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The Jeantex Tour Transalp

John Olsen

You can see the official homepage of the Jeantex Tour Transalp here. On the official website, you can find descriptions of the stages, stage profiles and much more. Here is a link to the team I rode for in 2006, Team Agapedia.

Below I have given my impression of the days, starting two days before the race, and ending on the last day of the race. I have added the distance of each stage and the names of the mountain passes we rode. By clicking on the name of the mountain you will be able to view the profile with gradients, vertical meters of climbing and altitude.

Two Days to go

This is travel day. We left Muenster at 8:30am and arrived in Saulgrub at 6:30pm. Saulgrub is 10km from the start in Oberammergau and the well-known winter sports centers Oberstdorf, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Ramsau are all quite close to Saulgrub. It was clearly a very wise decision not to travel the day before the race, we are all very tired and the muscles are sore and stiff after 10h in the car. Tomorrow we have time to ride a bit and to get a massage which is the perfect preparation for the first stage on Sunday. The accreditation takes place tomorrow too and with 570 teams this may take a while.
This race is special in the sense that it is a team competition. A team consist of two riders and the time is taken when the last person crosses the finish line. This means that a significant part of the race consists of knowing the partner and his abilities and to communicate. My partner is Michael Fehmer and a priori we should match each other quite well on the climbs, on the flats he is clearly stronger than me.
We discussed the tactic for the first stage after having dinner and decided that the team should stay together until the ascent of the Hahntenjoch. The first stage is 141km long with about 2400hm (hm = meter of vertical climbing), so this is a good way to conserve a bit of energy. Apart from the one mountain this first stage is actually in comparison to the remaining six stages relatively flat... So, how do I feel? Quite good! I am well rested after tapering for the last one and a half weeks and I know that with the training I have done in the Spring that I should be in OK shape. It does not change the fact that I am really nerveous and have been nerveous for the last couple of days. But it is like this before every important race and is actually a good sign that I am motivated and psyched up to get started. My personal goal is to arrive healthy in Riva del Garda on Saturday in a week with the feeling that I have given it my best shot.
Right now the time is 10:30pm and I want to watch the last 20min of the soccer match between France and Togo!

One Day to go

We got up at around 7am and had a real traditional Southern German breakfast with lots of sausage and fat cheese. I am not too crazy about having lots of fat for breakfast, so I just had some bread with a little cheese and egg, some fruit and orange juice.
We rode really easy for about 45km with a couple of short sprints at the end. My legs are feeling fine, but I made a mistake by two days ago - our two massage guys complained that my calves are tight, but that should be fine tomorrow. The long drive yesterday certainly also has something to do with my legs being a bit stiff today.
The scenery is amazing here with Oberammergau, just at the edge of the Alps. We had a look at the town of Oberammergau; it is a nice little town, but not a lot going on, apart from the rather small Tour Transalp Expo. We also had a photo taken with the old German cycling star Rudi Altig.
The weather here is great, 30C and sun! The weather forecast for tomorrow is 30C and sun with a thunder storm possible in the late afternoon. I hope I will not be on the road in the late afternoon so it should be fine.

Stage 1, Oberammergau - Soelden 141,61km with 2440hm

Mountains: Ammersattel (1082) and Hahntennjoch (1894).

This stage was special in the sense that it is the longest stage of the Tour and that the first 65km were flat. This meant that the start was extremely nerveous with lots of crashes. One crash happened just in front of me on a dead straight road with no hills or obstacles of any kind. It is a mystery to me why people have to break on a straight road with no obstacles in sight, that makes the race very nerveous. Fortunately this stopped when we got to the mountain.
A friend of mine told me that it was tough (knackig in German), which was absolutely right. We got over it quite well but the last 3km were really tough. There is a huge difference between riding the Skyline Drive mountains and the Alps, this first mountain was much steeper and longer than anything I have done before. But the funny part came on the descent. I had never ridden a descent in the Alps before and it is pretty clear that my technique could be better and that my level of fearlessness is quite low... I hope I will improve on the first during the race, but I am not taking any chances!
The last part of the stage was 40km slightly uphill to Soelden (last 30km has a two percent average grade). That part should not have been tough but I had too little to eat and drink during the stage and on this part I payed for my mistake. If it is as hot tomorrow I know I have to be more careful. I just did not have any power left in the last 30km and anybody who has experienced this knows that it is a very unpleasant feeling. You know that you should be going faster but when you try, you get hit by a big hammer. In the last 5km both my thighs started to cramp slightly and I had to stop briefly to stretch.
Apart from the nutritional mistake I am very satisfied, I felt great for the first 120km and right now I am not too tired, so it looks good for tomorrow. My partner is also very pleased, he got over the mountain together feeling good and he felt great on the last stretch to Soelden.
Result: 5:01:52 (Stage: 82, overall: 82). My average heart rate was 157 bpm.

Stage 2 Soelden - Brixen, 126,02km with 3216hm

Mountains: Timmelsjoch (2509m) and Passo Monte Giovo (Jaufenpass) (2094m).

This was the first real test of manhood... 2km after the start we started the climb up to Timmelsjoch. This climb is 25km long with a short downhill of 2km in the middle and it is also the highest point of the Tour at 2509m. We decided to take it relatively easy on this ascent and to push it on the second one, the Jaufenpass. We got over Timmelsjoch very well and I think we both had a something left in the tank. Since we haven't trained together it is somewhat surprising that our rhythm on the climbs are almost identical. I lead the way on the downhill from Timmelsjoch, an almost 30km long, not too technical descent. But 30km downhill is extremely painfull for my neck and upper back (due to a crash I had a month before the race), but as long as it is not getting worse I will be OK. The massage our two massage guys provide really helps a lot, thanks!
The temperature at the top of the first climb was 10 degrees Celcius, which is cold for me but this dramatically changed as we got down in the valley, where the temperature was over 30C but with almost no humidity. The second climb was 20km long with an average grade of 9% and although the climb was quite steep the grade was pretty much constant which meant that the climb was fine to ride. I was suffering a bit on the last couple of kilometers of the Jaufenpass, but got over it OK. The funny or interesting thing is that I am not suffering because my heart rate is really high (look at my average heart rate for today!), but because I am not used to riding 60-90min uphill. The descent from the Jaufenpass was also quite long but also not too technical, the only dangerous thing was the huge number of German motor cycles on the road, they ride as if they are insane. At the end of the descent my legs were absolutely dead, but after 10km of the last 40km in the valley the power came back and at the end I felt quite good. In the valley where the town Brixen is located, we got hit by a hammer of hot air and although I normally really like the heat, this was too much of a good thing. But please, no rain!!!
Right now I am a bit tired but still, it could have been much, much worse. My partner is also feeling strong and we look forward to the next stages. Tomorrow we are going to support our to team mates who are riding for a top-ten finish in the Grand Master category (sum of ages greater than 100 years). This is not going to be much different compared to today as they only finished five minutes behind us. Another funny thing is that there were five Danes in the group that formed on the last 40km to Brixen! It is easy to recognize the Danish riders since they all have Danish sponsors on their jerseys. They have a difficult time understanding that I speak Danish and my partner does not...
5:18:48 (Stage: 82, overall: 78). My average heart rate was 142bpm.

Stage 3 Brixen - St. Virgil, 90,67km with 3180hm

Mountains: Passo delle Erbe (WŘrzjoch) (1987m) and Passo di Furcia (Furkelpass) (1737m).

Although this stage was only 90km long it was tough, very tough. We had to climb two mountains, the Wuerzjoch and the Furkelpass. The first one was a gradual climb over 35km with a couple of short downhills in the middle, not really difficult but tired legs from yesterday and two hours of ascending made it pretty nasty. We got over it quite well and with reserves left for the last mountain. It was clear that my partner was feeling better than me but we stayed together and worked well together on the middle hilly part. Towards the end of this section we had to climb a number of very steep hills in a forest, this was very tough because of the very bad road surface and the heat. The last climb up to the Furkelpass was the worst thing I have ever ridden. I started steady but still quite steep, and after about 5km the really nasty part started. I was riding my 39-27 out of the saddle at 8-10kmh on almost all of the steep part... To put it frankly I was suffering like a pig!!!
At the foot of the last climb I saw a sign saying Plane de Corones (Kronplatz). This mountain is famous from this years Giro d'Italia where they spend a lot of time discussing if the last 5km was too hard to hard to be included in the race (on a dirt road and with a maximum grade of 24%!!!) At least we did not have to climb that one...
The scenery here in the Dolomites is incredibly beautiful, nothing like I have ever seen before (I was never here on vacation). It is of course difficult to really enjoy it when you are riding close to your maximum, so I would love to come back here on vacation sometime, to see what I have missed...
The temperature in the morning (9:00) is very nice with about 20C - 22C, but later in the day it gets very hot (30C), with the sun beating down on you. Especially during the last 2 hours (around noon) this is almost too much, but fortunately the local people are standing at the side of the road with cold water to drink and pour over our heads. The weather forecast for tomorrow is not too bad with 34 degrees and a possible thunder storm in the afternoon. During today's stage I drank six bottles, two with water, one with water and Magnesium (to avoid cramps) and three with Powerbar energy powder. To avoid getting dehydrated I drink about eight liters of fluid a day. I really try to eat a Powerbar or two during the stage but I simply can't chew it, which means I have to rely on bananas and energy gel.
My partner felt really well for the first part of the stage, the very long climb up to Wuerzjoch suits his powerful style of riding very well. Like me he was suffering on the last section of the climb of the Furkelpass, but then again, I think everybody was.
4:35:39 (Stage: 79, overall 81). My average heart rate was 144bpm.

Stage 4 St. Virgil - Wolkenstein, 120,77km with 3481hm

Mountains: Passo Valparola (2168m), Passo Falzarego (2117m) (just over the top, not riding the mountain), Passo di Giau (2236m), Colle di Santa Lucia (1461m), Passo Campolongo (1875m) and Passo Gardena (Gr÷dnerjoch) (2137m).

This was announced as the most difficult stage of the Tour and I certainly hope they are right... At least this stage was tougher than the previous three stages.
I woke up at 5am this morning to the sound of a huge thunderstorm, by 7-8am it still rained heavily. By the time of the start the rain had stopped, but the roads were really wet and slippery. Today we had to climb five mountain, three big and two minor ones. I am not going to go through all of them in detail, but just mention the most difficult ones. The first one was not that steep on average, but very long. A total of 30km with the last 5km being steep, with a couple of short downhills, this certainly warmed us up. I was feeling really bad on this first mountain, so I decided to ride this stage a little easier. The second climb (Passo Giau) came after a long, wet and cold descent and as we started the ascent it started to rain heavily again. The rain and the graadient of the climb made it very tough. We decided that today was to cold to wait at the top so we both just rode our pace and rhythm, and as I was feeling pretty lousy this was perfect for me. The last climb was not too steep and only around 11km long (what am I saying? Only 11km long and not too steep???), so not too bad, but I guess nothing is, if you are not riding at your limit.
The daily routine is now, well, pretty much a routine. I get up at 6am and have breakfast at 6:30am, then we prepare our bottles, energy bars and extra clothes and put this in our two boxes which two of our massage guys take by car to two points on the course which we all have agreed on beforehand. Then we prepare our clothes, get dressed and around 8:30am we leave for the start. I find it a bit silly to stand at the start for 20min but when the weather is nice it is not too bad. At 9am the race starts, often with a short neutralized section which means that you are not allowed to pass people in the peloton and that the pace is decided by the race director. Pete (one of the two massage guys) is at the finish when we arrive and gives us something to drink and eat. Then we either ride or drive to the hotel where we stay for the night. We take a shower and get a massage and something more to eat. At 6:30pm we leave for the pasta party, awards ceremony and breifing from the race director. Sometimes we go out to eat if we do not feel like waiting in line forever for the food. We get back around 8:30pm and most likely watch some soccer before we go to sleep at around 10:30pm.
On a diffrent note, this race gives us the feeling of being professionals, at least for a short while. The Italian police secures the course for an hour after the first riders pass, this means that it is totally closed to traffic for that hour. Yesterday we rode the entire stage without traffic on the course and with 16 police officers on motorcycles to make sure that the course was secured. Today I rode the first 100km on a secured course and it is very cool to be able to ride the descents without worrying about oncoming traffic. The police officers are the same ones that secured the course at this year's Giro d'Italia.
OK, so how is this compared to other things I have done? Compared to running a marathon this is much harder. The last 5km up the last climb felt like a 3km track race, the difference is that we had already ridden for 3:30h and climbed 2500hm. Of course, because of the pounding of running on a hard surface the muscle soreness is much worse after a marathon. The energy consumption is also extremely high. The first four days I have burned around 4500-5000kcal during each stage.
5:56:45 (Stage 105, overall 84). My average heart rate was 136bpm.

Stage 5 Wolkenstein - Alleghe, 113,72km with 3169hm (detour 10km and ca. 300hm)

Mountains: Passo Sella (Sellajoch) (2214m), Passo di Fedaia (2057m), Colle di Santa Lucia (1461m) (had to take 10km detour due to road damage), Forcella Staulanza (1766m), Passo Duran (1601m).

Today was the second stage where a man was taken to hospital with a helicopter. I was riding the last descent when two marshalls slowed us down to safely pass the guy who had crashed. One of them was taken to hospital by helicopter, the other one was lying on the ground as I passed him, he did not look good, and when one of our massage guys later passed him in the car he was still lying on the ground with a blanket completely covering him. I do not know how serious it really was, but it looked very bad. Later we heard that he was very seriously injured and that he had emergency back surgery.
This stage was in one way really great and in another way the most horrible thing I have ever done on a bike. It was great because I felt great and had plenty of power and energy to ride strong the entire stage. The horrible thing is that it rained heavily almost the entire stage and on the top of Passo Sella it was only 8 degrees. This meant that I was freezing so badly that I could not feel my feet on the second descent... This, combined with an 18% descent with water running across the road, made this an experience I could have been without. The team had planned to stay together and ride the last 20km together to help the two grand masters, but we were a couple of minutes ahead at the top of the Passo Duran and decided that it was too cold to wait; a wise decision in my opinion.
Due to the fact that the heavy rain had washed away a road(!) we had to take a 10km detour, so the stage was 10km longer with an extra mountain to climb. On the descent of the Forcella Staulanza we saw all the names from the Giro on the road, Basso, Simoni etc. which was very cool. The last climb (Passo Duran) was also part of the Giro course and pretty nasty. It is 9km long with an average grade of around 8%. This is not too bad, but the first 2km and the last 4km are very steep. Passo Duran is the type of climb I like, on a small road in a dense forest with tree branches hanging over the road. This is the nicest mountain of the Tour so far, the only thing missing was Sun!
My average heart rate was quite low on this stage, which most likely is due to the cold weather. On the descents I had enough to do just to keep warm, since it is almost impossible to ride hard on a really wet descent. Another factor is that I am tired; we have been riding for five days and from comparing the heart rate data I would guess that my heart rate is about 15 - 20bpm lower than during a one day race.
5:55:48 (Stage: 91, overall: 82). My average heart rate was 132bpm.

Stage 6 Alleghe - Kaltern, 115,39km with 2917hm

Mountains: Passo San Pellegrino (1907m), Passo Costalunga (Karerpass) (1745m), Deutschnofen (1431m) and Coyotenpass (398m).

On this stage we decided to stay together the entire stage to help the two grand masters defend their top 10 position. I am pretty sure we succeeded, although I do not know the final results yet.
The first climb was the Passo San Pellegrino, which is famous from the Giro d'Italia where Garate won ahead of Voigt (and where Kaiser Jan quit the race!). It was again really cool to see all the names on the road as we approached the top of the climb. I felt quite good on this climb and decided to ride it a little harder and get to the car a couple of minutes ahead of the others to get water and to get rid of my base layer jersey before the other got there. The road up the mountain was very nice and the sun was shining. Parts of it had 15-18% but from the beginning I found a nice rhythm so I did not find it too bad. At the bottom of the descent we regrouped and worked together to the finish. These last 75km were horrible, very hot and the rhythm on the climbs (and on the flats) did not suit me at all. The last two climbs were both rather short but very steep. I got over the first one OK. The last climb was about 2km long and with an average grade of just under 20%(!), again with trees on both sides of the road (i.e. no cool wind) and the sun beating down on you this was very tough. We rode the last five kilometers on small roads through the wine fields and I noticed later on the way back to the hotel how beautiful it was, during the race the only thing thing I could think about was how hot it was...
We stay at the Hotel Arndt which must be named after the former female cycling world champion Judith Arndt. Speaking of her, riding down a descent we actually met her riding the other way! The hotel is very nice with a big bike repair room in the basement and a swimming pool. This would certainly be a possible place to stay for a training camp or vacation (with the bike!). Kaltern is a small town located above the beautiful lake Lago Caldaro, and in a valley where they produce wine.
Tonight we watched Germany beat Argentina in the quarter final, so now everybody is in a very good mood, maybe except the two foreigners in the team who do not really care...
Thanks to our two great massage guys Matthias and Pete my neck is almost not hurting anymore. On the descents today I could ride in the drops without being in too much pain. Speaking of the descents, I feel a lot more comfortable now, even in the tight corners I feel pretty good and am able to keep some speed. This is very much in contrast to how I felt on the first descent of the race... My top speed so far is just above 75kmh and the mountain specialist probably laugh when they hear that, but I don't feel comfortable riding much faster when I don't know the roads. Some people ride like maniacs, in and out between cars, full speed through corners where they do not see anything and so on. I do not see the point in that at all.
Although I still feel pretty good, I really notice that I am getting tired now and I am looking forward to the last stage tomorrow. I am also not at all used to getting up at 6am and I am very pleased that tomorrow is the last day for some weeks where this is happening. The last stage should be a bit easier than today's stage but let us wait and see, how fast you go always determines how hard the stage is; the first ascent is 15km long with 1000hm, so we will have to work a little to get to Riva del Garda.
4:53:42 (Stage: 93, overall: 82). My average heart rate was 140bpm.

Stage 7 Kaltern - Riva del Garda, 121,4km with 2616hm, -10km and ca. -300hm

Mountains: Passo della Mendola (Mendelpass) (1394m), Sella di Andalo (1036m) and Passo del Ballino (796m).

This stage was shortened by 10km and 300hm due to construction work, so with stage five being longer than planned our total of 829km and 21032hm ended up being correct.
Today's main goal was to defend our two grand masters' 7th place. There was really only one team that were threatening their position and they were 19min behind, so it should not be difficult at all. On the first mountain right after the start they attacked and the very uneven rhythm on the mountain right after the start killed me, so I decided to ride my own pace to the top. On the very long descent I found a good group and we rode the 40km downhill/flat section pretty fast. On the second mountain I felt excellent and decided to ride my own pace and left the group behind. After a couple of kilometers I saw the others some way ahead and after another couple of kilometers I was riding together with our two grand masters again. The next mountain was pretty easy and the pace was not too fast, so no problems. On the downhill and the long straight afterwards I was able to do a lot of pace work for our group and on the last mountain I felt really good and decided to follow another pair of grand masters, our two grand masters had enough support in the group and it is not a bad idea to have a man riding with the team you want to beat. Our two grand masters were not able to keep the pace so I ended up two minutes ahead of them across the finish line.
Another interesting thing today was that we were less than an hour behind the fastest pair across the line so we rode the entire stage on a secured course! On the last 50km we had a motorcycle (one of the Giro mc officers) riding in front of us making sure that the course was secured, pretty cool to be able to ride the descents like that.
This is by far the most interesting and hardest race I have done and the organization is just about perfect. It is 100% certain that I want to come back and race it again. There are however things I would do differently. The first and most important thing is that I want to ride another gear ratio, I would choose 50-34 and 11-27, not the 53-39 and 12-27 I rode this time. Secondly I rode my first real mountain pass on the first stage, next time I want to really prepare myself for the race. It is of course nice to feel that your condition gets better from day to day but I want to be optimally prepared and not use the race as a training camp. As part of the preparation for the race, I want to ride some of the steep Dolomite mountains before the race, this is a huge advantage both on the ascents but of course mostly on the descents. I started riding around February 1st (did running in the fall) and in February I only rode a little. Next time I want to start my preparations some time in December and ride as much or more than I did during the Spring this time. Running is OK, but not specific enough, so more riding next time. This time my partner and I rode just about the same pace and rhythm and next time I want to make sure that this is the case too.
To sum up this was a fantastic experience and I am really looking forward to next time! I would also like to use this opportunity to thank everybody in the team for making this such a nice experience.
3:59:44 (Stage: 83, overall: 81) My average heart rate was 136bpm.

Photos

Pictures of me: 1, 2 and 3.

Impressions from Oberammergau: 1, 2.
Impressions from Brixen: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
Impressions from St. Virgil: 1, 2, 3.
Impressions from Wolkenstein: 1. 2, 3, 4, 5.
Impressions from Kaltern: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.
Impressions from Riva del Garda: 1, 2, 3.
Impressions from the after race party: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Team Photos: 1, 2.

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Last updated August 9th 2010.