I decided to race Bike 4Peaks after hearing it described as the BC bike race of Europe. I heard stories of epic single track in the Alps and challenging terrain. Even ex world champ Christoph Sauser would be racing! This would be my first endurance MTB race and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. The race was in June 2015 but I’m finally making the time to write about now.
It ended up being a great race to start endurance racing, the well organized sibling of Transalp was a joy to participate in and covered some lovely terrain. However the BC bike race of Europe it is not. In that regard the 4peaks bike race was a big disappointment. With long sections of asphalt, big neutral starts and Enduro segments I could do on my cyclocross bike I was left disappointed in riding itself. Lets see how it went down for me!
Day1: Bad Kleinkirchheim-Bad Kleinkirchheim
The start order was organized by date of registration…fair enough. Having registered just a few weeks before the race meant I started at the end of a 800 rider field. Right out of the start we hit the first climb and I just paced myself for a negative split(riding the second half of the race faster than the first). Having started so far back this still meant I was passing a never ending line of people, in fact I ended up passing 500+ people that first day.
This photo sums up my opinion of rider skill and crowding pretty well…
Upon reaching the summit of the first 3,200 foot climb I was psyched to hit the first descent of the race. I was in for a rude awakening though… As soon as we hit the first single track there was a fence to jump and line of 100 racers. This seemingly benign single track was holding up everybody and this reoccurring trend would plague me the rest of the race despite being in the top 150 every day. I had to sit around and wait to walk very ridable sections of trail. Even when we did start riding the racer in front of me was riding with both feet off the pedals, taking the impacts straight to his nuts. Not fast…or graceful. And as we hit the first Enduro segment of the day the riding finaly got a little technical. I was expecting most the riding to be like this so I had run 2.4 Maxxis Ardent tire up front on an Ibis Ripley…a major advantage to the guys on 2.0 tires on hardtails. I was slaying the enduro segment, passing 20 people at a time hooting and hollering all the way down. Until BAM! A line…20 people slowly walking down an easy ridable section of trail, mostly held up by one stubborn guy. I made the smartass comment of the day that this was a bike race and picked my way through the group and rode the rest of the descent but bummed the 3+ minutes of waiting in line ruined any chance of me being competitive in the Enduro class.
One the second big climb of the day I was feeling good, having paced for a negative split meant I started to ramp up the pace around the half way mark and start to build momentum as others faded. Midway up the climb I transitioned from standing to sitting and dropped down a few gears only to hear a sharp TING! My cassette snapped and destroyed my 42,36 and 32 cog. I weigh 138 pounds….how I managed to break the Sram x01 cassette is beyond me, but now I had to climb another 2,500 feet with a lowest gear of 32/28. I was like pedaling in quicksand and eventually I had to get off and walk a big part of the climb. At least the descent had some good singletrack and the crowd had somewhat thinned out. I cruised into the finish with some cramps and broken cassette but solid first day as an endurance racer.
Day 2 : Bad Kleinkirchheim-Hermagor
Thanks to sram support crew I had a very new and very expensive cassette in place I was ready to go for day two. Fortunately there wasn’t much queuing and lines today, mostly because there wasn’t much mountain biking, looking at the map showed 90% of the race on asphalt and gravel road…why the hell did I run 2.4 ardents? My first MTB race in the alps, I heard stories of gnarly rocky singletrack. Lessons learned, pay more attention to route profiles an beta from other riders. We started with a 10km neutral start….downhill. I had moved up into the second start box so I had a pretty good start position, but that was almost negated by the chaos of a neutral start. I have no problems riding in groups, I love crit racing, but this wasn’t fun or safe. Loads of heros bombing through the group only to hold us up on the climbs and walk the descents. But I got though it and the day turned into a blur of long asphalt flats interrupted by short offroad descents. As boring as it was, I turned it into a fun game, taking advantage of many racers that clearly hadn’t road raced before. I would latch onto a group on a flat section and let them pull me, then dropping into a offroad descent or climb I would bridge up to the next group, sit in, attack, bridge, repeat… for 4 hours straight. I cramped up just a few km’s from the finish but caught up to the group on the descent into the finish, another day done.
Another day another neutral start! By today people are starting to wear out so perhaps the peloton was less eager to chew each other to bits. Hitting the first climb I felt good and pushed a little harder than I had previous days without putting myself too far into the red. Lots of water, eat, pedal, repeat. I’m running a 1×11 this year for the first time and looking at the course profile and previous rides I though I could run 32t up front, it served me well on yesterdays road race, today it would torture me. Soon the gravel road got steep, and I was searching for that imaginary extra gear. Coming over the top of the first climb with a chill German rider we dropped into the first descent only to find chaos yet again. This time it was a ski slope with hay on top concealing massive ditches and riders sliding everywhere. I hammered though the descent slightly out of control bouncing though the ditches on the edge and slightly too fast, but I made it. Yesterdays stage winner crashed in one of these ditches and had to be airlifted out, strange course choice and treacherous when wet. A series of steep punchy climbs slowly sucked my energy out of me and I even had to get off the bike and push a couple sections. I wasn’t alone though and only bled a few positions to a few guys running 28t up front….fucking genius! lesson learned…get your gearing dialed and don’t be afraid to change out that front chainring day to day. I peddled hard into the start of the Enduro stage but upon finding tight singletrack I would have loved to ride my cyclocross bike on and line of riders I just got in line and rode smooth. Enduro segment? REALLY?
Thunder rolled in as I reached the final summit and the alps seemed to engulf me in a brooding, melancholy feeling. That sensation when your deep in the mountains and weather is rolling in, reminding you are just a temporary fixture in this landscape. One of the nicest moments of the whole race and maybe the first time I felt actually part of the mountains. The descent was 12km of gravel roads and asphalt under loose babyhead rocks (yea, sketchy as it sounds) and rain followed by a short section of singletrack. Terrible riding and no fun. I stupidly was pushing it pretty hard on one of these gravel road sections and lost the front tire and going down on my right side highspeed. Always my right side! The Slovak I was riding with thought I was dead and seem surprised when I popped back up and clipped in before he could get to me. Hurting and pissed I took the rest of the descent easy watching multiple other riders pass me only to come upon them bloody and scared from loosing it on the gravel. The finish had some fun technical bits and wet corners that made for some good drifting to cheer up my spirits. Some pain killers and tegaderm was in order tonight.
Learning my lesson from yesterday I swapped out my front chainring to a 30t and prepared to give it my all. The profile today was slightly different from other days with no major climb but many shorter punchy climbs. The actual racing felt the same as other days, nutrual start, hammerfest to first climb, wait in line to descend the first single track. Honestly it’s really starting to drag me down, I’ve become a very competent descender over the years and a big reason I choose to ride this race was because of the trails. Even though I’m in the top 20% of the race every day, I’m still stuck, walking my bike on nice sections of trails in a big traffic jam. I know choke points happen but this is a bit ridiculous. Regardless my legs feel great today and at the halfway point I start to dial up the pace and start passing people quickly. Slowly the weather changes and the rain starts to sap the heat and energy out of us. The last 2,000 foot climb I hammer up feeling great and passing loads of people. The gain was only temporary as I couldn’t see out of my glasses on the descent and as soon I took them off a chunk of mud flew into my eye and dislodged a contact lens. During the 10 minutes I spent getting it back in place I saw all my hard earned work pass me by one by one. The descent into the finish chilled me to the core and could barley grasp the break levers at the finish. The trail warmed my heart though as we dropped into a bikepark with berms and little jumps, I enjoyed shredding that section and taking back some places back before the finish.
I was relieved to see the finish 400 meters away on a singletrack path, and as I closed in on the finish a hero decided to pass me for that 133 place and chopped by wheel at 30 mph. Really dude? You’re going almost crash me for that one spot? Coming into the finish I received a medal but all I wanted was a warm shower, and food, we all looked like zombies from the frigid descent. Food was nowhere to be found and I had to carry my dufflebag to the showers, now crowded with lots of naked middleaged dutch men. I quickly took a cold shower and found where the food was. After devouring a plate of pasta and apple studel from the event I found a hamburger stand nearby and downed a burger, beer and fries with a dutch racer. Life was good at that point, and I even found another rider on a Ripley! The first I’ve seen in Europe.
We waited around until the busses came to take us back to Bad Kleinkirchheim and our cars. I had a lot of time to think during the seven hour drive back to Torino. I couldn’t make it all the back that night so I slept in the back of the Jeep, wasn’t the first nor would it be the last time sleeping in the car this season.
The race is certainly well organized and the transitions between towns is almost seamless, feed stations are well stocked and a pasta dinner each night was nice. Also having a final feed station at the finish with lots of local products and fruit is a great touch and made my off the bike time more pleasant. There were hiccups in the organization like cold showers and a sometimes a long transfer after the finish, but overall it was good.
The 4peaks camp was a great way to do the race and I would highly recommend staying in the camps during the race. You’ll get a nice breakfast in the morning, meet fellow racers and you bags are at your sleeping area when you finish the race. Super slick and great price.
A great race for the recreational riders or those looking to get their feet wet in endurance racing. The 2015 edition trail choice was incredibly boring and offered very little trail riding. The race was filled with lots of guys with big motors and little technical skill, which made for long lines and traffic jams on even simple descents. That being said the mostly german and dutch field was pretty accommodating and letting faster riders though on a descent. While the group didn’t feel as chill as the US MTB scene it was much better than cutthroat racing style in Italy.
A great first mtb race for me, finishing 138th out of 900. On the races only technical Enduro segment, 49th, despite waiting in line for a few minutes. But the 4peaks race isn’t for me, as we took the bus back to the cars I started to see why. Most the bus was filled with middle aged professional looking men, wearing their finisher jerseys and medals around their necks, high fiving and touting their finisher jersey. I felt the everybody wins, here take a trophy attitude kind of belittling… if you’re into that sort of thing, great. I’m not. I was expecting more adventure, commitment and something more raw. Turns out the bike race I was looking for was the Ultra Raid de La Meije, I’ll have a report up on that soon.
All race photos are from sportograf