I woke up at 4 in the morning at race day. First thing I did was listening into my body because the last two days before the race I really didn’t feel well but I decided to give the Ötztaler a try anyway. So for sure I had the feeling I felt better this morning and if i am able to ride this marathon, would show me the first mountain pass out of 4 anyway. So I got ready for this big day, had breakfast with the Alpecin Family and checked my equipment – READY to go to the starting line, NOT.
Looking at my bottle holders at my bike, there were no bottles – nervousness was calling. So I jumped into the hotel and got my bottles ready. Ok but now I was ready and we we were riding downhill to the starting line, still in the dark. The weather was dry, some clouds but you could see that there will be the sun out soon and it was around 11 degrees. It didn’t feel too cold – i would say perfect conditions.
As we arrived, there were already a lot of people lined up in the starting block, music was running and you could feel the tension of all participatients in the air. I love these moments before the start of a race. We were lining up for a quick Team pic and then we tried to get into the starting block. We still had over 30 minutes to wait for the start and so we chatted, took some pics, ate something and I for sure had to go for a pie, like always before a start. And then it was time to start this long race and the countdown was running: 5,4,3,2,1 GO!
First stop: Kühtai
I took a deep breath and cliqued into my pedals. The first part of the race was easy. It was about 30km downhill but this was the first and last easy part of the marathon. Arriving in Ötz, it was the finish of the downhill part, I took of my arm warmers and rain jacket because directly in Ötz the first pass of the day was starting – the Kühtai climb – 18,5km, until 18% gradient and with 1200hm. Ok let’s do this I thought and I started to climb this first pass out of 4. I was listening into my body.
I felt not 100% fit but better for sure then on the bike the day before and it felt totally ok to climb up this first pass. It was kind of remarkable because really nobody was talking. There were hundreds of people around me and everybody was just quite and concentrated, under tension. When I was on the top of Kühtai there were already the Alpecin Supporter Crew waiting for me and as always it was so good to see people I knew. Siggi was taking pics of me and I quickly made a stop for a new bottle which Vanessa gave me. Thank you guys for the support!
Then I made a short stop at the food station, put on my arm warmers and off I went for the descent to Innsbruck. The descent was good and when I was all the way down I found straight away a nice group where I could ride in the wind shadow to the next pass the Brenner. It’s from Innsbruck to the top of the Brenner 39km, until 12% gradient and with 777hm. I liked this climb – nice and smooth. It was not the nicest pass but the easiest for sure of the day. On the top of the Brenner another Alpecin Supporter Crew was waiting for me and it was so good to see them. I even got a big hug from cloodi and they gave me so much motivation – thank you!!
Via the Brenner Pass from Austria to Italy
So the second pass was done but I had two passes still in front of me and I knew both of them are gonna be much more tougher then the past two. But I was still motivated and my body and mind gave me a go. I was thinking from pass to pass and from food station to food station. These were my little goals. So after the descent of the Brenner I started to climb the Jaufenpass, it’s 15,5km with until 12%. I had the feeling the Jaufenpass was constantly 12% – it just felt like that. It’s a tough climb and even if it’s only 15,5km to climb it felt so much longer. At 14h20 i was up at the food station of the Jaufenpass. I really needed salty food now. I couldn’t see the sweet bars anymore and my body was crying after salt. I refilled my bottles and was eating a salty bread with butter and some fruits. A woman who gave me some apple juice suddenly said: in only 3 minutes the broom car will arrive. You should have seen my face. I was so surprised, like everybody else around me and I almost had to choke my bread. Now everything went real quick. I grabbed my bottles, went really quick to my bike, put the bottles into the bottles holders, grabbed my bike, jumped on it, cliqued in and of i went, like a lot of other cyclists around me. Haha, i will never forget this moment – too funny how everybody escaped from the broom car. But now I was safe. The next time out was up at the Timmelsjoch and i had 5 hours time for it. I thought I could manage that.
So I had to climb the little bit until the top of Jaufenpass and then I was going downhill until the foot of the last, the toughest and longest climb – the Timmelsjoch – 28,7km, until 14% gradient and 1759hm. I was already feeling tired for sure but I was determined, too. I didn’t climb 3 passes to not finish the 4th and last climb. Let’s go! So I was steadily pushing it up the serpentines. Looooong serpentines, sometimes even around the mountain.
The weather was still good and warm but you could see that clouds came more and more up. I had more and more the feeling I have to get out of the saddle and the frequency I did, was getting higher and higher. I didn’t look up because I didn’t wanna see how far I still have to go. My last little goal within the race was the food station 10km before the top of the Timmelsjoch. I was really happy to see the food station. I really needed this break. And i was eating and drinking what I could get. Then I had a little chat with a guy from the organisation and asked him, how many km I still have to climb and if it was still a tough climb and he just said: just look up there and was laughing. I was looking up the Timmelsjoch and saw the cyclist in the serpentines in the distance above me. I said: ah no really. You are kidding me. It looked really steep and still a lot of climbing. I took my bike and started the last 10km of climbing of the Timmelsjoch. It was getting tougher and tougher but I was pushing it up this hill and there was nothing who could stop me. I wanted to finish this for sure. And then suddenly I heard a thunder.
And then... Bad weather at the Timmelsjoch
My most concern before the race – to get into a thunder storm. But i heard it exactly once, that was it. It got more cloudy and it was getting more chilly. And then 4km before the top it started to rain really heavy. I loved it. Yes i loved the feeling of rain on my skin. I was so warmed up from the 24km of climbing, that i didn’t think it was cold at all. Plus I couldn’t stop and didn’t wanna stop to put my rain jacket on. I had the feeling when I would stop now, I could not get back on the bike again. So i pushed it forward, not fast but steadily and with the strong mind to finish this climb at the top without stopping in between – I wanted it to be done!
Our Photographer was waiting for me at the top of the Timmelsjoch. It was then 4 degrees and pouring rain. And before the last corner I saw him. Yeah, I thought mr Pinko. It was so good to see him but I also felt bad, that he had to wait for me in this cold rainy weather. We were talking a bit when I was passing him. And he said, take care going downhill. I pushed it up until the tunnel, put on my arm warmer and my rain jacket and gloves and then I felt for the first time how cold it was. I was so soaking wet and I knew this downhill will be tough and ice cold. But now, that I managed to climb 4 passes, I knew I will somehow manage to descent the last over 25km into Sölden. Riding out of the tunnel I felt the cold wind and straight away my body was starting to shake. My teeth were constantly beating on each other and my whole body was shaking and I had no control of it. The streets were soaking wet too and even i was shaking and cold, I had to concentrate on this really fast descent. My arms started to hurt from holding the breaks but letting them go too long was no option either, because it was just too dangerous to go really fast downhill with this rain. And then there was this last climb – only 2km but they felt really long.
After all this climbing, feeling cold as a snowman, you don’t wanna climb not even 100meters anymore. But I thought ok, I can do this! What else was left for me? So I pushed it really the last time up this 2km climb. And the i went on with the downhill into Sölden. On the way down I thought a lot of the time, how long can a downhill take? It was soooo damn cold. And then the Moment came were I arrived in Sölden. It was still raining, the people beside the streets were cheering at me and I already could not hold my tears away.
I came by the Restaurant where my Team Alpecin was waiting for me and they were cheering at me and even more tears came up. And then there was the last right turn and I saw the finish line. I really did this – I really finished one of the toughest cycling marathons. I stoped and my body was shaking even more. Lovely Sarah and Basti were waiting for me with blankets at the finish and Sarah took me in her arms and gave me a big hug and then I could not hold my tears and had to cry all out. Done and dusted but super happy and ice cold I was an Ötzi Finisher! I was getting my deserved finisher Jersey and then we went to the car were we got to the Hotel with. I stopped shaking after a 30min hot shower and then I was soooo hungry. What an adventure. I said that I never do the Ötztaler again but 2 days later I was thinking totally different: I want for sure do it again!!!Mindset is everything! The End.
Image rights: Alpecin Cycling / Stefan Rachow