Alpen Tour Trophy
This stage race is a truly international event with competitors from New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Columbia, Chile, Ireland and the UK well represented. Unlike many other events the presentations are given in English as well as German which makes it more attractive for many of the competitors.
We arrived 4 days before the start, which in hindsight was a little too early as there was very little event atmosphere until a couple of days before the start. In my opinion this is an event focused on the rider without much in the way of trade stands which you tend to find in events such as the Riva del Garda in Italy and Willlingen in Germany.
The event consists of 4 daily stages with 8800 metres of climbing over 198km, each stage begins and ends in Schladming which was very appealing to me. The first stage is on the Thursday and ends with a 14km mountain time trial on the Sunday. It had just under 295 registered with only 288 starters. The entry limit is 400, so there shouldn't be any problem getting an entry.
You can either race as an individual or as two person team which is called the adventure, the entry fee is 328€ as an individual or 656€ as a pair, no cheaper as a team.
Stage One Hochwurzen Giglach Seen 59Km 2900Hm
Each of the first three stages begin with a neutral start. The first day we were led out by a police car through the main shopping street of Schladming, as riders tried to move up and gain a better position near the front it became a bit chaotic as we rode very close to tables and chairs outside cafes and vendors stalls. Fortunately there were no incidents and we were very quickly out of town and into the first of the days climbs up to Hochwurzen at 1840m, over a thousand metres of climbing, before descending back down towards the Enn Valley. It was on this descent where I would usually make up places that I lost time due to two punctures crossing an area of newly laid stone. With a new tube fitted in the rear tyre I pushed on up the next climb which was up to Giglach Seen at 2000m,it started off with a much more gentle ascent, but became very steep after the halfway point leading many of the riders around me to get off and push over the loose technical sections. It wasn't long after this that even the pros were forced off their bikes as we crossed an area of snow. Because of the altitude and recently melted snow the area around the lake made for difficult technical riding or as many chose, to push or carry their bikes. The descent wasn't too difficult and fortunately I didn't have any more tyre issues which was just as well as I didn't have another inner tube. The last little climb of the day took you to the top of a blue graded MTB downhill section with banked curves and jumps (should you be so inclined) to end at the finish in Schladming. Day one had 9 DNF
Stage Two Hauser Kaibling 56Km 2000Hm
This was being called an easy day, but with the 1000m climb I don't think easy is the right term and although the first half was more suited to me with short and singletrack climbs the big climb had my knees aching. Once again the final climb of the day took us to the top of the downhill course and a freewheel to the finish. Fortunately I had no more mechanical incidents and I moved up from 12th to 10th position in my SK 4 Category. We now had 12 DNF's
Stage Three Dachstein 69Km 2800Hm
Even though this stage was the longest with only 100m less climbing, it didn't seem as long as stage one. None of the 4 significant climbs were as long and the technical sections suited me so much more and I continued to improve my position. Despite the climbs not being as long the discomfort in my knees continued to bother me now and again. As this was the final big day and only the time trial to go it was such a relief to get it 'out of the way' without incident to bike or body. Despite the improvements overall I dropped to 11th in my category which I could only hope to maintain with my weakness on big climbs to come in the time trial. DNF's 31
Stage Four Planai 14Km 1100Hm
With the last position starting first and the overall leader last I had a 9:16 start time. With some concern about the gradient of the start I warmed up and had a ride up the steep ascent which took you across and up some of the downhill course. With less than 20mins before my start time I had another puncture, I quickly returned to the campsite which was 700m away for a tyre and tube change. Fortunately I made it to the start in time, but it wasn't the best preparation, running in cycling shoes.
After a very steep start there is a little singletrack recovery and the start of the climb proper, up the river as on day one. There was a road section which was a chance to spin the legs a little, but it didn't last long and then the difficult loose technical sections began and it took all my concentration to stay on the bike and not join the line of riders pushing their bikes. I was very pleased with my efforts and on reaching the top was greeted by my supporting wife, Lisa who'd took the ski lift up with our dog. At the top riders have the option to ride down or take the ski lift back down to the start finish area, I opted to join Lisa in the ski lift with the bike hanging on the outside.
After 4 days of competing there were 41 DNF's which is quite high as a percentage of the 295 starters. Goal one is always to finish and I was happy enough with maintaining my 11th although I had hoped for a top 10 as in Riva, but with so much climbing and the mechanical issues on day one I'm more than satisfied.
The post race presentations and catering were fantastic with a good selection of food on offer and as much as you'd like to eat, unfortunately team managers and support can only join you in the congress hall if they pay 70€ which allows them the food.
It was such good event that I'm seriously considering a return next year. Maybe I'll see you there.