I think it was around September last year when I first heard that this year’s RAD RACE Tour de Friends would get a new route across the Alps. I’d joined the first edition from Munich to Venice in 2017 and with a new route I was all game for round 3. I really wanted my friend Leoni to be my partner in crime in this who didn’t need much convincing. Amazingly, she also got three teammates from her Vienna-based women’s cycling team Mitzi and Friends to join, and just like that, a women’s team of five would be ready to anxiously hit F5 on December 10th 2018 at 3pm sharp in order to get through the long anticipated sign-up process. While the others did this comfortably in front of a computer, I’d “just quickly” gone for a crosscountry ski run and had to sign up on my phone on the metro (or T-bane as we call it in Oslo).
Fast forward to July 7th via many long training rides and a few “Shit, I signed up to ride up Stelvio!”. At a cafe near the train station in Augsburg I met up with the team, so excited to start this adventure with my friend and to finally get to know the rest of the team in person. I think it’s no exaggeration to say that we all instantly hit the same wavelength and that would show during the week when people would say to us “It really shows that you’ve been a team for a long time, the way you ride together and always look out for each other.” We just enjoyed it and didn’t correct them :)
The first stage from Augsburg to Füssen, the town of the Disney castle Neuschwanstein right at the border to Austria, was at 122 km and 600 m elevation a rather easy and flat warm up. Mainland Europe had experienced a massive heat wave during the previous week and so I felt a bit like an idiot when I picked up my Gore rain jacket that I’d ordered to rent for free for the event. Not anymore! About halfway through the ride it started pouring down roughly a week’s worth of rain and with multiple gravel sections along the route I’d picked up my must-have speckles of dirt in the face in no time. Motivated by not getting any drier we made it to the finish rather quickly, securing a late start for all the following stages.
Stage two took us into Austria and up our first two mountain passes: Hahntennjoch, a 14.5 km 900 m elevation climb and Reschenpass, a rather short and sweet 5.7 km 370 m elevation climb, right at the very end of the stage. The entire stage was 151 km and 2300 m elevation and for the remainder of the tour we would always climb close to 2000 m. The stage ended in the town of Nauders, where we were mega-super-duper lucky with our hotel because it had a SAUNA (!!!), which we hit just before heading to the cable car that took us further up the mountains for a mountainous Spätzle dinner.
All of us anticipated the Queen Stage that included climbing up the mighty Stelvio with an equal mix of excitement and fear. This one will be my “Biggest Climb” on my Strava profile for a long time, no doubt. At a whopping 1800 m elevation change over 24 km makes this a climb of the Hors catégorie (HC), which means this climb goes beyond any catergorisation. I don’t know where I all of a sudden learnt to climb reasonably well, but somehow I managed to ride all the way up in one go in 2 hrs 31 min. However, because I got much too excited by the prospect of a fresh cold Radler at the top, I didn’t realise I actually had to ride past that “carnival” at the top to finish the Strava segment… So, a Radler, some food and coke later I finally rolled across the actual finish line and my “official” time on Strava says 4 hrs 11 min duh. Now to the super-uber fun part. The road downhill along the Swiss border was freaking closed for motorised vehicles!!! Weehee, (almost) peril-free ultra-fast descent, here we go! What a blast. At the bottom my hands were so super numb and my brake pads definitely lost some weight. Later that day I would just hand my new set of brake pads that I wisely brought to one of the mechanics to swap them, because fine motor skills were nowhere to be seen anymore… But the day is not over yet. The elevation profile for the route promised us that we could basically just roll down to the finish line in Kaltern (or Caldero in Italian) from the top of Stelvio, but oh no. The town of Kaltern is home to some steep vineyards. Oof. Since the entire village is basically vertical, this also meant that our hotel was going to be 150 m below the finish line, which means we’d be cycling those 150 m uphill before the start tomorrow, with our backpacks. Double oof. Luckily we found a way to make some arrangements for our bicycles and took a taxi to and from the hotel. Work smarter, not harder ;)
Kaltern, by the way, has both a German and Italian name because it is in South Tyrol, an area of Italy that used to be Austrian (like the rest of Tyrol is now), but it became Italian after the First World War. Traditionally, however, the inhabitants of South Tyrol continue to speak German even though they’re Italians by passport. We found ourselves explaining the situation to a team of Brits, who we found at a beer garden, slightly, but understandably, confused by the constant cris-crossing between Austria, Italy and Switzerland, and Italians speaking German during this stage.
With the Queen stage done the rest should just be easy peasy, right? Not quite! We were still going to climb 1800 m over 108 km to get to Levico Terme. My legs have stopped complaining. On the really excitingly bright side though, since we were now fully in Italy, feed stations were going to be managed by the local villages themselves. Those feed stations were one of the highlights of the very first TdF, and also during this episode I should find myself all but disappointed. We would receive free cappucino or espresso at the first feed station, and sit by a lake eating a selection of fruits and ice cream at the second. We may have spent a little long at that second feed station. May have.
And just like that, we’d made it to the final stage that would take us to Feltre, dividing my feelings equally between happiness about the whole tour and sadness at this being the end of this amazing journey. Can’t we just continue riding our bikes like this forever? To make this an appropriate last hurrah that our legs wouldn’t forget so easily, let’s climb 2000 m over 95 km. To add a little more handicap, let’s have the first feed station with more awesome local produce two thirds of the way up a 600 m climb. And then on top of a much shorter climb came something what none of us expected: The village in charge of the second feed station brought out all their primary school aged kids to come and collect autographs in little booklets and on their t-shirts from us! They totally made us feel like rock stars. In the original plan, this was meant to be the last feed station, but one more village really did not want to miss out on the party. So we kept climbing to where the other end of the age spectrum treated us like the biggest rock stars on the planet. There is no better feeling to finish the final climb with and roll into the finishing town.
A lot of photos are from Christoph Mannhardt’s photo booth, which was super fun!