Every cycling marathon begins with a ringing of the alarm clock. Sleeping late is not possible. It means getting up early. My second look belonged to the radar on the smartphone. As expected there were still some radar echoes over the track. It had not surprised me, nightly rain had been predicted and it was currently still early in the morning. There was still time until the start. First I had breakfast and got dressed. Then we went to the start in the dark, where we waited for a while. Thank God it was dry weather in Sölden. Many drivers got up even earlier than Dani and I and were already in the area behind the starting line. There we got to know Philipp, with whom we spent the time until the starting signal. Then we started, the starting signal was given. Thousands of drivers were now on their way to Ötz. The roads were mostly dry. Nevertheless, there were two crashes in my immediate vicinity. I was quite afraid of this descent. It was tight and accidents happen fast. It was like a traffic jam on the motorway. Everyone drives his line, sometimes faster sometimes slower, you change sides and still you see the same people around you again and again. Arrived in Ötz there was the usual traffic jam at the foot of the Kühtai. I hoped to get through safely and tried, like in 2016, to secure a place on the edge of the road within the field, where you seemed to be safe from attacking and overtaking drivers. So I drove my pace step by step. Slowly fog came up and some drops of drizzle fell from time to time. Up on the pass it started to rain. The crowd at the food stands was enormous and I decided not to stop. First of all I had a full bottle, which should reach the Brennerlabe at the cooler temperatures, and secondly I didn’t want to put on my rain jacket. The weather models had just between Kühtai and Innsbruck indicated the lowest rain probability, so I hoped that the rain would only affect the summit and stop at the descent. I had hoped! But sometimes it comes differently.
So I went into the descent and it really started to pour. I was still hoping. But it really rained down and before I knew it I was completely soaked. The water stood in my shoes. My seat upholstery was soaked and the only dry spot on my upper body was directly under my helmet, because I wore a raincoat since the start, which I wore at the beginning actually more for protection from cold than wetness. The descent from Kühtai has, thank goodness, few curves where you run the risk of losing your grip in the wet. However, my road bike only had rim brakes and the braking effect was clearly reduced in the rain. Even if I “freebraked” the rim, the braking effect was reduced, because the brake pads had “soaked up”. Dani overtook me. He was the better downhill driver and he had disc brakes. I escaped a collision when I wanted to drive past a driver on the left side of the road, but he suddenly pulled to the left without any apparent reason. I grabbed the brakes but the braking effect was barely there and I could just avoid to the left of the road. The cold was getting on my nerves. I began to tremble. My fingers got stiff despite long gloves and I knew: if the rain doesn’t stop after Innsbruck I might not be able to finish the race. I had had my change of clothes deposited at the Jaufenpass. Until then I would have been frozen. Arrived in Innsbruck, the rain stopped, thank God. But for the time being I couldn’t think of driving in the slipstream, because the roads were wet and the splash water behind other cyclists landed on my glasses. But if I took them off I would get everything in my eyes. So I avoided riding in a group. The old Brenner road up became the wetness less and I looked for a suitable group. I overtook Dani, who had estimated his pace slower. So it went the burner steadily uphill and my clothes dried gradually.
At the Brenner food station I got two bottles of Iso drink, ate a bar and visited a toilette. Of course this takes all the time. Therefore some driver teams have placed relatives at the track or belong to a team, which has marshals, who give the drivers full bottles and other food. Even superfluous clothes can be disposed of in this way. With logistics you can save some time, furthermore I would have to work on my nutrition the day before. The following departure to Sterzing was still partly wet and also my brakes were it, so that it went relatively slowly there. During the ascent of the Jaufenpass, it got warmer despite the increase in altitude, as the sun was sometimes shining through the clouds. I stopped and got rid of my leg warmers, exchanged the long gloves for short ones and took off the helmet cover and my headband. I stuffed everything into my back pockets, which were completely loaded with it. I slowed my pace a little, because my feeling told me that I would otherwise lose a lot of speed at the Timmelsjoch. Nevertheless, in comparison to my comrades-in-arms, I was travelling quickly and one of them shouted to me: “Slow down a bit. I replied that it would slow down at the Timmelsjoch anyway and that otherwise under 10 hours would be in danger. I should be mistaken, because I could keep my pace at the Timmelsjoch. So I continued climbing and overtook the “Pacemaker of under 10 hours” on the pass summit. The pacemakers were an innovation. They were used by the race control, similar to marathon events. That gave me relief.
The descent had a new obstacle for us. First source clouds piled up in the traffic jam of the mountains and humid air pulled the slopes upwards. This meant dense fog. I had already overtaken the first riders and started overtaking again when I suddenly got fog and saw less than ten meters. I immediately slowed down. On my Garmin I had the road “in front of my eyes” and realized that there was no sharp corner waiting. I had driven the pass several times, but firstly I didn’t have every corner in my head anymore and secondly it would have been unreasonable to rely on it in zero visibility. Interestingly, some drivers overtook me at a fast pace. Unfortunately I can’t understand that, because even if I know the track like the back of my hand, I can’t recognize obstacles like other cyclists or possible stones etc. in time to brake or avoid them. Thank God the fog didn’t last long, because with every vertical meter I slipped more and more below the lower cloud limit. The road was dry and even if my braking effect of the brake pads was not yet fully restored, I was able to absorb some speed despite braking earlier than usual. I overtook the riders from before and the winding downhill was really fun. Now that I was only overtaking, I was suddenly overtaken by a much faster rider. And already in the moment when I noticed the driver from the corner of my eye, it was clear to me: this can only be Dani. Dani is the best downhill rider I know, even though sometimes he pushes the limit too hard to my liking. Even if he has no chance against heavier men on straight descents due to his low weight, he is superior to all others on curves. So it went with fun up to the foot of the Timmelsjoch. If I had lost Dani at first, I saw him now standing at the roadside and taking off some clothes. Now it waited, the Timmelsjoch.
I looked at the clock, looked up and said to myself: before the display goes to 9 (hours), you are up! And so the fight began with the Timmelsjoch, with fatigue and with the mental setup. Step by step I cranked myself up. Just before the half of the ascent a shower came up. But he didn’t itch me great, because I’m warm enough when driving uphill and I don’t have to be afraid of missing the braking effect. The last third uphill it was dry again and the sun shone from time to time. The legs were already noticeably heavier and I had to force myself to maintain the speed. A driver complained to me that the weather forecast had not been right. Well, what should you tell a layman: that there are weather conditions where rain as well as dry conditions belong to, are close together and every forecast only estimates the highest probabilities for dry or wrong even if it is almost 50:50? Gift, I accepted the criticism and kept cranking. And in fact I reached the summit at 8:55 h driving time. The less than ten hours were reached without any incidents and I started the descent with cheerful spirits. My brakes were still dirty but dry and I could fully enjoy the speed. Still quickly the counter climb up and finally down to Sölden. Shortly before Sölden a small group formed and when we entered the village we laughed at each other: what a crass race, what hard conditions. We had made it: Time 9:30 h.