The first weekend in September saw not one, but two rounds of the UCI marathon series – the Val di Fassa Bike and the O-Tour Bike Marathon; and it was the latter which both world champion Christoph Sauser and team Subaru-MarathonMTB.com chose to attend.
It’s an 88km, 3,000m climbing race, taking in two loops out of the village of Alpnach near Lucerne. The weather wasn’t quite a match for last year’s, with low cloud hanging over the mountains for most of the day, although thankfully the rain held off until most riders were safely ensconced in front of a big bowl of pasta in the race village.
Sauser takes the men’s event
The men’s race went with the form book – the evergreen Christoph Sauser won the men’s race, although it was a close-run thing, with a winning margin of only 13 seconds, in 3:41:15. The UCI field was not large, but it made up in quality what it lacked in quantity, with a good selection of Swiss strongmen and other marathon regulars.
The race was perhaps unusual in that a seven-strong lead group was together for much of the race – Sauser, Huber, Mennen, Fanger, Stauffer, 2012 winner Buchli and Huguenin. Huber’s race preparation was unconventional – he had competed in a race in Austria, before 500km on the motorway and two hours sleep. Second place after that shows impressive powers of recovery.
Ariane Kleinhans wins the women’s
Ariane Kleinhans of South African Team RE:CM, continuing her splendid year, won the women’s event with a solid margin of more than five minutes over Milena Landtwing of Team Topeak-Ergon. Knowing that Landtwing was stronger than her in the technical sections, she set a furious pace on the first climb, developing a lead early on.
The first honourable mention has to go to the chap with two monstrous bells, one in each arm, which he rang for each rider at the top of the final climb. Think cow bells for a cow the size of a house. Each one was about the size of his torso, and the physical effort required to get these great big things moving must have been about as exhausting as riding the climb on which he was standing.
The second and perhaps more serious is to the feed station crews. Unusually, there are neutral bottle hand-ups at the O-Tour, meaning that at least with respect to feeding, the amateurs aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage to the pros, with their team soigneurs. What this requires is an impressive number of volunteers from the race organisers – some feed stations must have had ten people calling out “Iso” or “Wasser”, handing up fresh bottles as required.
Team Subaru-MarathonMTB.com’s race
Stu Spies, Will Hayter and friend of MarathonMTB.com Dave Streule were all at the race. The results will show that it was not our day, at least in the high-quality UCI field. But perhaps it was a dose of reality – both Dave as a young father with plenty of ability but little time to train, and with no back brake for the entirety of the day, and for me as my second race back after a broken hip.
Will: I had ridden round the week before at the Garmin Bike Marathon in Moutier, and enjoyed myself, but intentionally not tried to go too hard. For the O-Tour, the intention was to give a sterner test to slowly-returning fitness. The days beforehand were a battle between expectation and hope. I was fully expecting to be pretty slow, but a little part of me dared hope that maybe I was fitter than I thought and could at least acquit myself respectably.
The race was something of a rude awakening, as reality kicked in. Having had three months off the bike, and having done no actual training for a total of five months, the long, steady climb for the first hour plus was not something that could be ridden on long-term muscle memory alone. It was at this point that the gridding in the UCI pen felt like a mixed blessing – very pro to be called up to the start line, not so much to be overtaken by every Thomas, Rickard and Harald from the pen behind. The old ego took a bit of a battering.
Unfortunately five months of no training was matched by five months off the mountain bike, so the theme continued – plenty of being overtaken downhill too, on the gravel descents, but also, gallingly, on the singletrack too.
There was one heart-in-mouth moment, as I took a tumble in a loose, rocky gulley, and landed on my damaged left side. Luckily no harm done, but it was a reminder to take it a bit steady.
So the feeling at the end of the race was, a bit similarly to last year, not a lot of happiness at the result, but a lot of pleasure at a day on some great trails in beautiful mountains, at a race with a really nice atmosphere; combined with a sense of relief at having come through unscathed. O-Tour – recommended.
See http://marathonm.wpengine.com/2013/09/14/i-remember-now-stu-spies-at-the-o-tour-2013/ for Stu’s views of the race.