As we move into a year unlike no other, being able to travel the world and race your bike seems like such a luxury! I don’t think I ever took it for granted, but as each week passes I’m left thinking about what race I’d really like to do, or do again. I also think about where I want to ride, who I want to see, and the places I want to explore. It ends up as a pretty big list, but when team mate Justin Morris asked what my favourite ever event was I was a little stuck – until I realised it was the Transalp mountain bike stage race.
I have completed Transalp 4 times between 2008 and 2013, and would still happily go back and do it again. And when people ask what it is about any event that makes me want to go, it often is a combination of the riding, the racing, the location and perhaps even the ’emotional experience’ that really creates the overall event experience and the desire to go back. But here’s why Transalp will always have an allure for me.
Transalp was my first real MTB stage race
When I moved to the UK in 2007 for a working holiday, one reason was to race more marathons and of course to travel. And via a couple of messages on the Singletrackworld forum, I learnt about the BIKE Transalp race. It probably had another title sponsor for the 2008 edition, but the result was I was entered with Scott Cornish.
I had raced the KitzAlpBike marathon, Dolomiti Superbike and another UCI XCM World Series race in France in 2007, and in 2008 I went back to tackle another couple of marathons ahead of meeting up in Füssen in Germany before 8 days of racing. With about 665km and 22000m ahead of us it would be a huge challenge.
We learnt about pairs racing over that 8 days, and just about each day we made some new friends, some of whom are still good friends to this day. We finished 41st in Men’s Teams by the time we got to Riva del Garda, with a few stage finishes well inside the top 40. We were pretty happy, and I was hooked.
Transalp takes you places
It is crazy to think that living in Australia, a vast continent, I often feel races in other countries give you a better racing experience. But Transalp is point-to-point. And point-to-point races are expensive and difficult to run and organise – which is probably why Germans manage it.
What I always loved about Transalp was that you could start a stage in one country and finish in another. And that might happen two or three times in the event. As someone who loves to travel, actually crossing mountain passes and descending through small villages into alpine towns was a real highlight for me. Transalp piqued my interest in the history of the areas I rode through, and having visited the European Alps in one way or another from 2007 through to 2019, it’s clear that I’m hooked.
While other events can be great, sometimes doing a loop to and from one location or a remote race camp isn’t the same. Transalp lets you finish in a town square, grab a beer from a bar, watch a stage of the tour and soak your legs in a town fountain. It’s a complete experience.
Transalp let’s the terrain bring the race to you
Many people bemoan fire trail in bike races, and bottle necks in singletrack. Lots has changed with the routes for Transalp since the first one I did in 2008, but quite often you will still go up a big hill near the start of the stage. I recall the start climb out of Livigno in 2008 was a huge bottleneck on some doubletrack in Mottolino Bikepark, but in general a 1 hour climb would sort the riders out. And sure, better climbers don’t always make better descenders, but even when you hit the trails the whole field was more spread out, and nothing like a bottleneck can be when a race sends you off on a flat start into singletrack.
The really big benefit of this is how riders treat each other. Sure it can be a bit tense with so many handlebars, corners, fast transitions and the rest as you get out of town. But compared to fighting for position coming into singletrack, it’s a lot more mellow. People are nicer as the pressure is a little lower. The terrain brings the race to the riders and there’s more room to move when you hit the high trails.
The event vibe is friendly
When I went back for my third Transalp in 2012 with Naomi Hansen, I’d done a lot more races over the past 18 months. That included the Sudety MTB Challenge, Cape Epic, Crocodile Trophy, Alpentour Trophy, ICME (now the Redback) and a few others as well. The Cape Epic had been the most recent, and while it is in itself an amazing race, it can be a bit hectic and a little high stress.
At Transalp, we felt like we had our space in the start boxes, usually had great interactions on the trails, and the event vendors at the post-stage expo were always friendly and helpful. Given we were able to enjoy a glass of wine by 5pm each day with our bike and kit washed and ready, it’s a sign that there was a good balance!
You can use real showers and toilets
Sure, you’ve heard of the Transalp camp. It’s not really promoted so much anymore, and with an organisation arranging hotel accommodation for a couple of different budgets, less people would be using it.
And while sleeping on the floor of a gymnasium or indoor tennis complex isn’t for everyone, it does mean you typically have a real shower and toilets to use. Maybe they’re not nice by the end of the day, but they aren’t a portaloo in a field like at an event where you camp. It’s a small detail but a worthwhile one.
I’ve had some success
Ok, this does sway things. In 2012 Naomi Hansen and I ended up 5th in Mixed Pairs, which we were both pretty stoked with. And the next year I raced with Imogen Smith. We had a terrible first day with mechanicals and blowing up, but landed on the podium on the second stage and just went from there.
What really helped in 2013 was travelling with two other teams. If you don’t have a crew to kick back with pre and post stage, have a laugh at each other and yourselves – you’re not doing it right.
Transalp is evolving
This is why I want to go back. I last raced Transalp in 2013 with my now wife Imogen Smith. Since then the race has dropped back to 7 days, and the trails have become harder. Many of the routes are now spending more time to the east, in the Dolomites, which is somewhere I really like to visit and ride. So I want to go back. Maybe it’s to race in 2021, or maybe it’s to ‘tour’ with a number plate many years after that.
Picking a favourite race is difficult, but one I would love to go to again for the travel experience, the food, the wine, the sights, the riding and the racing would be Transalp. It was always a good race and a good holiday.