Mountain training week: 7 days 21,000 vertical meters

The whole day it had rained. The first day of vacation in South Tyrol I imagined something different, but the weather forecast had unfortunately been right. At least the air was not completely cold and after the rain had now stopped, it has also become a little warmer. 14 degrees showed my bike computer in Sterzing. I surveyed the route change of this year’s Ötztaler Radmarathon, which takes participants around Sterzing before heading to the third pass, the Jaufenpass. Since it was late afternoon by now, my plan was to climb the north ascent of the Jaufenpass as an introduction to a week of training in Sterzing. At the top, the air temperature will be in single digits, I hoped that the rain will not start again. It is less the wet from above that bothers me. I packed a rain jacket and helmet covers and put on water-repellent clothing. A bit of freezing is also not the issue, but from slippery ground I’m not a fan.

It’s my first mountain, my first pass in 2 years. I feel kind of queasy. How will I fare? Normally I could care less about form and only the fun counts, but since I have a starting place for the Ötztaler Radmarathon at the end of August, a build-up of form is important. In the summer of 2020 was the last cycling vacation with mountain climbs. At that time I did the Stelvio Triple (Strava) in one day and 10,000 vertical meters in the following three days, so just under 15,000 vertical meters in 4 days. In 2020, I had my all-time best and rode 200 kilometers at a 30 cut in the lower basics (Strava). But in 2021, I didn’t see a single pass. The training camp in Gran Canaria planned for January 2021 was cancelled due to covid and the cycling vacation in May was also cancelled by the organizer due to corona. My distances were also decent in 2021, but consisted mainly of loose training and everything took place in the flat or on the roller. Therefore, I was curious what my body would now send me for signals. I drove in calm endurance tempo the Jaufenpass further up. Past a large sports hotel and had a look at my bike computer, which showed me my wattage and pulse. Watts and pulse are dependent on several factors and are not 100 percent meaningful when you want to map your training condition, but they are still clues. As expected, my form left a lot to be desired compared to 2020: higher heart rate with less watts than 2020. Something else was not to be expected. Nevertheless, I could have broken down significantly more. So I climbed on and felt indescribably good about it. A high to finally be back in the mountains! When I reached the tree line, a decent wind whistled. Apart from me, only a handful of motorcyclists had made their way up to the pass. Once at the top, I hid from the icy wind behind one of the huts and quickly put on whatever clothes I had packed in my big saddlebag. Meanwhile, I am more and more often with a large saddlebag on the road, because I hate objects and clothes in the back pockets always full to sweat and then in the cold downhill to wear clammy clothes on the body. The descent was cold and I subsequently frozen through, so only a hot shower helped.

Three passes can be cycled directly from Sterzing. The most famous pass is probably the Brenner, although many cyclists consider it more of a “half pass” due to its low average gradient. The Penser Joch is less known, less traveled and the highest of the three passes with a pass height of 2211 meters. The Jaufenpass is passable all year round. Winter, however, puts a strain on the tar, especially on the colder northern side. Here there are sometimes large potholes and many longitudinal cracks, which makes the descent on the north side rather unpleasant to drive. Due to the forestation, bumps are difficult to see in the light and dark. Some places have already been repaired and a new tarred surface has been applied, but the pass is still bumpy. The southern flank of the Jaufenpass has already been well repaired, not least because of the annual Ötztaler Radmarathon. The locals told me that from the entry fees probably some flows into the road renewal. On the second day, the complete Jaufenpass was on the program, so both sides. The temperature was still quite cool, but the risk of rain was low. At the end of my tour I had to climb each day from Sterzing to the end still some, not a little steep altitude meters to the vacation apartment in Obertelfes. Normally I’m not a fan of having to climb again after a long descent at the end of a tour. This time I made the uphill towards the end strangely enough nothing. I’m still not quite sure what the reason is, but for sure the beauty of the landscape made a difference and I can recommend the Obertelfes location. The weather was now summer-like and there was no risk of showers into the new week. On the third day, I took on part of the Penser Joch. The north ascent of the Penser Joch is relatively steep throughout and newly paved. The south side has double-digit gradient percentages in the upper area and also in the lower area, there also wait some unpleasant tunnels. In between, the climb bobs along. Personally, I hate climbs with a few single-digit percentages. It always feels like you’re riding on the flat but not gaining any speed. For mountain-specific muscles, a gradient of less than 5 percent has too little training effect. Therefore, I finished my ride southbound in the flat, middle part of the south side and turned back. Although it was a Saturday, it was surprisingly quiet and only a few cars, motorcycles and bicycles were on the road. This was due in part to the Penser Joch itself, which as mentioned is less traveled than the neighboring Jaufenpass. A second reason for the overall low-traffic weekend may have been the timing between Whitsun and the following long weekend around Corpus Christi. Thirdly, there were some major cycling events taking place in the Alpine region, so these were also partly responsible for the few road cyclists. The weather was gorgeous and for Monday a cold front with showers and thunderstorms announced itself, so I really wanted to use Sunday to climb the Timmelsjoch. I feared a lot of traffic, but as on Saturday, it was quite quiet. On the south side of the Jaufenpass it was hot. A wind vest was sufficient for the descent. In St. Leonhard I filled my water bottles, ate a snack and started the climb to the Timmelsjoch. 35 degrees was on my bike computer. I was so enraptured by the beauty of the landscape that I forgot about the effort. It took me about two and a half hours to reach the top of the pass on the Tyrolean side. I was looking forward to the descent and at the same time I had – as always – a sinking feeling in my stomach. I have had this feeling of respect for a descent since the first day and although I always get an adrenaline rush after a few meters downhill, the anxious feeling never leaves me. You shouldn’t underestimate any descent, a fall happens quickly and the consequences at the high speeds can be bad, if not fatal.

On rainy Monday there was a lonely tour for me on the Penser Joch after the rain became less in the evening. I was rewarded for a descent without a single car. The last two training days there was sunshine and in the afternoon single showers and thunderstorms, so I did not extend my tours too long. I drove over the Jaufenpass in each case. On Tuesday I climbed again a part of the Timmelsjoch up to the tree line. With the more humid thunderstorm air, the summit was already in clouds. I even met more road cyclists than I had at the weekend, with most of them carrying large panniers. Bikepacking is clearly the trend. On the last day the clouds also over the Jaufenpass became larger and larger and more threatening in the course of the day. I watched the clouds grow with concern as I rode uphill from St. Leonhard. Arrived at the top of the Jaufenpass, I quickly put on my wind vest, because a thick thundershower was already approaching from the west. The uppermost hairpin bends I was still held up by a camper, but then I had a free ride to the bottom. On the descent I already knew every pothole and was accordingly fast in the valley, where I then also caught the first drops of the thunderstorm before I under the roof of a bus stop, where soon also two other racing cyclists found themselves. Escaped the thunderstorm – that was for me a worthy conclusion of my training week in Sterzing. How this week in the mountains has affected my form remains to be seen. In such a training week with 21,000 meters of altitude, the fatigue is too great to draw immediate conclusions about a change from pulse and/or watts.

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