Extreme multi sports race
Have you ever thought that no matter how fast you are with your mountain bike going downhill you can not win the race if your other nine team members aren’t the fastest ones in their own disciplines? Yes, you heard well, other ‘nine’ team members.
Extreme multi sport races are becoming more and more popular. Races of this type provide athletes who practice individual and extreme sports with a unique thrill and challenge. As an athlete, you still have to be the fastest in what you know best. As a mountain biker (if the race like the one we will describe here includes this discipline) you still have to be the fastest one going downhill, but you need all other members of your team to be the fastest ones as well. What does make extreme multi sports races such a particular interesting event to be in if winning doesn’t depend on how crazy you are? Well, they provide you with the opportunity of becoming one more of a bunch of crazy athletes trying to be the fastest ones, so YOU and THEY can win the race.
Last year Top2bottom race gathered 10 athletes in the Otztal alpine valley in the Austrian state of Tyrol to make a documentary about what it takes to do such a race. This valley is not only famous for its beauty and the opportunities it offers to do from great mountain biking, to climbing or practicing water sports. It is also well known due to the fact that in 1991, Ötzi the Iceman, a well-preserved natural mummy from about 3,300 BC, was found in the nearby Schnalstal glacier on the Similaun Mountain.
Let’s get back to the movie and real action. While more than seven different cameramen with state of the art high definition cameras worked around the clock during twenty one days to make this documentary possible. After having ridden downhill for several days on the same track with the filming crew, I am now going to try to tell you what it takes to be the downhill mountain biker of Top2bottom race.
You as mountain biker have to wait until eight other team members finish their part. The race starts 57 km above your kick off point, with the speed flying buddy jumping off at 3772 m high from the top of Wildspitze. This is the highest peak in the Otztal Alps and the second highest peak in Austria. The team mate who does the hand off to you is the soaking wet bloke who has just abseiled down the 159 m Stuibenfall, which is Tirol’s largest and most spectacular waterfall.
Mountain bike downhill
As soon as the hand off is done to you and the competition judge gives you the green light, your off to ride as fast as you can the next 10 km of the race. The first 2 km are a very fast ride through a stony road that follows down the waterfall stream and the initial 500 m are the steeper section of this road. You just need to watch out not having your bike sleeping off the gentle turns. In fact, you might only call the turns ‘gentle’ after you cross a wooden bridge which entrance is at around a seventy degrees angle to your right. As you are coming down at full speed, you need to take this turn with the brake levers lowered down at full power, or you might find yourself walking back uphill. This entire cool scenario is happening inside a dense forest.
Once you are off this area, hell starts for downhill lovers. You are actually always going down, but you have to pedal pretty much in a few sections where you wish you were sitting in a hard tail carbon fibber bike or even better, a motorbike. The problem for you might not be the fact that by the time you reach the first 5 k, the race has already turns into an epic downhill marathon. If air doesn’t reach your brain on this ‘almost flat’ section the worst it can happen is that you might fall into the last fresh cow shit of the plenty of horned beasts wondering around the trail. Then, what’s the problem? You have to remain fresh and pumping oxygen into your brain by the time you reach the last 3,5 k where the fastest and more technical section starts.
The last kilometer downhill goes through a single-track which again follows a stream to your right and this time, in a much denser forest than the one you left behind. The beginning of this single-track starts with an almost-impossible 50 degrees turn in an area reduced to one square meter of very slippery earth, where you basically have two options if you don’t manage to get the rear wheel to follow the front one:
A) Fail to finish the turn and slide down into the stream (which might be a bit shameful and wet moment)
B) Get off your bike and walk (which is even more shameful but probably better than to end up wet)
Now if you don’t manage to do this ‘go to hell’ turn, no time for unhappiness and shameful moments is left as you have to rock and roll and focus on this single track that you definitely have to ride down without taking a fall. All sorts of nasty things that a downhill racer loves will be found here: wet big roots, jumps over loosen stones, big gaps with big steps and even some bushes impeding your vision and though of ‘what on earth comes next’ on this single-track.
By the time you hit a gentler, flat section you might remember that the finish line for your downhill is pretty close. Should you have some breath left, you will find yourself sprinting in a narrow track with big (I mean really big) stones to your left and a one meter wooden fence to your right, where again you will remember how much equilibrium a rider must have to sprint in such a narrow passage.
By then, your buddy waiting at the riverside sitting on his kayak will be shouting so loud that you have to hurry up, that you better do so. That’s it, you go down to him ridding downhill a twelve meters steps that take you straight into a one meter wet concrete platform where you better have good grip to come to a halt, or you will soon end up doing kayaking with your team mate in Ötztaler Ache river.
Once you touch the kayaker’s arm, he’s off and your race against the clock is finish, but that’s not the end for you. As the mountain bike rider is the one before the last one (kayaker) and the entire team has to assemble on the finish line of the buddy you just saw paddling down the river, you have to continue riding down all the section that will be covered by him. Yeap… all ‘his’ section as well, but not on the water. If you are completely out of breath, the good news is that you can take a few short cuts which are very technical (which means good fun) and be able to cheer up your buddy on the kayak.
In fact, you actually wish you could do so; cause rather than cheering anyone up, you have to quickly swap your protections, shoes and helmet for a full body neoprene swim suit and… a rafting helmet which definitely doesn’t look as cool as your full face helmet you just took off. Not to speak about the way you might look like in a tight neoprene swim suit.
Here is why you as a downhill racer have to go through this moment glory dressing up with the rafting outfit: the race actually finishes when all member of the team get together on a raft, go down another 6 km on the river and cross the finish line.
To sum up you end up riding ten kilometers downhill against the clock like a maniac, going through fast and technical sections. Then continue riding two more against your kayaker buddy (aka team mate) only to find yourself dressed up in a tight neoprene swim suit in a raft paddling like a maniac with a bunch of other maniacs.
Finally, if you like to race downhill and extreme multi sports races, it might be worth trying this one in the Austrian Alps.
Manuel Bustelo would like to thanks Suunto for their constant support.