Wednesday 24 October 2018

Fight for life - Alpenbrevet 2018

Alpenbrevet, the famous and spectacular event. Event for which people travel from many far locations. Not a surprise as Alpenbrevet is routed via the most beautiful cols in Swiss Alps. It's also a test of one's fitness, body and mind. Usually associated with nice and warm weather, beautiful views and fast descends. 
How was it this year...? Well, read further to find the answer.

So yes, this year Alpenbrevet 2018 was challenging and I was prepared like never before. My reference point was the race in 2016 where I did Gold Tour without bigger problem and this year I was in much better shape. So what could go wrong? One thing - The weather.

That particular weekend the weather went totally crazy. From sun with 15 degrees a day before to clouds, fog, rain, snow, strong wind and temperature around 1-2 degrees on top of the cols. For the Gold tour measuring 160km / 5100m of climb that was a significant cold.
Despite that, even for a second I didn't think to step back from the race. Hotel was booked, bike ready, family packed. The only case to figure out was what kind of clothes to take. There is never a good choice but I decided to take the base-layer with the front wind protection, arm and leg warmers, jersey and dhb all-weather jacket. Gloves, toe cover shoes and merino skull cap. With that set I could climb without jacket and put it on during the descends. Dhb "All Weather" jacket is excellent - wind, rain proof and breathable at the same time so it was my top choice for that day.

Event started shortly before 7 AM, this time from Andermatt. The first col was Sustenpass

First part of Alpenbrevet is always tricky. There are hundreds of riders going very close to each other and in addition when the roads are wet it's really easy to crash. This time I haven't seen any so I felt kind of relief before first climb. As per my plan I took the jacket off and started approaching Susten.

Weather was quite OK. It was cloudy but no rain. Temperature was around 7-10 degrees so climb was very refreshing. Susten is usually the hardest one as it's the last climb when starting from Meiringen. However this time it was the easiest as the order was changed and so starting from Andermatt it was the first mountain to concur.

In the middle of the climb we were welcomed by sun but that was very short moment. Going up we entered a heavy fog where visibility was just few meters. I know the mountain very well but this time I really lost the orientation and didn't know how far I'm from the top...

 On the picture above - "Blackcat wheels" jersey, custom made by Velcredo. Highest quality of materials and finish did again a great job in this long ride. It was also a good advert for Blackcat wheels ;-)

Talking about wheels I took with me the lightest aluminum clincher wheels I ever made for myself. Built from Novatec hubs upgraded to ceramic bearings and DT RR411 rims laced using Aerolite spokes. Fast set with good braking power, ideal for rainy rides in Alps. Going through those mountains every gram counts so  I was really happy to have a wheels around 1350g and not more than that.

I reached the top faster than I thought. Quickly dressed up and took some bite. I could already feel the cold. Top of the mountain was windy and temperature dropped to around 4 degrees. Without waiting too much I started going down. 

Visibility was not that great and roads were slippery. Due to the cold wind my body started shaking and I had troubles to keep my bike straight.

Except of the fog we've got a light rain so my camera got wet and I missed couple of really nice pictures:

Going further down temperature was raising up so we accelerated and started going down with the right speed

Second climb was Grimselpass. Again, same story as on Susten, with every meter of the climb the temperature was going down and the fog was getting stronger.

Most of the climb was pretty OK but close to the top I suddenly lost the power. I didn't know that's going on - my legs were completely empty. I had to stop like many others and take some snack in order to continue. After a while, slowly but surely I made into the top of Grimselpass.

On the top it was freaking cold. I mean really cold. With all the layers on I was shaking and could not control it. Wind was strong and heavy fog was making the air wet. DHB All weather jacket was keeping the humidity and water out but my body temperature was constantly going down. 
I forced myself to eat something - cheese, chocolate, bread and hot chicken soup. Order didn't matter. I wanted to make it quick and go down to dive in into warmer temperature. 5-10min later I was already descending:

If I'd be first time on those mountains I'd be scared shitless. I felt like riding in the milk, I didn't see anything. Descend from Grimsel to Furka is pretty easy but if you don't see too much, road is wet and there are no barriers on the turns you start to think to yourself "What the hell am I doing here?!"

Few switchbacks and visibility was better. I was still cold but looking at other riders - some of them in short jerseys and bibs - I felt much warmer :-)

After the descend there was a decision point. Turn right and continue to Gotthard via Gold Tour or turn left and go up to Furka and shorten to Silver Tour. My target was Gold Tour but deadly tired and completely frozen I didn't feel strong enough to make two more passes. I looked at my watch - it was almost 1PM. At 3PM there was snow and rain coming to Nufenen and Gotthard. I knew I won't make those two cols in two hours before the weather crack. Not that day, not in that weather. So with a big regret, frustration and disappointment in myself I decided to go to Furka...

Climb was beautiful. Since it was my last col during that Alpenbrevet I decided to slow down and enjoy every single moment and scenery of it.

With the climb the clouds were going up, slowly showing the mighty Furka - just like the curtains in a theater. Magical spectacle...

Top of the Furka was the coldest from all three cols. It was unbelievable. I took two very hot chicken soups and didn't feel that they are warm at all. In that moment I knew I took the right decision. Since it was my last straight to the finish line I didn't wait any minute longer to recover and started riding down to the Andermatt.

Some sections of Furka I was riding down completely from my memory. The turns were showing up from the fog in last seconds, so knowing the road by heart was very helpful. 

Approaching the finish line I even made an effort to smile ;-)

Happiness with the flavor of disappointment is an interesting feeling for sure. I wanted to ride Gotthard pass so much that I promised to myself that I will make this col still this year. Few weeks later I got a beautiful weather window so I did the tour... but that's for another blog entry.

Thanks for reading!

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