Friday 17th August dawned sunny and warm in the Hochschwarzland, home for the Rothaus Bike Giro. Birds chirped, the rising sun warmed the cool overnight air, and many Germans contemplated their fruhstuck.
But while the day was waking up, two devoted MarathonMTB.com Team riders were not. Imogen and I slumbered on through the early, and late hours of the morning. Jet lag and lingering illness had our number, and it seemed that for the 2nd week in a row we would both be posting a DNS on day 2 of a four day stage race.
We made it to breakfast just before it closed, and made a plan for the day. We’d ride – really slowly – to the race village at Feldberg, where I had managed to complete the prologue, and capture the atmosphere. An easy day with lots of sleep should let us attack the last two stages to get a really good feel for the event, and some racing in the legs. This was far, far different to what our plans had been months ago when preparing our itinerary, but it’s what we ended up with.
We left Schluchsee, and rode along the cycle paths out of town. Past the village of Aha and onto the long, shallow gravelled forest road. It took us up to the height of Feldberg after about 5 or 6km of gradual incline. We could see back through the forest to the lake and Schluchsee and in general – things were looking up!
We rode into Feldberg having down about 200m on the road, marvelling in the range of cycle paths and forest trails that the area has on offer, and saw some of the leading riders finish. Simon Stiebjahn had already crossed the line, defending his race lead, while Czech Matous Ulman was 2nd ahead of Bulls’ Simon Faster in 3rd.
We cheered on more riders, wondering about lunch, and had our bikes on the racks right at the finish line. I’ve done a lot of work to get our Norco Revolvers in shape before this trip, with new bearings, new rotors, new brake pads, chains, cassettes, chain rings, grips, serviced dropper posts and more just so we had the reliability needed for 5 weeks of riding and racing.
Soon enough, Adelheid Morath crossed the line as the women’s winner. She also extended her lead over Christina Kollman. Then it was Robyn de Groot finishing in 3rd with a flat tyre, with Sabine Spitz a second behind. It looked like Spitz could have passed de Groot, but showed class in not capitalising on her misfortune, getting the time but letting de Groot have the position.
Adelheid now has over 4 minutes advantage to second placed Kollman. And Stiebjahn has over a minute lead.
We waited a little longer and Sebastian Jayne finished. He’d had a fast start, but faded after the length of a cross-country race. As this race is the end of a big training block, clearly the load is taking a toll.
And then, it was lunch time. The Rothaus Gallery was conveniently about 5 metres away and we induldged in Grosser Salats, an apfel strudel and a Rothaus beer as – well it seemed appropriate. Amazingly Imogen finished first and went out to capture some of the atmosphere. The event really has a buzz, something that doesn’t happen at every event. Teams have their tents and vans at the finish, with riders cooling down on rollers, doing interviews, and talking to fans. Kids are taking photos, looking on in awe, and other riders outside of the race are flocking in to see the action. It’s just a good place to be.
Soon, Imogen is in front of me, “tell me you took your bike.”
I glance across to our bikes and see only hers is there. Shit. I already know it’s gone for good, but find the commentator and ask him to announce it. I run to the carpark exit, to see if I can see it in the back of a leaving vehicle. Imogen scouts the carpark. Nothing. I report it to the race organiser, and one tells me there is an exit out of the back of the race village onto a forest road. He predicts it would be organised crime, and the bike would be on the way to Freiburg. He’d just seen the two bikes earlier and admired at how good they looked. You don’t see many Norco bikes in Germany.
The sense of loss
If there is a definition of a first world problem, having your expensive mountain bike stolen while you are on the other side of the world on a bike riding holiday must match up pretty closely. But as both Imogen and I are starting to feel ourselves, we both looked forward to taking part in the Rothaus Bike Giro for the final two stages. The Hochschwarzwald region is beautiful, and the late summer weather is amazing (ok, it’s raining now). And that opportunity to ride at the back of the race (as we would both be unclassified) is gone. Robbed.
The bike I have suffered on, looked after, dragged around and both cursed at and praised is gone. Destined to be stripped for parts or shipped to another country. I have my health, and everything else that makes a difference. But my bike, and what it can let me do, is a huge part of who I am and defines me. And that is gone. And that hurts.
But I’m lucky. I have some great friends and will pick up a bike to borrow for a month on Monday. It’s ok. It might be a bit small, I may even need to run a 110mm stem. But it will let me ride, it will let me race, it will let my feel alive in the high mountains when we head to Switzerland and Italy.
So now I switch into full media mode and ‘super swanny’. Imogen will take the start (at the back) tomorrow and see where her legs are at. There are 70kms to race in the surrounding hills and forests and plenty of options to ride aggressively from the back of the field.