Back in start block D this morning at the final stage of the Rothaus Bike Giro I settled on a different strategy from the day before. Yesterday I’d gone out hard on a secret mission to escape from start block D, and that hadn’t worked out at all. Today I was going to embrace it all in my lucky ‘bumblebee’ Swiftwick socks – the wonders of the slow start, the camaraderie of the ‘completers’ and the empathy of the sick and injured who’d wound up there after DNFing a stage.
You just can’t beat a European race for atmosphere and excitement. Today’s 61-kilometre stage with 1400 metres gain was celebrated by blasting techno, cheering crowds, summer sun, and just a massive number of competitors.
Something I’m remembering from other trips is that here in Germany everyone is fast. In Australia, if you sat up in a race and waited 10 minutes you’d be riding with a different level of racer, but here it seems that everyone, no matter their age, bike, size, or equipment – is able to tear your legs off in some way. People only seem to space out according to the amount of time they stop in the feedzones eating free cake (it’s delicious).
Time to get started!
We started in absolutely classic Euro style with a full-gas, technical road descent into trails that clogged up enough for us to come to a complete, anticlimactic stop, then after a bit of teutonic chit-chat were off again, this time up an immense hill. I honestly think today was the Most Euro Day of my Life, with just crazy good weather, pine forest smells, fast schotter descents, rooty climbs, and ridiculous singletrack that just. goes. straight. down.
In Australia we’d look at some of this terrain and put a berm here and here and here and here and here. Not in the deep Europe of the Black Forest. The descents here are proper arm-pumping extravaganzas of bumps and roots and the burning brakes and gritting of teeth. Then there are the crowds that turned out to watch us ride. People putting camp chairs in the front yards of their village homes, or standing in front of their farmhouses in the middle of nowhere – whole families – clapping and shouting ‘Zuper, hop hop!’ to hundreds of people passing over several hours. It just takes my breath away.
I decided to use today to monitor my fitness a bit. I rode tempo up the climbs, and endurance pace everywhere else. I was actually kinda glad to see that I could sit on 200 watts for the climbs at a reasonable heart rate, then do it again and again. Not all is lost after all. I didn’t have anything in the legs to go harder but before I expected it the first feedzone popped up, and there was Mike, and before I knew it, after riding through some of the most beautiful forests of cascading streams and acres of moss, there was the second feedzone – I was going to make the finish no problems, and with a smile. That’s all that matters right now.
The Rothaus Bike Giro would be a shock to many Australians. The terrain here is just so different. You climb for 20, 30 minutes at a 5 per cent grade then lose all the elevation in an instant down skatey gravel roads. It’s not technical riding as we know it, but there’s a certain art to sliding around a gravel corner at 50km/hour, and trusting that the corner doesn’t keep going beyond your line of sight. Likewise, the vertical downhill ‘singletrails’ would be a little foreign to Australian tastes – here the challenge isn’t how well you can pump, but how much you can resist arm pump. It’s a different flavour of racing and something I’m always happy to embrace, as is the generosity of my German competitors, who kindly recognise that I can’t understand a word and speak to me in English. (Every year I say I must learn some German, but I never get past Dankeschon.
It was another hotly contested day at the front of the race. The GC leaders watched the gaps carefully while some new riders took the podium, with Maximillian Brandl taking out the men’s race today, and Janine Schneider taking the women’s. The overall winners, as anticipated, are Simon Stiebjahn and Adelheid Morath. As always full results are available online.
Tomorrow we head to Zermatt for a complete change of pace, checking out plans for the EWS 2019 finale and (more excitingly for me), riding what may well be the longest train-assisted descent in the world, from Gornergrat (3,135m) to Visp (650m).