Race Report – Carinthia Cycle Marathon 2013

Today’s post will be a bit different from the previous ones. This is a race report of the 2013 Carinthia Cycle Marathon, which took place on May 25th, written from the perspectives of different riders. Here’s the team:

From left to right, meet Axel, Basti, Alex (a.k.a. Spinning Mum) and Kai (a.k.a. Cycling Dad). Yes, there’s a GoPro camera on top of Kai’s helmet… no questions please…

Axel, Basti and Kai are old cycling buddies from the Pulheimer SC racing club. They used to race a lot together in their teenager years, and even battled Team Sky’s Christian Knees when he was a junior with VfL Rheinbach. Many years have passed since, but friendship and love of cycling remains.

No need to introduce Spinning Mum, who – after giving birth to Johanna only ten weeks ago – is back in the saddle and has set her eyes on several upcoming races.

Enjoy reading Axel and Alex’s race reports!

 

Spinning Mum’s Race Report

There are certain things in my life I still have not realized, yet. Living abroad and having two adorable kids for example and – since May 26th – successfully finishing my first cycling race ever – the Carinthia Cycle Marathon.

When Kai registered for the full marathon I was still pregnant with little Johanna and never wasted even a single thought on competing in a cycle race myself. So, when we booked our family vacation around the marathon I was just looking forward to go for a ride with Kai while his parents (whom we invited to join us as babysitters^^) would watch the kids for an hour or two. But as you may remember from my previous post, I was lucky to recover from my C-section quite fast so that I ended up registering for the marathon’s short course over 65km with an altitude gain of 946m just a couple of days before the event.

At that point I have not had any great expectations. I was merely interested in surviving and not being the last participant crossing the finish line. Little did I know because someone sent me three angels pushing and pulling me through the marathon, so that in the end I scored a solid 10th place in my age group. Yeah!

But let me start from the beginning…

The weather situation
Ever since we arrived at our holiday home temperatures dropped significantly, sending us rain and even snow with the result that the long circuit encompassing the legendary Nockalm Road had been replaced by an alternative route covering two laps on the shorter course. Very frustrating for those courageous cycling warriors who were enduring long journeys in order to conquer this infamous pass road like our dear friends Cavalier Axel of London (a.k.a. Mr. Eton) and Knight Bastian of Hamburg. Both of them followed Kai’s invitation to Bad Kleinkirchheim for a merciless cycling reunion which unfortunately had to give way to a less epic version.

Alex’s angels
For me however the change of plans was a blessing in disguise. Due to the fact that there were no longer different starting times, the guys decided that it would be fun to support me during my first race, for example by letting me ride in their slipstream. As I did not want to ruin their finishing times, I did not really agree to this plan, but Kai and his buddies were determined to implement their strategy. And with hindsight I am really grateful that they kept their word as I would not have scored such an amazing result without their coaching and cheering. [Thank you so much, guys!]

Pre race anticipation
I do not know what it is with such events. Whenever I enter a sporting competition I am as nervous as a pig in a bacon factory though there is absolutely nothing to lose. Luckily, I prepared my entire gear the night before. With my water bottles already filled, the timing chip in place and my number bib attached to my jersey, I only had to focus on having enough food for breakfast. Quite a challenge when suffering from an antsy stomach… But wait… Where are my sun glasses…?

Two slices of white bread and a scavenger hunt later I found myself in a still snow covered car heading towards the starting point in cold but sunny Bad Kleinkirchheim. Once the car was parked I had a quick glance at all the other participants prepping their bikes. I instantly wanted to hide in the trunk. They were all looking so damn professional… There was even a bunch of riders warming up on a turbo trainer! What the hell was I thinking signing up for this…

But before I could actually find a place to hide the guys put me on my Racemachine for a quick warmup session and only minutes later I found myself in the middle of the starting area. Again, there was no chance to chicken out as I was encircled by my three angels. I felt absolutely miserable and rational thinking became almost impossible. My thoughts kept spinning around all kinds of race scenarios like not being able to click in and out of my pedals as required, crashing and bidding farewell to my hip or collarbones, keeping the guys from going full throttle and thus off the winner’s podium, and, and, and…

Fortunately, my brain and body went into race mode once the starting signal was given and nervousness gave way to something I never experienced before and what from now on I shall call ‘veloferocity’ – a state of mind which does not allow room for any other thoughts than ‘Ride.For.Your.Life’.

The race is on
Only seconds into the marathon Kai and the gang where nowhere to be seen anymore. Probably their veloferocity kicked in, too, and they went off like greyhounds scenting a lure whilst I was still bemused by the flock of furious cycling warriors trying to find their spot in the field. Keeping up with my bodyguards at a sustainable heart rate was simply impossible. Every now and then I could catch a glimpse at one of their jerseys but no matter how hard I tried, I just could not catch up.

But what did I expect? How can a road bike rookie keep pace with three seasoned warriors? Thankfully, they noticed that I could not cling to their back wheels and adapted their speed, so that I could keep up and let the field do the work. A quick glimpse at my Garmin revealed that we were close to flying: 45km/h – 50km/h – 55km/h – … Holy cow, I never thought that I could go this fast on plain grounds!

I was handed energy bars and gels from all sides, every now and then the guys reminded me to take a sip from my water bottle and Kai soon enjoyed himself pacing Basti and Axel, so that I would not fall behind. As you can see, I was looked after really, really well :)

However, when we reached the first steep descent towards Himmelberg, I decided to slow down a bit as there were too many roughshod riders speeding irresponsibly into the hairpin bends meandering down the slope in front of us. After a short reunion with my angels, who waited for me at the foot of the hill I found myself at the beginning of the 10km climb up to Klösterle and the first food supply station. Again, I decided to ride at my own pace rather than belting up the ramp.

Strange enough I even passed several fellow sufferers who overreached themselves and thus were already on their last legs. But apparently one brave chum in a light blue team kit wanted his bread buttered on both sides as he was heading downhill for another round… To my surprise that dude turned out to be none other than Cavalier Axel of London who was looking for us after running riot :) [Take a second to imagine the looks on our competitors' faces... ]

More or less reunited we carried on until we saw a sign-board announcing the first food supply station. Suddenly everybody seemed to be in a feeding frenzy… Kai mumbled something about fetching me some food and within a fraction of a second there was only a trail of dust where he took off. Next thing I remember is that Kai handed me a banana whilst we were passing many other riders including Knight Bastian and Cavalier Axel at the Klösterle check point.

Pretty sure that they would join up within seconds Kai and I did not bother to sojourn and started burning some rubber on the course’s second big descent towards Afritz. For some reasons there were hardly any other riders around and since the race marshals clearly indicated all danger spots, I mustered all my courage for this downhill passage. Again, I felt like flying crossing the 70km/h mark. But reaching Kai’s pace was impossible. Dressed in his all black ninja-like race attire, he clearly had the advantage of his super aerodynamic Lightweight Meilensteins at his hands…

Unfortunately, this descent was not meant to last. About 15 minutes later we found ourselves back on almost level ground. Soon reunited with the rest of the gang we continued as we started: in a strong group collecting rider after rider and group after group until we reached the second food supply station in Radentheim just before the last climb of the day.

Though I told ninja Kai and Cavalier Axel to take off for their second lap, they stuck with Knight Basti and me until the very last, encouraging me to give everything on what appeared to be the longest kilometre I ever had to overcome…

Seriously, I abhorred every single metre of this final straight and almost missed the turn towards the finishing line because I was so focused on cursing the incline, my feeble chamois and the guy complaining about Axel’s pub-trained cheering. But all this misery was forgotten as soon as we were greeted by Didi Senft in his devils costume at the finish line.

After the race is before the race
Wow, I made it! With a big smile on my face and an even bigger lump in my throat I was looking for Knight Basti when someone held a microphone in my face. Interview? Me? Now? OMG! No time for tears of joy and relief… Always look and act like a pro :)
I hope I was not stuttering too much sharing my thoughts which I can only repeat once again in a less awkward situation:
The Carinthia Cycle Marathon was a very well-organized race and the perfect event for a rookie like me. A heartfelt ‘Thank You’ goes out to all the selfless helpers, cheerful spectators, cautious drivers and especially to my three guardians who made this race an unforgettable debut just nine weeks after Johanna was born. I will definitely be back for more ;)

 

Axel’s Race Report

Spinning Mum has already shed light on the weather developments leading to the route changes and the Dream Team’s strategy for the Carinthian Cycle Marathon 2013 in her own race report, so I will not bore you to death with that J

What I will (at least try to) talk about here is my personal experience of what was, in hind sight, a race full of “firsts” for me.  My first experience of Alpine road cycling (previously, my only encounters with these mountains were either in transit in a car or on a plane or, at the most, one a very enjoyable mountainbike holiday several decades ago);  my first ride with a climbing effort of more than 2,000m – no, not just this season, but probably in forever;  my first ride in a proper peloton in a loooong time, seeing as usually, the groups I ride with these days are around the 20 people mark and certainly never more than 40 souls – here in Austria we were to set off with more than 560 people at (more or less) the same time.

And last, but not certainly not the least daunting: this was to be my first race since I hung up my licence all these years ago (and like in CyclingDad’s case, we are talking many, MANY years).

The thing is: ever since signing up for the Carinthian Cycle Marathon and transferring the starter fee, I kept telling myself “This is not a race, it’s a sportive.  A pleasant ride through gorgeous countryside with a bunch of friends all just happy to be out on the bike for the day.  Possibly a bit hard at times (i.e. uphill…), yes, but with plenty of food stations as a compensation.  And you know that you can’t fault Austrian food, so you’ll be fine.  It’ll all be grand!”  Nonetheless, the closer the date got, the more nervous I became and the harder it got to believe my own mantra…

So, you can imagine the state my nerves got in when the Dream Team was greeted in Bad Kleinkirchheim by what can only be described as picture perfect organisation.  Even by Austrian standards.  I mean: sign-on and number/ starter pack collection for all these hundreds of people?  Not a glitch.  It took all of the Dream Team combined(!) something like 10 minutes to be fully set.  What’s more impressive though: the whole town “felt” like something big was about to happen that next day. It truly felt like a storm was coming.  There were posters and flyers advertising the race everywhere.  And I mean everywhere:  on virtually every vertical area in and around the town, walls, trees, shop windows, post boxes, you name it (probably on your car too if you parked somewhere too long…);  you were given them at the cash register in supermarkets some 15km off the actual race route;  I think I even heard the event mentioned on the radio (though not sure).  Didi Senft, El Diablo himself , was in town, busily putting the final touches to the finish line (and still finding time for a brief chat with the Dream Team, that’s how awesome and adorable we are!).  And cyclists milling around everywhere, all of them looking super-serious, very well-trained and (very believably) conveying the notion that they all had resting heart rates in the low teens and were equipped with material straight out of NASA’s labs.

Let’s just say, your truly did not sleep well that night.  And it was not due to the pre-race wine and Nutella pizza… (another first, that, by the way)

Inevitably though, race day dawned.  So, following a quick breakfast, lots of bottles were prepared, kit was donned, jersey pockets were stuffed with all manner of energy bars and gels, legs were prepped with “StartOil” (more for that genuine “race smell” than for any performance increase), and we found our way to the start…

And then, suddenly, time just shifted gears.  Where a second ago there was apprehension and nervousness (“OMG, so many people – and they are ALL better prepared than me, surely!”, “What if there’s a crash?!”, etc. etc.) – as soon as the peloton began rolling out, all of a sudden there was just… nothing!  I just found myself in the zone.  Straight away my only thoughts were… well, not really thoughts anymore.  More like intuitions, reactions of an almost instinctive nature.  “Gotta follow that wheel!”  “Where’s Alex, where’s Kai?”  “Ah, there’s Basi, good man!”  “Ooh, a gap, better close that.”  “Legs feeling good, awesome!”  That sort of stuff.  Nothing but brief thought-flashes about cycling and staying upright and performing well.  Certainly nothing about the job or child care or money and all these other daunting real-life things.  Those things did still of course exist, outside, off the race track, far away – but for the moment, they were gone.  And let me tell you: after weeks and months of thinking, yes, often worrying, about seemingly everything under the sun (as you do when you have a new baby), it was bliss!

And quickly the initial post-start hullabaloo had dissolved somewhat, the Dream Team had found together by the end of the first downhill and we started tackling the rolling hills that laid before us like a well-oiled machine.  A really, really well-oiled machine:  over the course of the next couple of kilometres, we were picking up group upon group of competitors.  It felt like we passed hundreds of riders with ease.  And what a great feeling it was J

Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever and so, after an exhilarating descent down towards the village of Himmelberg, the climbing began.  Some 10km of pure uphill laid in front of us.  Needless to say, fuelled in equal measure by youthful arrogance and endorphins from the downhill and the positive start to this race, I started hammering up the hill, collecting more and more riders on my way.  The rest of the DreamTeam were much more prudent and tackled what was, effectively, only the first climb of many that day, in a more relaxed fashion.  Not me, though, I disappeared up the hill, my heart beating in my throat and my power meter showing values I found hard to believe…  Luckily, I did eventually come to my senses and realised that the DreamTeam was somewhere behind me – and that this was not how we wanted to ride this race.  This was, after all, to be a team event and I would not be of much use to our cause of delivering SpinningMum to the line with a respectable time if I’d blown myself up on the very first hill and had thereafter been unable to perform any work for the equipe.  No, I decided that enough of this tomfoolery is enough.

And so I performed a beautiful U-turn and swung around.

The faces of the people coming uphill, the same people I had just passed with what must have sounded to them like my lungs were about to explode, the look as they saw me leisurely rolling down the hill again in the opposite direction was absolutely priceless.  I would highly recommend it for your next event, but as you’ll read below, I ended up paying a high price for it…

Anyhow, a short while later (longer than I had thought, though) I was reunited with the rest of the DreamTeam and we carried on up the mountain together like we had said we would.  And not only that, but we stayed in close formation for the rest of the lap – apart, obviously, from the large downhill section towards Afritz am See, where Basi and myself were desperately trying to reel back in the combined force of the CyclingParents who had left the feed station at the top of the previous hill slightly earlier than we had.  To explain: when Basi and I saw the two of them leave the feed station we were not concerned – after all, whilst CyclingDad does have, well, certain gravitational advantages over us light weights on any descent, he’d also have to assist SpinningMum downhill and, we thought, this would impede his usual rapid progress enough to allow Basi and I to catch up with both of them swiftly.  However, unbeknownst to us CD had slipped into full-on, take-no-prisoners, death-defying race mode – and so, apparently, had SM.  Basi was leading the descent and even in his slipstream, I had to push quite hard indeed.  I’ve looked at the data later and discovered that I was pushing upwards of 350 watts at that stage of the race with a heart rate well north of 160bpm – and remember: that was downhill and in Basi’s slipstream!  There certainly wasn’t any rest for the wicked, like I had hoped (and banked on!).  And to make it worse: despite our best efforts, we did not manage to even catch a glimpse of the CyclingParents until we finally reached the valley floor.  I can’t for the life of me imagine what sort of devilish descent they put on up front.  I am pretty sure, though, that they must have treated the laws of physics with the contempt a Frenchman would usually give a set of unpoliced parking recommendations…

Finally though, the DreamTeam was reunited: a SpinningMum energised rather than exhausted from the descent, a CyclingDad seemingly fresh as a daisy and eager to get going again (“Where the heck were you two?!”), a Basi who’d seemingly just finished his warm-up programme – and myself, totally knackered from my earlier (yes, totally unnecessary) attack on Alpe d’Huez, cheated out of my well-earned rest on the downhill by our hell-bent attempt to re-attach us to the CyclingParents and therefore having dipped deep into the Red Zone well before even the half-point marker of the race… fantastic.

Luckily riding as a team allowed all of us to play vital and equally important roles.  There was SpinningMum, of course, the be-all and end-all of our strategy for the day – she had to ensure to keep the pace, let the rest of the Team know whether she wanted to go faster (God forbid!) or slower (never happened!) and alert us if she encountered a technical defect (also never happened).  Then there was CyclingDad, probably the only competitor to also take on the role of Directeur Sportif and thus constantly occupied with issuing orders of the highest strategic relevance to all other members of the DreamTeam: “Alex, use a different gear!”, “Basi, go to the front and set a high pace!”, “Axel, go to the rear and make sure Alex stays on!”, and on it went… Thirdly, Basi, taking up an all-important role of steam engine, motorbike and pace maker.  Before the start, he’d told us all that the previous week was the first one he’d been back on his bike since last winter – but either that was a load of b*ll*cks or this whole racing business does keep people in a very good shape even if they decide not to do much for a couple of months… either way, when Basi put himself onto the front, things got quick for the rest of us.  It was as if someone had just turned on a tap: he pedalled to the front and with seemingly no effort to him at all, the speed of the whole group jumped up.  And just stayed high.  And stayed and stayed and stayed…  Meanwhile, my own invaluable contribution to the DreamTeam’s success was to get in a spot right behind SpinningMum, ready to pass her and drag her back into the slipstream of the guy in front should she ever lose contact and a gap open up (once again: never happened!) and else just ensuring that no one coming up from the back tries to push her out of her position in our little chain gang.  So, essentially, I was sucking wheels.  It was a tough job, but someone had to do it J

Eventually, our group reached the beginning of the next (and for SpinningMum and Basi the last) hill of the day, the ‘Wall of Kleinkirchheim’ as it could and should have been known.

Now, this was one steep and long m*therf….  And it came at just about the half-way point for CyclingDad and myself, so I thought better of it this time and went up deliberately holding back and ensuring we’d get up there as a team.  Heart rate never above 160bpm, power output comfortably below 200 watts.  I knew that the next lap, the one I’d be doing with CyclingDad alone, would be just as long distance-wise – but it would hurt significantly more.

And boy, was I right!  As soon as we had passed the finish line for the first time and left SpinningMum and Basi behind, CD hit the gas in an utterly unholy fashion.  I’ve seen similar feats of acceleration at air shows I’ve visited, when a lucky display pilot got the chance to demonstrate a Typhoon’s awesome thrust-to-weight ratio, lighting the afterburners and accelerating whilst going up vertically…!  (A sight, by the way, that should be made mandatory for people to experience in real life!)

The thing is, at these airshows I’ve never seen anyone trying to hang on to the tail fin of the plane – but I assure you this is exactly what it felt like to me, trying to stay in CD’s slipstream for the next couple of kilometres…

I did manage to hang on to him – and apparently, I wasn’t the only one amazed by his efforts!  When we finally caught up with a group that, for all intents and purposes, should have been uncatchable to us, an Italian rider came alongside and offered his heartfelt admiration and ‘felicitazioni!’ to CD – and I couldn’t agree more with him, it was an awesome ride that probably Spartacus himself would have been amazed by…

Well, we recovered our breaths for a short while whilst riding with the group we’d just caught up with, but then we left them in our dust again – on the next downhill.  CD clearly was on fire, he claimed later that his Garmin showed speeds in excess of 100 kph – mine did not, but I assure you, we were going down that hill really, really quickly nonetheless.

Now we got to the bottom of the first major hill, the one that I had so viciously (and imprudently) attacked in the first lap.  This time, CD and I would ride up together, not holding back (certainly no more U-turns!) but not deliberately dropping one another either – still, I knew about CD’s awesome advantage going down the hill on the other side, so I decided to push the pace and thus buy myself some respite for the descent.  Initially it worked and I left CD behind for a bit – only for him to then re-appear, as if by black magic, on my back wheel and then not letting go again.  Clearly, there would be no breather for me at the top today…

So then, how did both ascents compare, the first lap vis-à-vis the second?  Have a look for yourself!

As you can see, they are both pretty similar – giving you an idea as to the effort I put into both climbs.  Obviously, I “lost” circa three minutes doing my little U-turn on lap 1, but it turned out that the final time difference on the top of the climb was only some five minutes.  In other words:  had it not been for the U-turn, my second climb would have been only some two minutes faster than the first – and that’s despite the fact that I was not holding back on any part of the climb in lap 2, seeing as I was trying to get some distance between CD and myself so I could rest on the descent…  I guess one can already see the effect of fatigue creeping up quite visibly at this point?  Well, certainly on the bike at that moment, my legs did not feel fresh anymore at all…

So it was with a feeling of on-setting cramps that I hit the feed station on top of the hill like a man possessed.  Several Red Bull and energy gels were downed without even swallowing, my bottle refilled with more Red Bull – and all just in time before CD demanded a hasty departure again…  And needless to say: there was no bumbling along on this descent either, trying to hang on to CD’s back wheel.

By the time we reached the valley floor, I was toast.  We had at that point almost 3:30hs of riding in our legs, virtually none of that in the flat, and in my case, a lot of it at or even above my pitiful lactate threshold…  clearly, I was going to have to pay a price for my earlier cockiness up that hill.  Especially, as the last hill of the day was still ahead of us.

But for the time being, getting to the foot of that hill was my only concern.  Luckily, CD had no problem with me sucking wheels for a bit – or at least he didn’t let it show.  He just got to the front and started rolling like an unstoppable machine.  Rider upon rider we met – and we passed.  Most of the guys were happy for some company (and slipstream I suppose), so soon enough, CD and I had amassed ourselves a group of some five to ten people.  Some of them even still able and willing to put in some work at the front, giving CD a very well-earned break – I for one, however, could only sit in the back.  No chance of me putting in an effort at the front – it would have been the end to my day.

Soon enough, with burning legs and lungs in my case, we reached the bottom of the final climb.  Knowing that the finish line was awaiting at the top, I decided to put everything into it… even if it meant tapping into energy reserves within my body that are usually safeguarded and not to be trifled with;  stuff, which is only to be dipped into and used up when chased by a bear or a shark or in some other life-threatening situation.  Think one of thos “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” boxes…  J

Well, I did break the glass.

And still, CD had to wait for me!  More annoyingly, when compared to the first ascent on lap 1, we weren’t even that much quicker.  Have a look for yourselves:

Whilst CD and I were indeed climbing consistently faster on lap 2, the total time difference at the finish amounted to only circa two minutes…  I’ve looked at the power data back home: the charts made it seem like I had held back on lap 2.  I rarely managed to push more than 200 watts, my heart rate hovered at, but did not go much beyond 170bpm (I max out at circa 185bpm) – so it looked to me, in retrospect, like there had still been room.  You know, room for having gone quicker.

But I can honestly say that it was simply not possible on the day to quench even another tenth of a kph out of our speed going up that final climb.  By the time we reached Bad Kleinkirchheim for the second time, I was hyperventilating and… well… crying.  I’ve never experienced this sort of emotional elation at any sporting event I’ve taken part in so far.  Ever!  But when we crossed the line, I was just spent.  Totally and utterly spent.  There was no ounce of energy left in me and my whole thinking was focused on getting my breathing back on track and the shaking to stop.

Once that was done, though, a rush of endorphins hit and a sense of achievement overcame me like I’ve rarely known before.

And it may well be due to that endorphin rush, but as soon as the bikes were stowed, the post-race pasta was eaten and a warm shower had, the plan was hatched to come back again in 2014 and try to better our times – and by then to hopefully get a shot at the famous Nockalm Road, too.