It is time to say goodbye. Farewell to the classic Ötztaler Radmarathon as it is known, as the season highlight for many cyclists, as the last act of the cycling season. 2022 was probably the last year in which the Ötztaler Radmarathon was held at the end of August/beginning of September. Next year, the event will be held in July. This earlier date will probably remain the following years. At the same time, the classic route will be permanently extended by bypassing the town of Sterzing. This year, the participants even expected three route changes, which provided for over 300 meters of altitude more. But as they say: Hard, harder, Ötztaler.
The Ötztaler bike marathon writes many stories. There are over 4000 stories every year. Only a few riders race against others for placement or the podium. For many participants, the personal story, the personal dream, is to reach the finish line and thus leave the event as a finisher! Another large part of the cyclists are quasi regulars and want to beat their own previous target time of previous participations. So most are racing against the clock and against themselves. And me? I am also a repeat offender. It is my fourth participation. But this year (almost) everything was different for me. This year, it wasn’t a given that I could do the full distance. Enormous loss of power, muscle loss and weight gain characterized 2021. By the end of 2022, it was a matter of getting back into shape for me, with less training time, no possibility of fixed training planning and permanent lack of sleep. No, no accident, no COVID, I am lucky to have become a mom in 2021.
Preparation Ötztaler Cycling Marathon
Is it possible for a hobby cyclist to complete the Ötztaler Cycling Marathon without following a fixed training plan and adapting the training to everyday life? I can answer this question with certainty. Of course, one should not fool oneself. Nobody shakes an Ötztal cycling marathon off the wrist. And I would like to dispel one myth: the sheer will alone does not enable anyone to reach the finish line at the Ötztaler. The race is exhausting and also at times a torture, a suffering. Suffering characterizes a passion. However, the ability to suffer is not only important in the race, but is also necessary in the months beforehand. Similar to a classic marathon in running, a certain amount of kilometers must be achieved in advance for the Ötztal Cycling Marathon. Unlike in running, you can also cheat yourself out of kilometers in cycling. Running is always exhausting, even if you run slowly. On the bike, on the other hand, you can roll along at a leisurely pace. If you train mainly in the slipstream of large groups of cyclists, you will have to cover more kilometers than if you ride alone against the wind. Those who live in the mountains and have the possibility to train permanently on the mountain have an advantage. This can be seen across the board in all alpine races in the results lists, where mountain matadors dominate the top places. However, not living in the mountains is not an excuse. The basic endurance for an Ötztaler can be acquired even without altitude meters. If it then comes to performance on the mountain, strength endurance is needed. In order to achieve the latter, many flatlanders make do with weekends and vacations in the mountains. Already in winter, many start with mountain-specific training by treating themselves to one or two weeks of vacation in southern climes such as Mallorca or the Canary Islands – not to relax, of course, but to collect kilometers and meters of altitude. In spring the next training camp follows and in intervals of about 2 months usually the next cycling vacations in the Alps. In between there are weekend rides with high distances. This year I didn’t have the opportunity to train as usual. There were no longer tours at a stretch. The maximum was 2 hours. The rides took place without significant elevation gain on the flat or on the roller. Exceptions to this were two vacations totaling two and a half weeks in the South Tyrolean Alps. I was not sure whether this kind of training would be enough to be able to master the course of the Ötztaler.
I have a dream! A dream of Christmas trees, breakfast sandwiches and other curiosities. But one after the other. After the starting signal, this year I first go behind a pace car down the descent to Ötz before the race is released. I’m driving especially carefully and passively this year. The madness already starts in Sölden: risky, crazy and senseless overtaking maneuvers. Almost no time can be made up on the downhill section. However, this section is highly accident-prone. There are too many drivers on the track, so overtaking on the right is inevitable. Overtaking is a hair’s breadth. Accordion effects occur. I am very happy when the descent is over. The Kühtai up goes the jostling at first further. I do not feel well. I am no longer used to long efforts, but the feeling is deceptive. I reach the top of the pass exactly 2 hours after the start of the race. For me a personal record and that although objectively I have exerted myself less, as the data of my heart rate monitor show. While I usually let the descent from Kühtai run and hardly apply the brakes, this year I take out some speed now and then. The first of the three route changes starts in Sellrain and leads the riders up a short incline in the middle of the descent. This leads into a passage with a slight downhill, so that you get back to the original route in Kematen. The whole thing costs me a good 16 minutes more compared to 2019. I contest the Brenner to a large extent alone. Slipstreaming only makes sense up to a certain gradient or speed. Classically, many cyclists ball at the beginning of the Brenner much too much. The piece is relatively steep. I let the first group pull and drive my speed. I see many riders of the group later again. The car of the race management2 drives next to me at the Brenner and my bike is examined. Probably because of my exotic saddle bag, in which a battery is often suspected. Energy is really hidden in the bag next to my rain jacket: gels and bars, which I have planned for the second half of the route from the Brenner and put in my back pockets at the end of the Brenner. In total, I take in around 100 grams of carbohydrates per hour during the race. This time more solid food than usual in the form of six bars. Many participants told me in advance that they could not eat solid food during the load. Anyway, this seems to be very individual. I also struggled a bit with the bars, then was amazed when a racer next to me at full speed with over 30 km/h unwrapped a large (!) sandwich and put it in his mouth. After the refreshment station at the Brenner, a “neutralized zone” was set up. From the original route was departed and swerved about 2 kilometers on the bike path. A maximum of 25 km/h was allowed there. Before and after the zone there was a timekeeping. Like many other cyclists, I also mistakenly assumed that the riding time in the zone would be neutralized and not scored, so I stopped there and wrote messages via smartphone. 11 minutes cost me the action. After the descent from Brenner, the detour takes place at Sterzing with a short but probably the steepest climb of the race. Until then, the Ötztaler is similar to many other alpine races: a good 140 kilometers and 2500 meters of altitude, which the average cyclist can manage at race pace. From then on, the real race begins, the actual Ötztaler. After the descent from the Brenner Pass, I am so infinitely tired that I could smoothly lie down on the side of the road and would surely fall asleep immediately. The short night before the Ötztaler and especially the short nights of the last months cannot be denied. However, the tiredness faded with the climb to the Jaufenpass and the increasing adrenaline in my blood. As a welcome, this year there is a Christmas tree at the foot of the Jaufenpass. Presumably it is not a fir tree, but an ordinary spruce. It is conspicuously decorated with fruit and glittering tinsel – or so it seems to me at first. As I get closer, the decoration turns out to be banana peels and packages of bars and gels. At the refreshment stations, zones are set up where trash can be disposed of. Obviously, some riders prefer to throw their trash into the landscape. Here, at the foot of the Jaufenpass, the real race begins. The Jaufenpass runs quite fast for me. If I was still a bit rusty and cautious at the Kühtai, I now step it up a notch. The descent to St Leonhard is as always a smooth dream and the milder climate there blows me. Silence reigns at the Timmelsjoch. This year there are quite few spectators on site. The drivers are busy with themselves and their suffering. Nobody speaks a word. When I reach the summit, the clouds get darker and darker and I put on my vest. I am not spared. One of the rain showers I predicted is waiting for me. On the counter ascent it begins to drip and at the toll station it starts to pour. I don’t feel like putting on my rain jacket, especially since the shower will end after a few kilometers. Completely soaked it goes in the direction of Sölden and the longed-for finish with personal best time.
After the difficult preparation for the race, I would not have expected such a result. The route was more extensive than normal, which is why the times can only be compared with previous years to a limited extent. Kühtai I drove up in personal best time. The Jaufenpass in personal record up as well as down. Minus the additional time due to the detours compared to the data from 2019, I come to a race time of 9:03 hours. If you take into account the time difference of 1 hour due to the difference in performance between men and women, the final time could be 8:03 h. What’s the bottom line? It is quite feasible to achieve an excellent result in a cycling marathon like the Ötztaler without a classic training plan.
Last but not least, I would like to thank my family. Without their support such a result would not have been possible!