The Ötztaler Radmarathon
This year my biggest challenge was going to be the Ötztaler Radmarathon. My goal was to just finish the 238km and 5500m elevation gain. I never had ridden such a distance with so much elevation so to estimate a target time was very difficult for me. Any time between 10 and 13 hours would be great.
We, my clubmate Tim and I, left on Thursday towards Sölden. In total we would be 4 riders from Tourclub Kerkrade that would ride the Ötzi. As everybody entered the draw for the Ötzi separately, we were all staying in separate hotels.
There is not much to tell about the 3 days before Sunday (Race day). It was raining since we arrived at Sölden and it didn’t stop until Saturday evening
We picked up our race numbers on Friday and hoped for better weather on Sunday. All meteorologists predicted a dry race with only late afternoon some possible rain, which is quite normal at the Timmelsjoch.
So let’s go to the Race itself….
Sunday morning we agreed to start with the 4 of us, knowing that we would loose Tim and Leo latest at the first climb. They are about 15 kg lighter as Dennis and me and they had planned to ride hard for a good end time.
As predicted, the start of the Ötztaler was dry. We lined up around 6:00 and 5 minutes before the start at 6:45 we took off our warm clothes and at 6:45 the start signal was given.
A good 4300 riders are then pushing hard for about 30km towards Oetz, the start of the first Climb of the day.
We rode quite well through the mass of riders with speeds up to 65 km/h. You needed to be careful and vigilant the whole time as there are roundabouts en route towards Oetz. Tim we lost quite quickly after the start, he was going full gazz…
Arriving at Oetz, we started he first climb of the day, the Küthai. A climb of 18,5 km and 1200 altitude gain.
Dennis and I decided to stop quickly to get out of our rainjackets that we wore as windstoppers.
Leo continued his climb and I haven’t seen him anymore that day ;-)
After we put our rainjackets in our backpockets, Dennis and I continued our ascent of the Küthai. At some point Dennis was pushing too hard for me, as I did not want to push over 75-80% of my FTP on the first climbs, to keep some reserves for the last climb, the Timmelsjoch.
So I let Dennis go and pushed away on the Küthai. Just under the top of the climb, Leo’s family was standing by with some extra clothes, food and biddons. That way we would not have to stop at the first food station. Just before reaching them, it started raining, but in the climbs I don’t mind.
So after getting new biddons, a dry windstopper and putting on my rainjacket, I reached the top of the Küthai and started the descent.
Normally I love descending, and I always win some time there, but this was different.
With only 2 degrees celcius and pouring rain it was cold, really cold. I never have been so cold in my life before. I could almost not hold the bars due to the shivers in my body. My hands felt numb and I was lucky I could still break.
During the descent I was thinking of giving up. It just was too wet and too cold. Thoughts ran through my mind to stop at Steinach on the Brennerstraße. I know the town from holidays and thought that it was a good place to stop and wait for the Broom wagon… This went through my mind for about 10 minutes, but after the descent, when we rolled into Innsbruck it was no longer an issue. I was to finish what I’ve started.
Next up was the ascent of the Brennerstraße and the climb of the Brennerpass. This ascent is 39 km long with 777 m altitude gain, so not that steep, but long.
The guys that had riden the Ötztaler before, told me to try to get into a good group for the Brennerstraße. If you have to ride those 39 km alone you lose too much energy for the last 2 climbs.
I was lucky enough to jump early from the group I was riding into another group that was riding faster. The pace was very good and I did not push too many watts by staying in the group.
The group was getting bigger and bigger as we rode the Brennerstraße, at some point I guess between 50-80 riders. It was a good ride, as it was not raining and sometimes even the sun came out. Also there were quite a lot of supporters in the villages that you pass when you ride the Brennerstraße. That was very motivating!
The climb of the Brennerpass created a shift. The group fell apart, which was good, as the next food station was at the top of the Brenner. When I arrived, the fastest climbers were already gone and the slower behind me. So a quick refill of the biddons, something to eat and onwards to the next hurdle, the Jaufenpass.
Oh, did I already mention that it was raining again since the climb of the Brennerpass? No? So yes it was, and it made the ascent a very cold one again.
As I said before, after the descent of the Brennerpass, the ascent of the Jaufenpass awaits.
The Jaufenpass is a climb of 15,5km long with an altitude gain of 1130 meters.
Half way through the climb I see a familiar back in front of me. It’s Dennis. His legs are hurting and he is struggling in the climb. We shortly have a chat, but as I need to ride my own pace I slowly ride away from him and we will not see each other again that day.
Slowly moving up the mountain I arrive at the foodstation 2km under the top of the climb. I quickly fill up my biddons and make sure I have enough food and gels as this is the last stop before the start of the climb of the Timmelsjoch.
Finally after reaching the top of the Jaufenpass and descending down another wet and cold road I reach the start of the Timmelsjoch climb. This is there most dreaded climb of the whole Ötztaler. It’s not that hard in gradients, but after 183 km the length of the climb 28,7km and the 1759 m altitude gain will hurt even the best rider. But after another freezing descent I’m “happy” to start climbing again to get my body warmed up again.
It will be the longest climb I have ridden so far in my cycling career.
There is not much I can tell about the climb. It’s just about making sure that you keep pedaling in a good pace. I’m no longer hitting 75-80% of my FTP in watts, but I did not expect anything else, especially with the harsh conditions we all have been riding in since the Küthai.
At least the first part of the climb is in dry conditions. I decided to make a stop at the food station, just above half way of the Timmelsjoch, to get my Biddons filled up again. It’s still a lot of km’s to the top and even though it is the last climb, I do not want to find out in the climb that I do not have anything to drink anymore. I’m just not familiar with the climb and how long it will take me till the finish in Sölden.
So onwards we go, back into climbing mode. Of course it starts raining again. This time it will not stop until I’m almost in Sölden.
At some point in the second half of the climb, you start to see the famous switchbacks where put up old finisher shirts as flags. Now you really know that you are riding the infamous Timmelsjoch, or as the Italians call it… Passo del Rombo.
It’s still some km’s to climb. At one point I meet a fellow hotel guest in the climb, we have a chat but then both go our ways again. It’s to exhausting to keep talking.
Finally I see the start of the Tunnel, this means that I’m almost at the top of the Timmelsjoch.
At the end of the tunnel I put on my rainjacket and gloves to get ready for the descent towards Sölden.
Again it is a cold descent, I clock my highest speed of the day, just before you get a another 2 km climb towards the mautstelle. This climb is a quick one and finally it’s only downhill towards Sölden.
In the descent it stops raining and the more you come to the bottom of the climb the more pleasant the temperatures become. At some point I see Sölden and I finally realise that I made it. At that time I have no clue about my time, nor did it interest me. I was so happy to finally reach the end of the Ötztaler! Riding over the finish line after 11:07h, Tim was, already showered and all warmed up, waiting for me.
As it seemed, Leo only finished 30 minutes before me and Dennis was still behind me.
Men already came with thermos blankets towards me, but I didn’t need one… at that time. I didn’t feel cold anymore, but when I, after a couple of minutes, went for some tea, the shaking started. I had had cold shivers all over my body, and couldn’t even hold my hands still to hold the cup of tea. Probably the adrenaline of reaching the finished wore out and my body became cold again.
Thank god I still was able to get back to my hotel where I slowly warmed up again and was able to take a somewhat painful shower.
The Ötztaler is famous for being the hardest Granfondo. Even though it’s in reality only 227km and 5300m, I must say it has made its reputation come true. Also the rain and cold made it the hardest ride I have ever ridden.
If you would have asked me if I would ever ride it again, my answer would have been absolutely NOT, never again. BUT almost a week after the Ötztaler I already changed my mind and I’m already looking forward to 2019. Hopefully my number will be drawn in the raffle.
The ride itself.
So if you are a serious granfondo rider, the Ötztaler radmarathon should be on your todo list.
As said, even with the bad weather we had this year, I’m hoping to start again in 2019. I’m sure I can do a bit quicker than this year, at least in dry conditions..
Here you can find my Strava ride details: https://www.strava.com/activities/1814844441
Yo can find a lot more pictures of the ötztaler here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/A51tEj98vp9wcMoc8
Thanks for reading!!
Sun, 02 September