As mountain bikers we’re a pretty adventurous lot, we seek out trails and places that the general masses gloss over or drive past without batting an eyelid to all that potential fun hidden just behind a fence or slightly off the main drag.
We revel in our secret knowledge of cut throughs, alleys, drainage canals, walking paths, access roads and forgotten green belts. And we stitch together as much suitable surface as a city can muster, coming home feeling more than a little smug that we’ve now connected ‘that bit near Monsoon Curry House and the loop on Wimbledon Common horse track’. Oh yes we are trail sniffing marvels!
Be this as it may, it is sometimes a wee bit tough to muster up the full Indiana Jones and really wander deeper into the unknown. A city has much but it will generally lack that certain something…
Unless of course you’re Swiss.
Oh yes, if you are Swiss I’d imagine it is hard finding a reason to even bother going to work in the first place. Walk out your door, WHAM BAM you are slapped across the eyeballs with sheer awesome. The trail linking and ridiculous riding potential would be so off the charts for us mere mortals that I am convinced my brain would melt calculating all the possibilities.
Willing to take up the challenge was my good mate and former Transalp partner Dave Struele. A few years ago he up and moved himself and his family over to Zug, on the German side of Switzerland. A place so the polar opposite to London it is ridiculous. Aside from the little things like, oh I don’t know, public services that work and a GDP to make your eyes water, it has MOUNTAINS!
And tourist trap sights with quaint little villages are wonderful but if I hope to catch up with my mate I sure won’t find him languishing lake side with a pint in his hands. No sir, it is sign up and ship out and face another 86km of punishment at the O-Tour in Obwalden, oh yeah!
Popping across the waters to Switzerland is a little ridiculously easy, I really try remind myself that one day the English may actually boot me back to Africa and these places will form part of my post ride pub tales of ‘what real riding is all about’. So believe me I appreciate it!
Alas I was not in the best frame of mind this time last year, struggling to get my mojo and focus back a long time after losing Dad a trip with mates was the best and worst thing for me if I’m honest. How can you be upset in a place like this, well thats the point you can’t or at least shouldn’t be, so I was batted back from the brink of gloom every time I took a proper moment to just stop and take a hearty look around me.
Heavy stuff aside and on towards our pre race prep and it was with the usual extreme gusto that Will Hayter embarked on one of his legendary ‘warm up’ rides, this will be anywhere between 60 and 80 km and usually involved going straight up a mountain, or flat out, I can laugh now but man I was steaming, WILLIAM!
My last O-Tour I only faired marginally better than my ill fated Dolomiti Superbike, it was simply not the year to be taking things too seriously. We set off out of Alpnach-Dorf straight up a 1650m climb, the road climbs are suitably sharp and hurtful. You very quickly hit your max and its the only time I’d probably recommend a sturdy pre race warm up session before hand, the action starts in at about kilometre two!
Being in the proud possession of 6 whole UCI points I’d miraculously scratched together in late February I had been called up to the startline, so for hill one I was shoulder to shoulder with the usual marathon heavy weights and figured I best do my best to not be shelled three mins in, oh such a grand idea that one!
Ridiculously far off the pace I popped on the first climb, waved goodbye to Will and Dave and tapped along enjoying the unbeatable essence of European marathon locations. The luminescent green pastures shadowed by those great looming forests that cling to the mountainside and hide your doom, along you trundle a mixture of foreboding and awe, I’m not here for the chocolates that’s for sure, this place is, incredible!
As profiles go O-Tour is not as punishing as I’m sure it could be, thats not to say I didn’t fold pretty early on and grovel home a broken battered mess. Thats just saying it was actually a profile that I really enjoy, get the evil out the way early, have some recovery rolling along, then why not a BIG descent and a gradual build towards your final nemesis at another 1600m. Followed naturally by an eyeballs out, muster the final energy, ‘belt it’ towards the race finish and the ever needed Bratwurst and beer.
One trick I’ve learned with all this slow going is that the half marathon guys and girls will be passing you at some point, aside from wishing you had listened to rational logic rather than manic enthusiasm and joined this lot on the start line you can let them suck you along at an unnatural pace before they turn off for the finish, this lifts the spirits and rejigs the pacing.
I landed up doing my best to chase Dave, when I failed in that objective I was halfway between survival and touring. I remember getting to the end and seeing Dave hammering towards me on the opposite side of the canal, slight confusion and disappointment ensued but once the dehydration subsided and the finish bridge came into view I was simply happy to have exercised a few demons and very very happy to see the finish gate.
This year however its game on, I want a half descent result, I want to hit the start climb hard and be ready to settle into a high cadence pace that with some luck will spit me out on the finish with a big cheesy grin….who am I kidding I’ll still be smiling if I finish last, this ride rocks. See you in Obwalden peeps, lets get our Euro on!