The year 2022 was a completely new one for me across the board. 2022 was simply extraordinary for me in all areas of life, with numerous challenges and insights. The only perceived constants were the fact that the day has 24 hours, summer is hot and winter is cold, and my participation in the Ötztal Cycling Marathon in August. The length of the day and the change of seasons will most likely stay with me next year. The Ötztaler Radmarathon, on the other hand, is written in the stars and will take place 100% in July – and not in August as is traditionally the case. I would like to share a part of my impressions and findings of the year 2022 here.
Cycling has changed. Road cycling used to be a niche sport. With Jan Ulrich’s victory in the Tour de France, interest among the general public flared up somewhat in the 1990s, but quickly disappeared again with the doping allegations. The turnaround to more popularity occurred mainly due to the COVID pandemic. During the curfews, cycling was allowed as a sporting activity. Not only are more people now getting on bikes, and therefore racing bikes, but the social significance has also changed. Whereas in the past it was all about improving one’s performance, participating in races and celebrating sporting successes, now the health aspect of cycling as a sport is also in the foreground. Due to the steady increase in chronic diseases of civilization, exercise on the bike has become more than just a hobby. In the lockdown with limited social contacts, the sharing of experience reports with pictures, videos and recording of activities on sports platforms and social media channels served as an exchange with others. Cyclists thus had a way to provide satisfaction to the innate social instinct.
In 2022, after the official end of the Corona pandemic, cycling continues to meet many needs. However, the way of cycling has changed. Bikepacking and ultracycling are being practiced by more and more athletes. While the adventure of bikepacking is subject to a fairly clear definition, the term ultracycling – similar to the term “sustainability” – is used in an inflationary manner and is also often applied to present activities in a positive light. In the past, cyclists “simply” took part in a 24-hour race. Today, they like to declare it as ultracycling. Particularly in social networks, people vie for the attention and encouragement of others. The most followers, the most likes and views are what drive people. At the same time, quite a few stars and celebrities have already failed and broken, even though they have achieved everything. Renowned best-selling author Anthony Robbins calls success without fulfillment the ultimate failure. Cyclists can find fulfillment day in and day out by just riding their bikes: Enjoying the moment, feeling the airstream, feeling the effort. For me, cycling is a kind of flow meditation that keeps me balanced and incredibly happy, not least because of numerous hormones.
The health aspect of cycling was far in the foreground for me this year. Nevertheless, building up performance was important to me, especially with regard to my planned participation in the Ötztal Cycling Marathon. Many cyclists do a performance analysis in preparation for such an event and get a training plan. Meanwhile, there are numerous providers who advertise a package for preparation. But hand on heart, these plans are usually anything but individual and follow an 0815 program, which also serves for any other event. One to three blocks with more intensive units per week, a rest day (usually Monday) and longer basic rides on the weekend, are the rule. The more intense sessions include interspersed sprint training, longer sweet spot sessions, 30/30 intervals, 3×8 VO2max, etc. With these training plans you are on the safe side as an athlete and especially as a coach. An increase in performance is guaranteed for athletes far from “over-trained” and over-training is avoided. This year’s winner Catherine Rossmann showed that it is also possible and maybe even necessary to do it differently, if you don’t just want to finish a race with the format of an Ötztaler. Without a training plan but with “a lot helps a lot” and above all the necessary fun in training she surprised everyone. Even though I didn’t even come close to the podium, my training also showed that the standard training plans don’t have to be the optimal preparation for an Ötztaler. What do you need for such a race? The head is important. “Being able to suffer” is an important skill when, after several hours of riding, the Timmelsjoch awaits as the final opponent. Not to be underestimated is the catering. Sufficient liquid and energy in the form of carbohydrates must be supplied and this must be well planned. Last but not least, the body must be able to perform at higher levels for a long time. Therefore endurance training is a must. However, the training does not necessarily have to take place on the bike. Sports such as cross-country skiing or ski touring in winter or jogging train endurance. However, the endurance effect of cycling training can even be destroyed by incorrect training (more on this in 2023). In addition to the usual endurance, it needs for the pass rides so-called strength endurance, so that the muscle can perform the slow, powerful cranking on the mountain even on the third and fourth pass. I was able to train my endurance this year with regular shorter rides of up to 2 hours. However, I intensified the training effect with days of twice-a-day workouts and regular fasting workouts. The mitochondria are thus particularly challenged and the energy production through lactate is trained more intensively. The regularity of the units from day to day beats here in efficiency the duration of the trips. In order to still develop the necessary strength endurance, a few days in alpine terrain were necessary. In order to use the little time I had effectively, I had chosen routes that were mainly uphill or downhill. I avoided flat kilometers as much as possible. So in 2 vacations with 17 days a good 58,000 vertical meters came together. In order to cope with this amount physically, I had to do without intensive units and thus achieve the necessary regeneration from day to day. The South Tyrolean starting points were Obertelfes near Sterzing, Kaltern on the Wine Road and Arabba in the Dolomites. The report about the first training at the Jaufenpass (“Mountain training week: 7 days 21,000 vertical meters“) can be found here. The second vacation was divided into two stages. The days in Kaltern were especially hard, as high summer temperatures of up to 39 degrees prevailed in the region during this time. To escape the heat, I chose a route that led away from the Bolzano lowlands into the mountainous hinterland. But even at 1000 meters the air temperature was still at 30 degrees, so you can imagine what heat I was exposed to climbing in the sun over hot tar. My round trip with maximum exhausted altitude meters of a good 4200 in the mountains I drove three days in a row, because with all other routes the heat would have been unbearable and because this route was beautiful and quite lonely. I can hardly recommend this tour! You can find the route on my Strava account and on Komoot. I would not take the tour in the opposite direction, because at the highest point begins a longer tunnel that leads downhill to Lana and is followed by a very steep but newly paved route with shorter tunnel sections (some unlit). I would not recommend this stretch as an ascent. In the second part of the vacation in the Dolomites, the heat became more bearable due to the altitude. The passes were unusually crowded and felt all vacationers were from Italy, as also the license plates suggested. Only rarely one met German-speaking cyclists. Italian racing cyclists can be distinguished partly already from a distance from cyclists from the German-speaking countries. This is not due to the color of their hair or skin, but often due to the cycling clothes they wear. While German cyclists often come up gray in gray with muted colors like black, white, brown and prefer “cool” brands like Rapha, Poc or Specialized, the Italian likes to wear colorful and traditional Italian brands a la Ale or Castelli. Even sleeveless jerseys are not frowned upon – unlike in Germany. As a cyclist, I honestly feel respected by Italians as an athlete. Exclamations like “complimenti” are not uncommon. Rapha-wearing road cyclists, on the other hand, rarely return the sportsman’s salute. These differences have not changed in recent years, according to my impression. To bad.
What has changed in recent years is the reputation of road cycling in society. Whereas cyclists used to be known only from television and as an annoying accessory on country roads and mountain passes, the road bike is now en vogue as a way of life. Now that you can see middle-aged women riding racing bikes up a flight of stairs in the hallway of a public TV station’s early evening commercials, it has become clear to me that racing bikes have arrived in the middle of society. Road biking is hip. Manufacturers of bicycles and bicycle accessories base their marketing on basic human needs. It’s less about being fast on a racing bike than about looking fast. Aero frames, aero handlebars or aero helmets are virtually a must, even if you don’t reach the speed needed to develop the aero effect. One thing has not changed in 2022 and that is the human being. Comparing ourselves to others is innate, not a bad thing per se, and has been a driving force for progress throughout human history. “Higher, faster, farther” has enabled humanity to cross oceans, conquer disease, and fly to the moon. Competing with others enables people to push their limits and break new ground. It is only when envy, violence and power come into play that positivity turns to negativity and, in extreme cases, to suffering, death and destruction – as with the war in Ukraine that began in February. However, people do not compare themselves only to rank their performance or status. Every cyclist, every person wants to be unique. Yet this desire is a mistake. Every person is an individual by nature. In the passion of cycling, on the contrary, we are all united. One love.