MTB Events

Taking on the Transalp MTB stage race

The Transalp mountain bike race; a gruelling 8 days of climbs, descents and trails, starting in Germany and ending in Italy. It’s not a challenge for the faint hearted. Find out how the intrepid Rachel Sokal faired when she took on this epic event.  

It’s beautiful in the mountains, but you have to actually cycle up them as well as down

When I entered the Transalp mountain bike stage race with my Cotic / A Quick Release teammate Ant Jordan, I told myself that this wouldn’t so much be a hard race but an amazing week’s holiday of biking.  Oh, how wrong I could be.

It might have been a holiday but it was also the toughest thing I’ve ever done on the bike.

I was prepared for the physical challenge, as the route covered 680km and 20,000m climbing in eight days. This meant we were riding between 5 ½ and 7 hours a day.  What I wasn’t prepared for was how mentally hard it would be.

As well as the actual riding (2hr climbs in over 40o heat anyone?) we were moving town-to-town each day. Every time we moved, we needed to find our hotel, sort out the bikes, get enough to eat and on top of that try to get sufficient rest. Doing all of this on top of the riding really began to take it’s toll.

Like the majority of bike races, there were very few female competitors compared to the number of men taking part in the Transalp. Fewer than 90 women raced; 30 of them making up 15 all-female pairs, and the rest riding in mixed pairs like me.

Of the 1100 people starting the race, just 800 made it to the finish line. The women were obviously made of sterner stuff than the men though, as although there might have been fewer women to start with, just three female pairs and 10 mixed pairs didn’t finish the race. That’s five in six women completing the race compared to about three in four men. Take that, boys!

The route takes in some amazing scenery, and brilliant weather all week made the views even more spectacular.

The riding itself wasn’t particularly technical with much of it on tarmac or wide gravel tracks. This made some sections of the race less interesting than it might have been. With such amazing trails available in the Alps, it felt a shame to miss out on riding them. On the upside the smoother, wider tracks meant that there was very little queuing and waiting around, which tends to be a problem in some of the big events.

Where there were bits of single-track they were great fun and well worth the wait.  We also found we were stronger on these than many of the riders around us, which gave us a bit of a boost. It’s just a pity we couldn’t keep up with them on the climbs!

Spectacular alpine views and glorious sunshine – a winning combination

The number of Brits in the race was pretty small compared to other races I’ve done. From the UK there were a few male pairs, and we were one of three mixed pairs. UCI Marathon MTB racer Sally Bigham was competing with her Norwegian team-mate in the female category. Sally more than equalled her brilliant performance of last year, topping the podium yet again.

It was phenomenal to look at the times different teams managed for different stages. We sat somewhere in the middle of the pack with literally hours separating us from both the top and bottom teams.  It seems incomprehensible that people are able to cover those distances in the times they do – definitely something to aspire to.

In terms of how our preparation paid off, happily we managed to get most things right. We’d calculated how many Torq energy gels, bars and drinks we thought we’d need leading up to the race. It seemed a phenomenal amount, so we recalculated several times before realising we were right in the first place.

We took 3kgs of drink, over 100 bars and over 100 gels.  And we used them all.

We also took lots of spares for our bikes and used most of these too. I still haven’t worked out whether this was good or bad; on the plus side we had the spares that we needed, on the downside we kept breaking things!  We got away with some pretty hairy moments with the bikes, just about managing to cobble them together and get them back up and running.

Turns out that it’s not just your body that 700km takes a toll on.

A triumphant Rachel and Ant

All in all, the Transalp was an amazing but a really, really tough experience and something I’m proud that I have done.  I wouldn’t recommend you do it if you want technically challenging trails but if you want the physical challenge, and the satisfaction of riding your bike all the way across the Alps, then entries for next year’s event open in December!

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