Part 1 - stages 1 to 4
(part 2 is here or here for Rachel's review of her expectations)
After Ant took on last year's Trans Pyrennes and Ruth and I raced the Andalucia Bike Race earlier this year we both fancied trying our hand at a bit more stage racing so decided to team up for this year's Transalp.
As we are both endurance racers so hoped we would work well together and approach it with a similar attitude which would help us in motivating each other. It would however leave us with the same weaknesses, most likely in terms of speed, aggression and power. Having both raced in a same-sex pair in our only previous experiences we
were both a little apprehensive how we'd get on with the potential for a
big gulf in strength and fitness within our pair. There was going to be plenty of time and distance to see how things would pan out.
Stage 1: Mittenwald to Mayrhofen
111km, 2100m climbing
As expected stage one kicked off at a ferocious pace on predominately tarmac and double-gravel track climbs. By the time we'd reached the top of the first big climb at 30km things had settled down a little although the descent was rather sketchy; it wasn't so much the loose, rocky trail littered with switchbacks but the inability of the majority of riders to hold a line, be aware of others around them, listen to or make calls or generally ride safely - this was going to become a common theme throughout the week and added a certain level of excitement for us throughout.
We were able to make better headway on the second descent and formed part of a strong group for the 40km race on the flat tarmac to the finish. And that's when things started to go wrong. My freehub locked up and it took us a while to get going again in which time we'd been passed by many a racer. We worked hard to get back into a reasonable group but were riding a good 5km/hr slower than before and the effort to work our way back into the pack began to tell and we struggled for the final few km.
100km, 2500m climbing
We were pretty frustrated with our performance on stage one and as we kicked off the day with 25km and 1200m on tarmac and gravel and things felt much the same. Then the trail changed to a rocky, technical singletrack through a glacial valley and we started to make our way through the field of riders ahead who were struggling on the more technical trail. Feeling somewhat happier than we started the day, I pootled along at the top waiting for Ant to catch up when I rode over a fist-sized rock at walking speed. Despite the innocuous nature of the incident I managed to put a 2 inch rip in the sidewall of my rear tyre which we set about fixing feeling massively demoralised as all the riders we had past on the climb rode on past. The size of the hole and nature of the trails left us anxious as to whether the fix would hold for the remaining 70km and so I had to really reign my speed in on the descents. It took a couple of further fixes later in the stage for the tyre to finally hold. More mechanicals, more time lost, more frustration.
Stage 3: Brixen to St Vigil
57km, 2800m climbing
From the day we entered we knew this stage was going to be a beast - short it might be but with 1800m climb in 18km it was going to be brutal and it hurt every bit as much as we thought it would. We were also both starting to struggle with colds at this point, a lesson in looking after yourself during stage racing. Despite our concerns before the race of being mismatched in terms of strength and fitness this hadn't been the case over the first few days, something that probably had a large amount to do with the fact that Ant was just a few weeks post a 24hr solo at Mayhem. Until now I'd seen this as a positive thing, we were a well-matched team and I wouldn't have been happy about being helped up these hills. But the sight of the majority of other female riders in mixed pairs getting a tow off her male counterpart was starting to look pretty attractive. More objectively, it meant that my climbing weakness was losing us time against the other mixed pairs around us. A short-sharp climb near the end of the stage with temperatures in the high 30s just about finished us both off, I take full responsibility for the pain it caused by uttering the fateful words "It doesn't look that bad". It was a brilliant technical descent though so I forgave myself for my pain miscalculation.
Stage 4: St Vigil to Alleghe
Despite being nearly written off by the previous day's riding this was our best and most enjoyable day in the saddle. Of course we had yet more long, grinding climbs and a hike-a-bike section in the blazing sun but this time were rewarded with more technical and fun descents where we were able to ride past big numbers and put time into our closest competitors - there's nothing like the pain of lung-busting climbs to put the bit between your teeth to make up the rewards on the downs. The steel frames of our Cotic Solarii which were getting plenty of comments both on and off the trail, were doing a brilliant job at smoothing the ride on the way down and we reached the day's finish line exhausted but happy with our day's work, the first time we'd both felt we'd given the stage the performance we could.