Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Transalp 2013 - great expectations

From the endorphin-thick haze that surrounded me on my return from my first stage race experience  came the notion that it would be a good idea to do more.  My debut had gone pretty smoothly so I lept to the conclusion that it would always be like this; not so much a race but a cycling holiday with days packed full of new trails, new people and new experiences.

What's more there was a yawning gap in my racing and holiday calendar this summer.  And I had found willing partner.  And there were still places available in the biggest and most famous stage race of them all.  Consequently there was only one course ahead, Transalp it would be.

With my scantly-evidenced expectations firmly in place, I headed out with my team mate Ant Jordan and 1000 others to cross the biggest mountain range of the Alps. Unsurprisingly not all of it panned out the way I thought it might:

ASSUMPTION No. 1:
You hope that being nice to the lady on the check-in desk at the airport means that she doesn't weigh your bike bag and charge you for your extra weight she should.
True.  Practise after me "Weight? Of this? Oh, just about under the limit"

ASSUMPTION No. 2:
Your relative success in your only previous stage race experience will mean that you're physically capable of taking all this in your (wheel) stride
False.  It will be harder than you ever imagined possible and you'll wonder whether you actually ever undertook any cycle-based training in your life.

ASSUMPTION No. 3:
You know that climbing isn't quite your thing and you might find some of this a bit tough.
True. But then there's 'tough' and 'tough'.

ASSUMPTION No. 4:
Take lots of spares as 'being prepared' will offer natural protection against anything going wrong with your bike
False. Lots of things will break whether you're prepared or not.  Although having the spares will mean that you'll be able to cobble together some kind of fix in your hotel room at 11 o'clock at night when all the bike shops are closed and you'll also just manage to complete the race when your partner's bike explodes on the last stage.

ASSUMPTION No. 5:
You'll be grateful of having taken the time and expense of booking hotel rooms for a decent night's kip after every stage.
True.  Although you'll wish that you didn't have to trek to the next town to get to it.

ASSUMPTION No. 6:
You'll be pleased that you and your racing partner are closely matched in ability.
True.  But you'll become incredibly envious of the female riders in other mixed pairs who regularly got a shove up the climbs.

ASSUMPTION No. 7:
You'll think it's great being able to justify eating anything and everything you fancy in an attempt to balance the calories burned.
False. I never believed that eating breakfast would become such a chore.  I still can't look an oat in the eye without blinking first.

ASSUMPTION No. 8:
The fact that you can complete 24hr races and happily ride at 3am when other people are faced with numerous demons means that the mental challenge of stage racing won't even register.
False.  You'll have the hardest day you've ever had on the bike and then, on subsequent days, you discover there are places even lower than that.

ASSUMPTION No. 9:
You think it's a bit hillier in the Alps than where you live.
True.  But you don't understand what it means until you ride up a 10% climb for 2hrs.

ASSUMPTION No. 10:
Campari spritz and Italian ice-cream taste even better after 700km and 20,000m of climbing
True.  Although it's important to keep testing to be sure.

At least the next time I jump head-first into a stage race I'll have two experiences to base my expectations.  Although that's going to make it harder to justify my rookie mistakes...

Finito
For our stage-by-stage race report, head over to the Cotic-AQR team blog