Monday, 21 June 2010

Trans Germany

After missing out on two marathons already (Riva del Garda and Etna) I was reluctant to not start the Trans Germany. On the one hand I thought I shouldn't go not least because I hadn't trained properly since the Cape Epic but also because my knee was still giving me trouble. On the other hand however I had an overwhelming desire to try and salvage some of the race season. This desire won and the night before we were due to fly we hastily packed. The doctor advised me not to race, but in the event that I did (he has obviously had plenty of experience of non-conforming athletes) he told me to stop if the pain worsened. I had no particular expectations in terms of results. My only aim was to finish the races and in doing so get some much needed training.

We were greeted at Munich airport by Lars Hartwich (Topeak Ergon Racing Team Mechanic) and went straight to Garmich-Partenkirchen - the start of the Trans Germany 4 day stage race
The miles pass quickly on the autobahn ;-)

Cruising at 185km

We had a couple of days to prepare in Garmich before the start: Lars took excellent care of the bikes; Dirk Juckwer (Team Manager) took care of all of the many logistics involved in stage racing; Werner Faust (Team Physio) worked his magic on my knee; and Dave assisted with anything that he could.

Lars' office

The weather forecast was unfortunately not predicting sun....instead we were expecting rain and lots of it. The day before the race I had to frantically look for neoprene overshoes and winter gloves in the local shops. I'd packed for summer (foolishly) and I clearly hadn't learned from my snowy experience at the Salzkammergut Trophy last July!

Sure enough we woke to the sound of rain pattering on the window and the view of the mountain was obscured by low was going to be a cold one; however at that point I wasn't exactly aware how cold! On the start line we were warned of low temperatures at the top of the mountains and possible snow so I quickly put my leg and arm warmers back on.

Stage 1: Garmich to Lermoos (82km/2158m)

I had a great position on the start line but despite my best effort to maintain it during the 'neutral start' through the town I managed to gradually get pushed backwards by the hundreds of riders enthusiastic to find their place just behind the lead motorbike. It was a pretty crazy start and people were rubbing tyres, crashing and skidding frantically. I was now in a bad position! I spent the rest of the stage trying to make up for the lost time and I slowly started to make up ground and work my way up to 4th position. As we climbed to the top of the last mountain the temperature noticeably dropped and despite the effort of the climb my hands and feet became numb. My hands were so cold that I could no longer drink, eat or change gear. Brrrrrrrrr!!!!! Once I started descending I also realised that I couldn't brake properly! My tentative descent saw me cross the finish line in 5th place.

Lermoos to Pfronten (75km/1863m)

On Stage 2 I was eager to (1) get a good start, and (2) have warm feet and hands!! In the morning I wrapped my feet in tinfoil and then cling film before sealing my ankles with duct tape. I also wore some of Lars' latex gloves under my winter gloves. I achieved both of my aims that day and I crossed the line in 4th position. This was the best I could achieve and I was pleased with the result.

Pfronten to Sonthofen (55km1830m)

Stage 3 was much warmer and I found myself lining up on the start line applying sun cream! Weird! Although this stage was short (very short for me and resembling more of a cross country race!) there was a really great climb near the beginning :-) I've not had a chance to test my new bike much so I was unsure how I would find the 39T Sram double chain ring but it was absolutely fine even on the steepest part of the climb. Once at the top there was a loose gravel fire road descent and I almost overshot a sharp left-hand turn. As I regained control I noticed a few riders by the side of the trail and I saw one rider lay on the ground with his leg raised in the air. A few riders had stopped to help so I carried on (trying not to look because I hate seeing crashes). On the next climb I heard the breathing of a female rider behind me. It was Elizabeth Brandau the current race leader. I was really surprised to see her and I noticed a fews cuts and grazes. She told me she was fine but that Pia Sundstedt (who was currently 2nd in the GC) was not so lucky - she had a nasty cut in her calf and had to be airlifted to hospital. It was only then that I realised that Pia and Elizabeth had been the riders involved in the crash. This brought back the memories of my crash in the Trans Germany last year and had the unwanted effect of slowing me on the remaining descents. I crossed the line in 5th position and 4th in the GC.

Sonthofen to Bregenz (74km/1366m)

The final stage was going to be fast. It began with a long asphalt climb (which I loved!) and then a long asphalt descent. It was important to be in a fast group at the start. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and at the top of the first climb I was 1 minute behind 3rd position, Milena Landtwing. I figured that I could possibly close this over the remainder of the stage. I worked hard to stay in my group and as we started the last climb to the final water point I decided to push on hard. I passed some of the male riders and despite the heat I reasoned that the harder I rode the sooner I would reach the top and be able to collect my final bottle. I took the final gulp from my bottle and together with a male Dutch rider we turned the switchbacks reeling in the riders ahead. Suddenly, I saw a group of riders, including Milena, coming down the hill towards us. What???!!!! It took a couple of seconds for me to register what was happening but this was precious time lost - about 300 riders had all gone off course. All of the riders behind were turning around and before I knew it was was at the back of a long queue of riders all trying frantically to make their way back down the hill. A sea of riders streamed down the hill parting to reveal the cameraman on the back of the motorbike looking dumbfounded!! At the bottom of the hill there was a long queue to get back on course and onto a narrow footbridge across the river. All of the slower riders that had been behind us at that point were then able to get ahead. This caused a log jam particularly on the singletrack where many of the riders walked. I started to get really thirsty at this point and a couple of people kindly gave me a quick drink. Thanks! My off piste expedition meant that I finished in 12th position that day and I lost 4th place in the GC by 13 seconds. C'est la vie! I must confess however that I was just a little annoyed for a few hours afterwards ;-) On a positive note, team mate Alban Lakata finished 2nd overall and Robert Mennen won the final stage. Awesome!!!

Robert triumphant with his stage win :-)

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