The Salzkammergut Trophy MTB Race, Austria, July 2014
The Salzkammergut Trophy is Austria’s most famous MTB race, and its largest, this year attracting 4,256 participants. This is a huge race – I took part in the 119km race but there are several other events over three days, the longest being a 211km cross-country sufferfest that took some competitors over 15 hours to finish.
I checked out the images of the area on the internet before I left for Austria. It is a beautiful place, nestled in the majestic Austrian Alps, and the route traverses several huge Alpen mountains and takes the riders past pristine lakes that serve as mirrors to the awe-inspiring cliffs beside them, and through picture-postcard little villages that people travel from around the world to see.
Beautiful! At least, on a sunny day. But unfortunately not on the day we were there. Instead of sunshine, we awoke to a concrete grey sky and drops of rain. We ate breakfast in silence, thinking about the possibility of having to ride 6 to 7 hours over these huge mountains in the rain.
We packed the car up, and then my friend turned to me and said, “Don’t worry, I have a feeling it will clear up – there’ll be sunshine today, I know it!”
Precisely three seconds later there was a crack of thunder so loud that it made my ribs shake. We jumped into the car in a second but were nonetheless still soaked to the bone.
We got to the start line and it was still raining. In fact, we got to the 100km point, hours later, and it was still raining! It wasn’t until the last 10km or so that it finally stopped…
And how was my race? Let’s just say that it was… a disaster! The first and biggest problem came after just 15km. I lost my 720Armour sunglasses! My beloved 720Armour Dart glasses – these have been with me to race in Europe, Oman and Qatar, the UK, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and on and on, and I’ve had these and loved them for 5 years!
On the way up a very technical 15km climb at the very start of the race it was so dark with the rain and overhanging trees that I took the Darts off and put them in my pocket. 5km later I reached back for them and – oh no – they were gone.
I wear the RX version and have pretty bad eyesight, so I was in big trouble. I thought about going back to look for them but I knew it would be impossible to find them, and even if I did, about 1000 riders had ridden up already – if I did find them they’d be broken, most probably.
‘Great’, I thought, ‘I am riding blind. The Stevie Wonder of cycling…’
I was having great difficulty seeing the singletrack path ahead of me now I had lost my sunglasses, hitting tree roots and rocks again and again, and losing position as other guys came flying past me. But then things got worse.
I hit a large stone on a corner, and cracked the pedal. My foot came out so I tried to clip it back in, but it wouldn’t click. I stopped and looked at it – the spring had broken, making it impossible for me to clip in.
So, for the next 95km, I rode blind and with just one leg! It was hard to pedal uphill as my unclipped foot kept slipping, and almost impossible to descend, because not only could I not see but I had almost no control.
On top of that, all the amazing views I had been looking forward to seeing never materialized, as they were hidden deep in the low clouds. Wet, blind, legless and hungry, I finished in 7and a half hours!
If I had been on a road bike I would have stopped after 30km and got on the bus, but, in XC MTB, there is no bus. You just ride – or, you walk. Either way, the only way is forward.
What did I learn from this experience? Easy – always take two pairs of 720Armour sunglasses with you!