In 2016 a couple of friends had completed the first ever Alps Epic, having followed their progress I decided this was the event for me in 2017, so when I noticed the early bird offer of €500 I entered straight away.
The Alps Epic is a pairs event but I hadn’t even thought that far ahead yet and just entered with a plan to sort the partner bit out later.
After posting on Facebook that I had entered I got a message from a friend who I had been riding with a while with a local club and within an hour he had entered as well and that was the partner issue sorted.
The next few months didn’t really go to plan with training and I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t anywhere near as well prepared as I could have been.
Jump forward to June and after a full day at work the car was packed up and off we headed to Dover to get a 10pm ferry to France, I then drove through the night until we reached a town called La Plange which was around a 4-hour drive from the race start, we had 2 nights here before then driving down to the start town of Montgenvre.
One of the first things we noticed was how cold it was at 1800m plus above sea level where we were staying which got me concerned as I didn’t really have any warm clothing with me except a Gillet and a waterproof top, so on route to Montgenvre we stopped off in Val D’isere and I managed to get myself a warm top.
The sights on route driving through the Alps were amazing and the #cantcopythealps is very fitting, for anyone that has never been it should be a must on your list of places to visit.
We arrived in Montgenvre and found our accommodation for the night, this night was €50 for the night and included food as well which was perfect so no hassle as this would be where we would stay for the next 3 nights.
We completed our registration and collected our packs and numbers.
Stage 1 was a short Prologue stage and didn’t start till the afternoon, I found this really tough, a combination of the altitude and heat, yes after all my concern a couple of days earlier of it being cold, it wasn’t it was really warm, mid to high 30’s every day.
After finishing stage one I noticed my chest felt tight, I thought nothing of it as it had happened before and I had been told by the doctor that it was probably just a cramp and nothing to worry about, it settled within mins so I thought nothing of it.
The next day was the first proper stage, loop back to Montgenerve of 61 Km and 2750m of climbing starting with a 7km climb.
All started off well and we got into a good rhythm on the climb until James chain snapped, after quickly fitting a power link we carried on and soon reached the first feed station, we didn’t take much as both still had a fair amount in our camel backs and there was another feed station in 20Km, so off we went onto the next climb before our first taste of the proper descents, tight switch back after tight switch back.
We passed through the time cut off point and started the climb to the next feed station, this is where I really began struggle and noticed I had the route sweeper and medic for company on an Ebike.
I pushed on to the feed station and by the time I made it there I was not in a good way, I sat down in the shade and took on some fluids and food as the medic checked me over before telling me I needed a drip as I was very dehydrated.
They called down to race HQ and another medic arrived and took over, allowing him to carry on following the route, James also carried on and finished the stage.
Meanwhile I had a drip put in at the feed station and was taken back down to the race finish in a 4×4.
At Race HQ I was given a once over by the event doctor and ate his salted crisps before being given the okay to carry on the next day.
The next day the plan was a different one and I took 3 litres of Torq Energy in my camel back and 2 x 750ml of Hypotonic drink in a bottle, by the first feed station a lot of this was gone, we filled everything back up and carried on. Unfortunately, we missed the cut off by a matter of minutes at the next feed station and couldn’t carry on the stage.
Day 4 was a much better day and we started well, apart from forgetting my gloves which led to some sunburn on the backs of my hands. We settled into a long climb at the start and the descents again were incredible and like nothing I have ridden before, this included a full on bucking bronco moment at 30mph that I somehow managed to keep hold of. The 29er carbon Hardtail was defiantly not the bike of choice for this event. We completed stage 4 in 7 hours 40 minutes.
Unfortunately, I was still struggling with getting my breath and even walking upstairs or a slight slope was hard work let alone riding a bike for 7-8 hours, I was also bringing up all kinds of funky stuff when I coughed! So, after a chat with James and the event doctor I decided to miss stage 5 and see how I felt after that.
So, I spent day 5 helping the organisers with laundry and whatever else I could do to help, unfortunately I was still not feeling any better for stage 6 so I sat it out and let James ride with a couple of guys from Oxfordshire with a team name of the Gnarly Nutters.
I was gutted to have missed the finish of the event but sometimes you just know something isn’t right.
The after party was great with lots of free beer and a huge BBQ. The food and hospitality throughout the event was incredible and everything was taken care of from your laundry to your bike.
At the end of every stage you racked your bike, it was then taken and washed before getting a once over from the team of mechanics before being taken to the over night secure storage area, all you had to do was check your tyre pressures and lube the chain and away you go again.
There was also massages at the end of the stage all included in the price and a huge buffet of food to refuel you along with an evening meal and huge and varied breakfast every day.
Everything was thought of and done for you, all you had to do was ride your bike, eat, sleep and repeat.
On returning from the event I visited my GP and was given an Inhaler and have since been diagnosed with exercise induced Asthma.
This is defiantly an event that I will be coming back to again maybe as a mixed pair with an eye on a podium.
I have learnt so much from this event and hopefully it will all help me in my next challenge.
Next year I am taking on the Transpyr solo, but I’m not making the same mistakes again. I was nowhere near well enough prepared physically and the work on that has already started with the help of my new coach and Mountain Bike Stage Race and Marathon Racing legend, Sally Bigham, who is really starting to put me through my paces and will have me in the best shape I can be in come June 2018.
I have also changed bikes and I’m now on a Santa Cruz Tallboy 2 full Suss with dropperpost as opposed to a Cube carbon hardtail 29er.
Camping and Mountaineering
The Trans Alp bike race was one of the most incredible experiences and I cannot wait to do another stage race.
Here is the first video created by my Dads film company. Thanks Dad!
[vimeo 178005152 w=640 h=360]
Thank you to everyone who supported our journey we could not have done it alone.
Hannah and Michelle x
Today was a mixture of emotions standing on the start line I felt elated to have made it this far, with no serious mechanicals for both me and the bike! But unhappy that it was to be the last 54 km ride in this beautiful race.
After a dry start leaving Trento, we started the gradual climb up from 200m to 1700m. Starting on road, turning to forest tracks and gravel paths as we steadily made it to the top. I was feeling great today, no aches and pains and was actually enjoying this demanding climb. (Clearly I’m getting used to the Alps!)
Some sections were pretty steep and with all the rain over night rather slippy too and had to be walked. I joined a trail of silent cyclists pushing their bikes with a feeling of accomplishment that we all shared being there on the final day. Once the terrain was rideable I enjoyed the forest trails which were very like home in a way and the rain was certainly not dampening my state of mind as I looked for the lines ahead. The Era has been fantastic, apart from a few gearing issues caused by the 42t sprocket I put on for climbing. The low stand-over height and rear shock have given me confidence to try lines and go down singletrack which I know I would usually not do. I have relished in pushing myself out of my comfort zone and have found this whole week has been one long learning curve on bike handling, climbing, scrambling, nutrition and positive mental attitude!
The rain soon set in hard and I was so glad to have my Gore Tex jacket. The feed station at 19km was full of chilly cyclists sipping hot soup still with smiles on their faces.
I didn’t stop for long just grabbing some pineapple and a drinks refill before continuing climbing to the summit at 24km.
When I reached the top I felt relieved that my last big hill climb was behind me, but sad that I was nearly half way through the final stage. During this race there has been many highs and lows and I have learnt so much about myself, met some wonderful people and have fully immersed myself in the adventure, one that I am already looking to replicate by taking on another stage race, these thoughts filled my head as I soaked up the downhill. The first part was grassy paths through steep sided gulley’s, which in the dry would have been great fun, but the rain had made them like ice rinks and together with a group I cautiously made my way down these steep parts. Once we hit fire road, I enjoyed the sweeping corners singing songs with the word rain in them, as I made my way down to try and keep my spirits high as the rain tumbled from the sky.
The feed station at 32km came with a very welcome hot tea and waffles. I had two cups and carried on. Just up the road was my Dad, like a hot water bottle angel, he stood with dry gloves and arm warmers. I have never been so happy to pull on a cosy warm layer and this really helped get me up what was now my final climb in the Alps!
At the top of the climb Michelle was waiting huddled with Tom (her boyfriend). We finished the final downhill section together down some rocky singletrack which I really enjoyed. Now we were not as high, it was warm and damp, a little bit like a summer in Wales, so I felt really at home whizzing down the trails looking for the lines which avoided any slippy roots.
Racing into the back roads of the town, full of puddles and pot holes and through the final finishing archway was incredible, I felt like I was dreaming. After thinking of this moment for the last 10 months, visualising what it would feel like to have accomplished my dream it was difficult to describe how I felt, relieved to have finished climbing mountains for a while, exhilarated to have pushed my body out of the comfort zone both in descending and climbing and overwhelmed to now be able to say I completed the toughest Stage race in Europe! WE DID IT!
Thank you to all my family and friends who supported me. Thank you to Specialized for letting me use the Era, Thanks to Bike Fixers, Grip Grab, Food for Thought and Dogtag for supporting us on this journey of a life-time.
Day six, of the Bike Trans Alp, started with some nerves, I was worried about how my back would be after yesterday and felt rather emotional about being so close to the finish line.
Luckily sleep, Pilates and painkillers seemed to work okay and after the congestion created by the downhill start the long climb was okay and I felt alright if I stayed at a steady pace. Michelle is a better climber than me and at this point had disappeared into the distance; it was nice to see her walking back down to help me with my bike on a steeper section when I was struggling to push up. In a team event it is these little moments of support that keep you going.
After the feed station the fun stuff began, with an enduro challenge section through the forest on steep woodland single-track it was challenging yet fun, you had to keep an eye on your line to avoid boulders hidden in the leaves.
I enjoyed this section a lot and felt good by the end of it. Our path then stayed mainly off road and wiggled through valleys with short sharp climbs and descents. One of the highlights was riding through a very long dark tunnel where the temperature was so cold it took my breath away. It was really eerie riding from bright sunlight, into such a dark place. It seemed to go on forever! A small group of us stayed close together and you could tell no one wanted to be alone in this tunnel!
The path then continued to wind through apple groves and vineyards until the last final descent which was more like a scramble than a bike track! We had to carefully make our way down the rock face with our bikes it was super steep!
My body is handling the long days well, as long as I stick to a steady pace and refuelling regularly. Before I came away I asked Sally Bigham for advice which has been absolutely brillaint as I have been eating little and often fuelling with between 70 and 90g carbohydrate an hour to keep my energy levels high.
So far my bike had been amazing I changed my brake pads yesterday but apart from that no mechanical issues bar a few jumpy gears. Thanks Specialized.
The climbing has been a lot tougher than I expected but having never bike more than 4 days in a row before and the fact I live in such a flat country its been hard to train for such monster climbs, I am really pleased to make it to day 6! Bring on the final stage I can almost taste the Prossecco!
Distance: 88.24 km
Metres of climbing: 2,364 m
Saddles: Passo le Fraine (1,705 m)
Today was tough! I didn’t get the best start as my chain jammed 800m from the start once I had fixed it took ages for me to get going again because of the sheer number of bikers squeezing down this small Italian road.
This bad luck continued throughout the day, my back which has been fine for the last four days, really hurt sending pains down my leg and into my foot, not ideal on a day when you have 3,000m to climb!
I kept it steady and tried to break the day down into sections. I would not think further than the next water point or saddle summit this helped a little but it was one of those days when both mentally and physically I felt pushed to the extreme and had to dig deep to just keep going in the right direction.
By the top of Passo Gavia at 2,600m I was really struggling and there still seemed so much left in front of me. I got off and stretched out my back while Michelle kindly waited this seemed to ease the pain in my leg and foot.
Michelle and I then descended down the road to the Enduro challenge which was a mixture of dusty steep trail and rock gardens. I have been really enjoying the singletrack its been such good fun and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Today I got over confident at one point and ended scrapping my ankle down the rock which was not pleasant and reminded me that I needed to go careful with two days left to complete the race.
After the enduro challenge the route climbed steeply once more. By the feed station at 45km I was again in a lot of pain and felt overwhelmed by the fact there was still over 40km to go until the finish, I just didn’t see how I could keep going. It is in these moments we all find out the strength of our character, it was a lonely climb to the top of the pass and I battled a lot of negative feelings in those 5km!
I was relieved to see Michelle at the top who then helped me with my bike up a few steep climbs as she could tell I was in trouble.
The path was undulating and continued to climb further we passed a emergency helicopter and then were rather shocked when we turned the next corner to see a cyclist ready to be air lifted out, it put into perspective how even though my body was hurting I was still able to ride.
We pushed on once more every kilometre seemed to go by so slowly I was relieved to see the finish!
Distance: 86.32 km
Metres of climbing: 3,073 m
Saddles: Passo Gavia (2,621 m), Alta Via Camuna (2,393 m)