One week before the European Championships I took part in a charity campaign for multiple sclerosis sufferers. The goal was to collect as many vertical meters and thus also money for the Nathalie-Todendöfer-Foundation within 12 hours. Actually not the best preparation for an important race one would think. But I got to know incredible people with touching life stories, who have an enormous will to live (and survive). Cycling means living for them. Since I was still the World Champion in the Masters class, I was at the start with my World Champion jersey and many MS sufferers told me that it is motivating for them to be allowed to ride with me. It was exactly these great people who deeply impressed me and gave me the necessary motivation for the European Championships. So I was determined to give my all for these personalities at the European Championships.
Optimized training, structured nutrition, highly motivated and tuned the bike, I travelled to Dießen am Ammersee with my support team one day before the race. It had rained for half a day and it was already certain that it would be a mud battle because the soil in the forest and on the meadows would probably not dry so quickly. For time and weather reasons, we refrained from a track inspection.
The alarm clock rang at 4am and it was just too early to get up. With small eyes, I tortured myself out of the bed. Breakfast, set bikes and off for the race.
When we got there, our pavilion was gone. The entire area was closed and not a single team was there. Sascha Straus, a befriended cyclist, came running towards me. “The area is closed. We took down your tent yesterday and put it back up there.” He pointed to our pavilion that was now located in the paddock but at a descent. Not perfect for catering during the race, but at least it was directly on the track. That is the beauty of us “extreme riders”. You help each other and it’s more about friendship than about rivalry. Unfortunately, this is far too rare in sport.
After the shock with the pavilion, there came immediately the next one. My girlfriend was furious because I had bought too little and the wrong drink and had much too little to eat. “You want to race a 12-hour race on carbonated mineral water? You only have three bars with you and there’s only a sip left in the iso bottle. That’s never enough. You’re gonna die like a raisin!” I knew she was right. But I had to counter somehow. “I brought homemade bars, five jelly babies and homemade gel. It’ll be all right.” Don’t panic was my motto. It was now 7:30 am, another 30 minutes until the start and the sun was already burning down from the sky. It promised to be a hot day and I really had to keep up with the few calories I had packed.
The starting shot was fired, 68 individual starters and a total of 99 teams whipped off. I tried to put a lot of pressure at the beginning because I knew that you couldn’t keep up the pace in the scorching midday sun. Especially if you didn’t have enough food like me. So I mingled with the teams of six and four. But right from the beginning they set a good pace and my pulse was above the 170 mark several times during the first lap. As expected it was still really wet in the forest sections and on the meadows. It took a lot of energy, but everybody had to go through it.
After three hours of racing and an average heart rate of 155, I had already gained a considerable lead. So I slowed down a bit because I knew that the heat would come. In the forest it was still reasonably pleasant, but in the transition area and in the team area, which were below the mountain, the air was stagnant. I called this place “Death Valley”. I was very happy that I didn’t ride the race with my world champion jersey. On the one hand, I was a bit embarrassed but on the other hand, I could fall back on all advantages of my cooling jersey from X-Bionic.
Meanwhile, the pulse levelled at 140 beats per minute and the lap times also became slower and slower. I received the information from another driver that a group of five had formed behind me, apparently working together. But it turned out that there was a good minute between my pursuers. So the race was really on and a gruelling race arose.
My very economical diet was now also a problem for me, but I knew that this was now a tactically decisive point of the race. I pushed the pace and put quickly anther 5 minutes advantage on my competitors. However, after eight hours of driving, not only my stomach felt empty, but also my legs. The dry, hot air and the thrifty diet made me feel more and more uncomfortable and I slowed down. Even though I slowed down, I still increased my lead. Everybody was suffering from the conditions.
The last few hours have been a crucial test for the head. The legs did their job, but the mind kept screaming “stop”. Though, encouragement from the reigning 24-hour world record holder Slim Gamh-Drid, helped a lot. The last two hours, I didn’t minimized the risk and slowed down. I talked to the marshals and my comrades on the track. I tried to give back what they gave me before. Encouragement. Even even gave my last gummy bear to a participant who apparently really needed it. Before the last lap I even had enough time to put on the world champion jersey for the finish.
The numbers to win the MTB 12-hour European Championships in the solo category: 264 kilometres with 4,600m elevation and 5,000 calories.