I don’t think I was alone in hoping, against all better judgement, that somehow this morning would dawn bright, sunny and clear, with a light wind to dry the trails and stop us from getting unduly sweaty. Alas, it was not to be, with consistent heavy rain, and cooler temperatures forecast, and that’s how it turned out. At breakfast in my hotel, all eyes were turned to Planai-TV showing on the screen the shots from a webcam at the Planai Bergstation (where we climbed to today); all that was visible was thick, heavy snowflakes appearing through the grey mist. Ugh.
The mountain time trial stage starts in reverse order of finishers from the previous day’s stage, with most participants setting off a mere 30s behind their nearest competitor. Being the first non-DNF (a nice way to say last finisher) from yesterday, that gave me the world champ to chase – hmmm. The stage itself is 15km long, with 1100m of altitude gain, making for an average gradient of around 7.3%, but as anyone who has ridden one of these knows, the devil is in the detail. With hindsight, perhaps the aptly-named “Meadow of Horror” should have featured more prominently in my worries, rather than the final 20% throw to the line.
A later start time of 1250 made for a slightly more relaxed start to things, giving us all a bit more time to watch the rain fall, and contemplate our clothing choices in light of the descending snow line. The first riders off at 11am were the women’s categories, with last starter Sally Bigham looking to repeat her previous day’s victory. The course wound its way up gravel fire roads before hitting the meadow, for me a proper lowest-gear waterlogged slog as I watched my 30s man pass me and ride away. As few (but not that many) turns of steep fire road, and we got to an unrideable steep and wet section, which then opened out into a snow-covered field. Cue much cursing and pushing, except by the cyclocross specialists who had started behind me and were making serious inroads on the running sections. This set the tone for the course above 1400m, there were sections where you could ride with care in the icy tracks made by earlier riders, but there was an awful lot of pushing (and more cursing). The snow deepened as the Planai top station approached, and I have to admit i breathed more than a small sigh of relief as the Milka Bergwetrung arch swam into view through the blizzard. A very tough day out!
The men’s winner, Kristian Hynek repeated on yesterday’s efforts, going just under 1hr for the 15km test, in the process beating Elettrovenetta-Corratec team mate Soren Nissen into second place, a mere 8s behind, with Austrian powerhouse Alban Lakata rounding out the top-3 for Topeak Ergon. In the women’s race, Sally Bigham showed us what we all knew, that she’s fantastic on the climbs, putting the thick end of two minutes into second-placed Topeak-Ergon team mate Milena Landtwing. Mirre Stallen completed the podium, riding for Cube-Nutswerk. I am reliably told that Austrian hillclimbs are the place to go for real lightweight frankenbikes, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint, many of the elite participants bringing a specific second bike for this stage, some of which can be seen in our facebook gallery.
Tomorrow’s stage is the longest of the race at 73km, with a healthy dose of climbing to boot at 2800m. The weather forecast suggests that it will be another winter wonderland at the top of the climbs, and an ice cream headache descents kind of a day, but at least we get the opportunity to explore a different set of valleys on the other side of Schladming.
Kristian Hynek (Elettrovenneta-Corratec)
Soren Nissen (Elettrovenneta-Corratec)
Alban Lakata (Topeak-Ergon)
Sally Bigham (Topeak-Ergon)
Milena Landtwing (Topeak-Ergon)
Mirre Stallen (Nutswerk-Cube)