1300km with 17000m of elevation gain in 8 days – BIKEGEAR.CC THE RIDE –

A few months ago I googled about epic cycling events in Europe and I came across a Dutch cycling event called “Bikegear.cc The Ride”. 1300km from Stelvio (Italy) to Cauberg (Netherlands) in 8 days through 8 countries.

I was immediately hooked.

How awesome would it be to ride through Europe, especially that particular route: from the Italian Alps to the Flatlands through regions that are world famous for cycling.

I got very excited. I had to do it!
1300km in 8 days is already an impressive ride. The 17000m (!!!) elevation gain would make this event a real epic ride. Throw in camping and you got a complete adventure.

Soon enough I was registered.

One day before the event start, I signed the white board in Prato alla Stelvio. I looked around. Participants from all stages of life and fitness levels made up a peloton of 260 cyclists. Now, we are strangers. But soon enough, faces become familiar, riding styles recognizable and the morning faces at 5:30am memorable.

Surrounded by snowcapped mountains it was hard to believe we would be in the flattish Netherlands in 8 days. Joining this event alone, I was excited to get to know the other participants, helping each other, suffering together and exchanging stories of our days.

Before getting into what really happened behind the scenes each day, I want to share a few details about the event itself. The organization was absolutely top notch! Although all communication was in Dutch, I knew exactly where and when to be. The camp sites were professionally set up with everything what I needed. An entire camp village moved with The Ride. All tents were set up before we arrived, a recharge station for phones and bike computers, free massages, dinner prepared by Pro Tour chefs and an event atmosphere that clearly indicated that the organizer knew a thing or two about putting on a show.

8 days later having arrived in Valkenburg, I would never have thought that I would feel as I do now. I am incredibly exhausted having ridden 50+ hours in the last 8 days. I am extremely tired from sleeping 4-5 hours a day.

But all these are minor disturbances compared to that huge feeling of accomplishment and achievement. This ride put me through extreme ups and down – physically and mentally. Events occurred I could have never foreseen: a tire explosion and close elimination from the event, severe heat exhaustion, picking the right fights, a nasty descending crash, my pursuit for supermarket pic-nics and the dedication of another cyclist becoming such an incredible teammate that showed once again to me that cycling with a team is so much more fun than a solo goal.

I will also share how I recovered after each stage, what I ate and what I think is important along the way – especially when I was mentally and physically exhausted.
But let’s start from the beginning. Day 1: From Prato alla Stelvio to Silvaplana. 129km with 3900m of elevation with Stelvio, Foscagno and Bernina Pass. For those who have been in that region know that this ride by itself would be tough enough. How I managed to make it even tougher on day 1 will be in the next post.


Five tips to make travelling your lifestyle

In the last 10 years, I have lived on three continents, five countries and about 30+ places. Some of them weren’t longer than a month, one lasted for an entire six months. It was almost worth noting down the address. I truly love travelling, moving around and meeting new people and cultures. I am not afraid of moving to a new continent without knowing a soul, the language or the culture. In fact, I thrive on the excitement of experiencing new adventures.

Rather than travelling, I call it moving because I do immerse myself into my surroundings, in fact that is a must for me. I don’t like to be a tourist and prefer to stay where the locals live and do what the locals do as told here.

Although moving to an unknown places seems scary at first, there are ways to make this an amazing adventure. Here are few tips:

  1. To make moving easy, I own just enough stuff that I truly need, nothing more. Despite being an absolute bike addict, I only have one bike. Carrying extras of anything makes me feel weighed down. The adventures I am experiencing discredit any materialistic belongings. Stuff weighs me down. Experiences lift me up.
  2. Be happy with yourself alone. Don’t be afraid to be alone in a new country where you don’t speak the language or understand the culture. Yes, it seems at first overwhelming and scary but exactly those intense emotions you will never forget and appreciate even more because they make you feel alive.
  3. Smiling opens doors. There is no better way to communicate. Enough said.
  4. Be proactive. Moving into a new country but then hanging out in front of the TV is not worth the effort. Get out with or without a plan. You learn so much from looking around.
  5. There is no better strategy to learn than observing. Find out why the locals do certain things. How they behave. How they interact. What is different than what you are used to and why could that possibly be?

Travelling is an enriching and rewarding experience. Just buy a plane or train ticket and get out! With or without plan.

Because life is a journey!


My revenge – 7-Dorpenomloop Aalburg, Netherlands – Part II
The second race the day after my first UCI race in Europe I knew what would be ahead of me. And I am not entirely sure if that helped.
I knew it would be fast right from the start, aggressive and dangerous with all street furniture (that’s how the street obstacles were called). Was I prepared? Well, one thing I learned from the day before is that I should be able to hang with the main group.
One big thing I would learn is how far one mentally can go.
The course was flat, like Dutch flat. The entire elevation gain of the 120km course was 98 feet. It was super windy. The race followed through a lot of towns with street furniture so paying attention was important the entire time. 
To not make the same mistake as the day before I wanted to line up early so I could start in the front but when I arrived 20 minutes before the race start it was already too late and I had to line up second to last row.
Race started fast as expected. We raced through the town of Aalburg towards the country side. We were 5k into the race. 
Suddenly on a flat, straight road I saw riders in front of me stopping abruptly and then bikes were flying. 
My back wheel slipped sideways but I was able to stop just in time. 
Others couldn’t. It didn’t look good at all. 
It took me at least 20 seconds to get through the crash to be able to ride again. I wasn’t sure how many riders were ahead of the crash but it couldn’t be that many. I started riding as hard as I could. I didn’t want to be done with the race after only 5 k!
A group of six people formed and we grew bigger and bigger as we picked up racers ahead of us. We saw the main field ahead of us. We chased. I pulled with a few racers. 
This time I was not satisfied with a chase group. My energy drained quickly. I pulled hard. I started getting  tunnel vision. The cross wind was extremely difficult but the peloton was so close! 
Follow vehicle passed us but we passed them right back because the main field slowed down in the towns. The cars were in the way so we couldnt take the corners fast and lost distance to the peloton again. 
We kept chasing. After about 15 mi we had a distance to the peloton of maybe 150 m and there was no one who wanted to pull. I couldn’t believe it so I went to the front and pulled myself to the field and whoever was behind me. 
I made it!!! I couldn’t believe that we were able to catch a group of 50 racers! But when I looked at the distance remaining, I learned another level of disbelief – 60 more miles! I was totally exhausted, how am I supposed to race the same pace for another two hours?
I was absolute last, hanging by a thread on the peloton. Any acceleration was detrimental to my goal to finish this race. 
Everything hurt. I was exhausted. Why don’t I get a flat? That would give me at least a reason to stop pedaling.
The person ahead of me fell of the peloton I had to jump to fill the gap. Where did I just get that energy from? I felt like I relived the race story of Tim Krabbe in his book ‘The rider’.
The field slowed down. Are they only doing that so the acceleration would be just so much harder?  Basically. Because it was a tailwind section before a strong cross wind section. I hate cross wind sections. I am not only exposed to the speed of the field but also nature. Two enemies! 
Then I was thinking of the legendary racer who pushed so hard during a race that he bit down to his gum line. That was my motivation for the next cross wind section. I made it. We were in another town. The field slowed down.
Where are we by the way? We were supposed to do three big laps and three small laps. Since my focus was more on the wheel ahead of me than on the course, I had no clue. Ok, how would I know how many laps still to go? 
Ah…the finish line…how often did we pass the finish line? I think twice. Or maybe three times? I forgot. 
Ok, that doesn’t help. Let’s check the distance on my bike…40 mi. Well, 120km is the race. What was the conversion again? Ok, Monika, great brain exercise to keep you entertained. Think think think…73 mi….that means we still have to race 33 miles! I had to start laughing. That was a good joke. 
OK, but Monika, you haven’t seen the broom wagon yet, that’s an improvement! You are still hanging on to the main field with some National teams. Good work! If you get dropped now you still could say that you improved from the day before, right? 
Single-file through the cross section again. How often do we have to do that??? 
Next town. The field slowed down. Feed zone. I really liked the feed zones. No one would attack. I didn’t have to worry to get dropped. I could move up without elbowing. I was one of the few ones who didn’t take any water because I didn’t need it. I didn’t have time to take my hands off the bars to drink. So my bottles were still full. 
The motor ref came by us and showed us the time of the lead group ahead of us. Three minutes. Fine by me. 
Check of the distance. 50 mi raced so far. Great, only 25 more miles. Ok, lets not check the bike computer before 55 miles. We are going 30mph right now so I will check after the next cross wind section. Deal!
54.9 mi. Close enough. Next target 60 mi. That would be 100 km. Sounds pretty far. Suddenly I didn’t like the slow riding through the town anymore because the mileage wouldn’t go fast enough. 
60 mi. Sweet. Only 14 more miles. Now, Monika, you better don’t get any damn flat! And if you get a flat, you will chase and if getting passed then motor-pace the broom wagon. I don’t care! Time is over to be weak. We are so close! It’s basically the commute into work. It’s that easy!
65 mi. I start recognizing laps. I believe only two more laps. So if I get dropped now, I still finish the race because I wouldn’t interfere with the peloton. 
Wrong thinking. How stupid does it look like to come to the finish line by yourself? You stay here with the peloton!
We are nearing the finish line. The bell should ring for the last lap. We are getting close. I don’t hear the bell! Where is the bell? Or is that an American thing? Wait, we are not at the finish line yet, that was the 1k to go arch. Ok, Monika, relax. I hear the voice from the loud speaker. Something in Dutch, then English, then German. He said last lap and ahh yes, here is the bell! Yes!!!!
Ok, last lap. What’s my plan? I could pass the entire field and try to sprint? Haha! Where did that come from? Well, something more realistic. What about not finish dead last? Ok, more realistic. 
The peloton slowed down. No one wanted to pull anymore. Only at the last corner, the field accelerated again and sprinted for the last 200m. To make sure I really don’t get dead last, I pulled my last energy together and passed some racers. 
I made it!
Out of 160 racers, 99 made it to the finish line. I got 95th. I felt like I won!
Our team car
Our team jersey

Riders lined up for the first race in Valkenburg

Racing through super small and curvy country roads

Three of us before the Aalburg race

Lining up for the second race
Few minutes before the race

Lined up second to last row 🙁

Our team (from left): Simon, Sara-Lena, me, Lena, Marie, Claire, Claas
Pic for the sponsor. The guy in the distance on the left was so confused what we were doing.

Racing in the Netherlands – UCI 1.2 Valkenburg –Part 1

 

On Wednesday, I got a phone call asking if I wanted to join a team to race two UCI races in the Netherlands on Friday and Saturday. Well, that was easy to answer – of course!!!
I took the train a day after heading towards Dortmund to get picked up by Claas, the person who called me. Besides the name I had no clue who he was.  I didn’t know anything about the races, the team or the logistics.
Claas, our team director for that race I learned later, told me everything when we were heading to Cologne to meet two of my four teammates. I knew the two already from the German Hill Climb Championship.  The team for the two UCI races consisted of one Guyanese, one American living in Belgium, one Swede (for second UCI race), and three Germans including me. 
We drove to the course in Valkenburg and did a recon by bike of the 86 km Hills Classics. The field would be stacked with a lot of Pro teams plus the Swedish, the Polish, and the Australian National Team. 
About 150 racers lined up the next day. It was sunny and windy. The first two kilometers were neutralized leading through the town of Valkenburg. But those were the scariest of all of them. The course was full with obstacles. Traffic islands, cars, curbs, road narrowings made the neutralized start to a nerve-wrecking adventure. 
And soon enough I found myself in the back. Once the race started, it started super fast. I had to move my way to a better position in the peloton. I was passing dropped riders left and right. 
After about 16 miles, I was not able to fill the gaps anymore and I got split from the front group and a group of ten was formed. About 70 racers or so were behind us. 
Although I wasn’t too happy being separated by the front group, I was happy to be in a decent group going an ok pace. It could be harder but since it was so early in the race I wanted to wait a little. 
Also, with this being my second UCI race and my first in Europe, I had no idea what to expect. Unfortunately I learned very soon that  my strategy couldn’t have been worse. 
The race went through small, super curvy roads. I had to pay attention the entire time. The follow vehicles started passing us as we were a few minutes behind the lead group.
On a 40 mph descent on a narrow country road, an Italian follow vehicle passed me by inches almost took me out when it forced me into the curb. I was stunned how aggressive the support vehicles drove. Later I learned that other riders crashed into the cars that abruptly stopped.
Our group rode along the course and out of nowhere the broom wagon passed us. I was pulling at that time and the guy on the passenger seat gave me thumbs up.
I didn’t think that much about it until I realized that the girls behind me stopped pedaling. What’s wrong? Why did they stop pedaling? They were speaking in Dutch. I had to ask. 
One girl came up to me and said we were done. I thought she was joking and just tried to drop me. But then I asked someone else and it was the same answer. All of them were shocked too that we were pulled from the race. 
Apparently, although we were only a few minutes behind the front group, the refs were worried that we would be lapped by the leaders. I was so disappointed. I still had so much energy. If I had known that this would have happened I would have raced differently and wouldn’t have saved any energy. 
Later I learned that 90 racers were pulled. I wasn’t happy that it ended that way and I would take revenge the race the next day. 
I promised myself no matter what I will not save any bit of energy for some dropped group. I want to be in the main group and the broom wagon can sweep whatever it wants but not me! 
The 7-Dorpenomloop Aalburg race 24 hours later would test how serious I was.