There is a certain mystique about heading overseas to ride and race your bike. If you’ve never travelled to pedal in anger it is easy to romanticise the experience. The climbs, the trails, the #fullpro experience, the class of European riding and racing (or other areas) and of course the chance to benchmark yourself against the best riders around.
Of course, this misses the reality of longhaul travel. The push to take what you want, meet weight limits, and make it to your final destination safely and in one piece. Imogen and I had a pretty fast turnaround after the last stage of Reef to Reef, with bikes to clean and repack, gear to sort out, and two full work days to complete each. We were pretty frazzled when our (20 minute late) taxi got us to Brisbane airport on Tuesday evening.
The travel via Dubai was on the one hand a great flight, with a spare seat next to us, but also bad as Imogen isn’t fully recovered from illness and was very uncomfortable travelling. Sleep was difficult but a little extra room did help. Immigration delays and luggage delays in Munich were then compound by a slightly-too-small hire car and some misplaced sunglasses before we hit the road.
With about 5 hours of driving ahead of us, it was touch and go regarding the safety of it. I don’t think I topped 160km/h at any point but I was glad to get to Hotel Schiff in Schluchsee, and reach a bed for the night. Right after a visit to a specialist for Imogen. Our heads hit pillows soon after midnight.
Bring on the Rothaus Bike Giro prologue
Waking to the sound of church bells (not unexpected when your hotel address is ‘Kirchplatz’) was a quick reminder of where we were. The sun was shining, the hotel was full of joyous Germans and breakfast was as good as expected. Bikes came together without too much carnage from travel (ok, a few new scratches) and after a little more rest and some supermarket lunch we drove to Feldberg, where race rego like hotel check in required swapping exclamations of just how far away Australia must be.
At this point, Imogen knew she couldn’t race. This is gutting for both of us but her body is screaming for rest.
We chilled in the carpark for a little but I still wanted to pull a number on. When your wife is ill and distraught it’s not an easy decision and it still feels selfish. The race expo was thumping, with a large Rothaua beer garden in full swing, team vans and tents crammed along the start/finish straight of the 10km prologue, and plenty of keen spectators walking around in bright knee-length shorts and sandals.
The carpark was humming with riders on trainers and rollers, the smell of liniment was strong, and the same guys were rolling around doing a ‘warm up’ as had been an hour earlier. Yep, this was European racing.
Sebastian Jayne is racing here too, and chatting to his Dad I learnt he was starting 5 minutes behind me. The big question – would that be enough of a buffer?
The Rothaus Bike Giro have a cool start trailer for prologues, and I lined up a few minutes before my allotted time, before being held in place by the commissaire as my minute count down came to a finish.
And go! Full gas! Slightly up hill, dense dry grass!
Medium gas! Still going up, not steep but FFS it’s still up!
Ok sit down, shift a few gears.
Shit is that another hill?
After the first kilometre the rider who was one minute behind me caught me. We’d climbed and then traversed and tipped hard left into a gravel trail descent. Pretty wide at first, then under tree cover where the line options opened up.
There is a real challenge riding a prologue blind, and while I don’t think I nailed it – I made it.
In all the course was low on tech, but a great opportunity to clear the legs out and not think about what was going on ‘at home’. Coming back over a 35% (or steeper?) ski bridge crossing was fun, even if my line was rubbish, and the finish was barely a kilometre away. Most of that was up a slightly mown deep grass ski slope so time passed slowly.
I crossed the line in 30:27, about 6 minutes slower than Young Bull Simon Stiebjahn. Sebastian Jayne took about 4 minutes out of me and finished 17th to my 52nd. Adelheid Morath won the women’s with about 20 seconds on Christina Kollman, and about 40 seconds on Sabine Spitz. View the complete results online.
Tomorrow, the real race begins. Well that’s what people say. A prologue is still part of the race and any gaps made can then be defended once you’re racing bar to bar. So it will be interesting to see what happens out front. My work is cut out for me to move from 52nd to beat my start number (31) and it would be highly optimistic. But that’s what I’m here for, the challenge. And the food, the scenery, the different culture and all that too. Travelling and racing with a bike isn’t always easy and smooth sailing – but it’s a great way to live.