"I have a dream" is the official slogan of the Ötztaler Radmarathon, a wonderful yearly cycling event taking place on the Austrian-Italian border. With its 238 km and 5.500 meter altitude difference you’re more likely to experience a nightmare. The combination of distance and a total of 4 mountains to be conquered makes this race harder than a queen stage in the Tour de France. But as the great Murakami said: "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." Here are 9 great tips to make to your dream come true.
1. Starting is winning
Reaching the starting line is almost as hard as crossing the finish line. When you register, better knock on wood to get a place allotted. Masochism has always been in great demand among cyclists. Here, it exceeds supply by tenfold. But good things come to those who wait. If you haven’t been selected for three consecutive years, you'll automatically earn a starting place.
2. Keep cool, even the pros suffer
For the very first time in history professional cyclists can battle it out amongst each other. The organisation aims at earning a spot on the UCI calendar which explains the presence of several Pro Tour teams such as Orica-GreenEdge, Katusha and Hansgrohe-Bora. The organisation better do something about the date though. Having a race like this in the midst of the Vuelta won’t help to attract the finest winged cyclists. Just for the record: from the 150 pro riders starting in the morning, only 50 will made it to the finish line. Seems like ample evidence of the toughness of the race.
3. Shaved or shaky legs? Amateurs can prove their worth.
A happy lot of 4.700 amateurs awaits the starting line. Most of them look mean and lean on expensive bikes and matching outfits; an overwhelming majority with shaved legs, always the silent indication of rock steady ambition. The best of the lot will finish 45 minutes slower than the pros. In cycling terms 45 minutes is a century. My legs are rather shaky. I hardly have 1300 cycling km under my belt. The happy arrival of my daughter transformed valuable training time into priceless playing time. But I ain’t gonna cry. This was my self chosen ‘holiday’ right?
4. Kuthai - Avoid a heart attack.
The race starts in Sölden and hits the flanks of Kuthai after 30 kms. In 20 km we’ll gain 1200 vertical meters. Fairly reasonable if it wasn’t for that 1 km stretch with 18% inclination. My heart goes into overdrive. Slowing down seems the best option. Heaven can wait. It’s still a very long way to the finish.
5. Brenner Pass - Follow, don’t lead
After 88 km we hit the legendary Brenner Pass. A long (40 km) gentle climb takes us into Italy on a parallel road next to the highway. Even the presence of the highway can not diminish the awe you spontaneously feel when facing this scenery. Ciao Italia! For the climb of the Brenner it is best to pick a group that drives at your pace. Nice and steady. Don’t try to jump like a madman from one group to another. You’ll spill tons of precious energy. Also avoid being pushed into the leading role when you are going faster than the group. Best thing is to wait in 4th or 5th position and jump to the next group when they’re close by. So far for leadership.
6. Jaufen Pass - Don't crash into cows
The next challenge is called Jaufen Pass: 1130 meters elevation gain spread over 15.5 km, much steeper than Kuthai and you do feel it. The top is just over 2000 meters high, making the effort very palpable at this altitude. Jaufen Pass is a very classic, postcard perfect Austrian Alps climb. Picturesque snowy mountain tops adorn the background. Right before the top, I literally have to break for some cows with loud sounding bells. Awesome!
7. Timmelsjoch - Hell is up, not down
After Jaufen Pass the real beast awaits: Timmelsjoch, 29 km long, ending somewhat over 2600 meters, easily comparable to the Cols du Tourmalet and Galibier. Timmelsjoch might not sound as sexy, suffering comes in every language. After all, you start this climb after 180 km of racing. You feel tired and getting all the way to the top is a real struggle. It is in moments like these that you know what you are made of. I have one sole aim: finishing.
8. Don't let the weather put you down
Reaching the top is like a cold shower. Literally. Temperature has dropped to a freezing 4 degrees. Ice-cold rain has been accompanying me for the last half-hour. The wet streets make the descent extremely dangerous. It like walking a tightrope. I witness quite a few of my co-riders hitting the tarmac in a somewhat uneasy way. A fresh dose of adrenalin rushes through my veins. Crashing? Not me, not today.
9. Finishing is winning
All in all, the 30 km descent back to Sölden is easy-breezy. Completely soaked and tired I reach the finish line. I clock off at 11 hours and 43 minutes. Averaging 21 km/hour. Definitely worth a few beers. Preferably served cold by some good looking Austrian blondes. After all, a man should be allowed to have a dream, right?