cable I was back on the bike within a week. Although mainly on our road bikes, we even managed a 12 day training camp in Graskop to simulate the climbing we would face during Transalp before packing our bags and heading north to Europe-land!
After a (too) short stay with friends in Austria we were very excited to toe the start line in Imst, raring to go as we lined up with 400 other 2-man teams. The Transalp really upped their game this year with regards to the route, the evening pasta meals and the host cities. Not only were the trails much more enjoyable but also a lot more ridable (despite our showing to the contrary ). Although mostly pasta, the evening meals were more varied than last year and included some local cuisine, twice served on mountain tops only accessible via Gondola.
As planned we started conservatively and consistently scaled the general classification ladder, improving stage by stage to what looked like a possible top 5 placing, but on the penultimate stage things started going a little sideways.
One-third into the stage we both slipped on a steep, slick-rock downhill portage section and I (re)injured my shoulder whilst trying to maintain balance. Melt escaped with ‘only’ a rosy butt cheek and ‘cracked’ ego. We finished the stage strong, accelerating towards the end but lost substantial time due to the mid stage delay. We were still hopeful of a strong dash to the finish line on stage 7 and mindful of retaining our top 10 position overall!
As the saying goes: ‘When it rains, it pours’ and on the final day we were greeted with heavy rainfall and freezing temperatures early in the stage. This made negotiating the course quite challenging, especially the steep hike-a-bike sections which littered the 2nd part of the stage.
In mountain biking hesitation leads to devastation and with our falls from the previous day still fresh in memory we were perhaps a bit too cautious on the final stage. I walked a few sections I could have ridden and Melt crashed twice on the most innocuous parts of the course. His second crash was quite serious causing us to crawl home just to ensure we made it to Arco.
It was a grave reminder that the race isn’t over until you cross the finish line and you need to piece together 7 days of strong riding, smart tactics and a bit of luck to get a good result at a stage race of this magnitude. Eventually we did make it across the finish line of the 2016 Transalp albeit in pieces, with the final result reflecting 15th place in the Mixed Category for us.
We can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with the outcome as we and those supporting us put in a lot of hard work, detailed planning and dedicated preparation which is not reflected by the end result, but looking back we know we gave it our best shot and you can’t do much more than that. What doesn’t hurt makes you stronger, so to our competitors – be warned :).
The journey across the Alps is much more than a race and we realize how privileged we are to have completed such a demanding event again. We are grateful to Garmin for the wonderful opportunity. They’ve always supported all my goals and shared in my disappointments and this time around it was no different for us.
It will certainly make us stronger and we look forward to the next challenge with renewed vigour and some hard earned experience!
The Transalp’s slogan is “You can’t copy the Alps” and we can vouch for that…again…