Oetztaler Cycle Marathon 2016

The Ötztal cycling marathon is legendary. I heard about it for the first time in 2012. During my first cycling holiday on Mallorca, I rode together in a group with riders who had finished the Ötztal last year. I was highly impressed by the Ötztaler’s figures: 238 kilometres and 5500 metres of altitude difference. In my then second season on the bike, it was almost unimaginable for me to ever be able to cover such a distance in a single day. At that time I never dreamed of being a finisher of this amazing marathon myself. In 2015 I decided that I wanted to fish the Ötztal bike marathon once in my life and in February 2016 I registered for the draw for a starting place. Like most of the participants, I was not lucky enough to draw lots. An acquaintance, however, could not participate and offered his starting place in the e-mail distribution list of our cycling group for transmission. I answered immediately without hesitation and from then on I was told: I have a dream.

In August 2016 it was then so far. Friday before the race we went to Sölden. It was incredible what was going on in Sölden. The tranquil little place was bursting at the seams. It was a great atmosphere. Where you looked: cyclists everywhere. A bombing atmosphere. The weather was perfect this weekend: sunny and warm in summer. In the morning we completed the formalities, such as picking up the starting documents and handing in the “material” bags. The latter is a special feature of the Ötztal cycle marathon. On the day before the race, you can put things like clothes or bars in a bag provided for this purpose and have it deposited at a refreshment station of your choice in order to pick it up at the race or fill it with things you no longer need. We decided to go to the refreshment station at the Brenner to exchange the warmer clothes for cooler ones and pack new gels and bars. Gels were not offered at the food stations during the 2016 race. In the afternoon there was a short lap with the bike and afterwards we prepared everything for the race. In the evening we went to the driver’s briefing.

Rolling in the day before in Sölden

On race day we got out of bed early and went to the hotel for breakfast. There we met our future fellow sufferers. Afterwards we found ourselves at the start with a thousand other drivers. The crowd of drivers accumulated along the main road until the ascent to the end of the village towards Timmelsjoch begins. After the starting signal it took a long time until the movement also arrived at the back of the field. After Ötz down the drivers were still quite crowded and it happened some crashes. Some of them accelerated as if the finish line could be reached in just a few kilometres. In a rested state it easily happens that one does not take the effort and shoots his powder already at the beginning or at least decimates it. It became clear to me on the descent when I looked at my power meter. My watts were clearly too high and I immediately reduced my speed. Arrived at the foot of the Kühtai, there was a real traffic jam. Not only because it went now uphill, but above all because many participants took off warmer garments and stood thereby directly at the roadside and narrowed so the roadway. I had decided to drive my pace and not be carried away by others. I wanted “only” to finish. My time was all the same to me. I drove on the first ascent extremely right and was nevertheless afraid that someone rides me from the bicycle. It was unbelievable what a banging and stabbing it was like. The people pushed themselves millimeterknapp past each other. Feeling all tried to overtake somehow all the others. The absolute insanity. I fixed myself on my mud flats and drove the Kühtai further uphill. I was almost exclusively overtaken and at some point I had the feeling that I had to be the last one. I looked around in the hairpin bends again and again to see whether there were still people behind me or whether everyone had already left me behind. But there were really hundreds of drivers under me. Arrived at the top, I filled my bottles at the Labe and went into the descent. The descent from Kühtai is fast and a lot of drivers were visibly insecure.

Descent from Kühtai

During the following trip through Innsbruck I tried to find a suitable group for the Brenner. Unfortunately in vain. And so I was the biggest time alone at the Brenner, which costs a lot of energy. Either the drivers were clearly slower, so that I would have saved strength in these groups, but would also have lost much time, or however the groups were too fast on the way and I would have had to overpace with the Mitgehen. Only in the last third did a group roll towards me from behind, whose speed was well suited to mine. Arriving at the Brenner I took a longer break. I filled my bottles and fetched my bag by stowing my thick Gabba that had already become much too warm for me. Now it went to Sterzing and from there to the Jaufenpass up. The drivers, who drove with me through Sterzing, gave for my taste at the beginning ascent too much gas and I drove like already at the Kühtai my speed. I talked to a cyclist and was once again amazed by the gigantic beautiful landscape. It didn’t take long and I was in the “fast lane”. All the fast drivers were already gone and the others started to slow down. I could see the displeasure of the mostly male drivers that they were overtaken by a woman. One of them called out to me: “But you don’t want to drive the pace up to the top! I thought to myself: but, this performance I drive up to the top! And so it was. I felt good and at the refreshment on the Jaufenpass I filled my bottles again. An acquaintance waited for me on top and shouted to me: Lisa, you still look damn good! Continue like this! The descent from the Jaufenpass is the most demanding of the four descents. There are many hairpin bends and the road surface has partly big potholes and cracks. But I love descents, the speed, even if I really always feel jitters. And then it waited for us: the Timmelsjoch. At the foot you look up and see the altitude difference and the suffering that awaits you. The first meters at the Timmelsjoch it ran further round. But now the heat came with over 30 degrees and became unbearably hot.

Focussed at the Brenner

It was my first bike marathon and I had made a bad mistake: I had eaten too little. And that should be revenge now. It came suddenly and abruptly. My energy was gone in one fell swoop. I couldn’t hold my performance any longer. Two bars and a couple of gels were just too little energy next to the isodrinks to ride a cycling marathon like the Ötztaler. Without further ado I unpacked a bar and took a gel afterwards. My watts climbed up again, but I wasn’t really powerful anymore. But my decision was made: I won’t descend. In contrast, the road was lined with sitting riders or those who pushed their bikes. Some were even lying on the ground crying because they were physically exhausted. Interestingly, it was even often men who would have been believed by their stature to finish the marathon in less than ten hours. Powerless I cranked myself further and further. The hairpin bends in the upper part were steeper again and hurt my legs a lot. But now I knew: I made it. It’s not far anymore. When I rolled through the tunnel on top of the Timmelsjoch, the tears came to me. So long I had feared and fevered and now it was accomplished. I went up into the descent and the counter ascent. Above the devil waited. Didi Senft, known from the Tour de France. He stood at the roadside and cheered us on with his trident. And lo and behold, that is… Dani. I had caught him on the opposite climb. I wanted to tell him all about my experiences. But he only waved tiredly: afterwards. Immediately it went into the departure. Looking at the clock, I really stepped on the gas: Less than 11 hours must be inside! And actually we reached the finish in 10:59 hours. What a hell of a ride.

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