A trip to the mountains is music to the ears of any cycling enthusiast who doesn't weigh too much. Being small and light, this was right up my alley. I had been in Austria recently, but that was in the somewhat flatter north. This time the destination was Tyrol, which is in the middle of the Alps.
After an overnight trip by train, I arrive in Innsbruck on Thursday morning. Here I pick up my rental bike, a Giant TCR Advanced. With the gears on this bike, the steep walls of the Haimingerberg should be no problem. Half an hour later I arrive in Imst, the starting and finishing place of the Imster Radmarathon. Imst turns out to be a real town: in fact, with 10,000 inhabitants and 130,000 visitors a year, it is one of the largest towns in the Tyrol.
At the hotel I meet my CycloWorld colleague Erik. Together we explore the city before meeting Michael (the press officer of the tourism department) and our guide Martin for the next few days at 7 p.m. in the restaurant. They tells us that the city of Imst is fully committed to cycling tourism. Much to our liking, obviously.
The very next morning we receive an alarming message from Martin: due to heavy rain there has been a mudslide on the Haimingerberg and the long route of the Radmarathon has been cancelled. Erik and I had both signed up for the long route. This gran fondo has 110 km and 2,300 meters of elevation, culminating in the Haimingerberg, a tough 9.5-kilometer climb with an average gradient of 10.5%. Fortunately, there are still plenty of mountains in the area, so designing an alternative route for future years should be a possibility.
Thursday we are going to see some nice places. We bike with Martin much of the route for Sunday and go as far as the Fernsteinsee. This is a nice little lake on a plateau. Then he suggests we go to a brewery for a visit and a drink. As a true Belgian, I am of course totally up for this. Small issue: to reach the brewery, we have to climb up a goat trail with an average of 17 percent! The climb is only 400 meters but the summit should not have been one meter further. We plop down on the terrace of Starkenberg brewery and enjoy a beer. We ride another loop around the mountain and then head back to Imst. The hotel where we are staying, Stadthotel Eggerbraü comes highly recommended. A nice family hotel with friendly staff and, not unimportantly, a bike garage. They are clearly well set up for bicycle tourism here.
The next day we get an early message from Martin that it is going to rain all day. We decide to go to Area 47, an outdoor/indoor park where there is something for everyone to do. Mountain biking, BMX'ing, wall climbing, bouldering, rafting, canyoning, the choices are endless. We decide to test out the brand new indoor MTB bomb track (only open for two weeks). I had never really done anything with mountain bikes before, and I have to say: this tastes like more! After an hour of riding, I am wet with sweat. Not so much from the hard effort, as from the super concentration you have to have with every move you make.
We get up in time for an early breakfast. The dining room is already well filled with fellow riders and the outside temperature feels good. Now the question remains whether Sunday will live up to its name. The weather forecast says it will stay dry until 1 p.m., so I take my chances and don't bring rain gear. My warming up is done on first kilometers of the climbs down the road. In total, we're riding 88 km and 1400 meters of elevation today. Not easy but not overly heavy either. I am really looking forward to it. At the start I see that I am the only one with a short outfit and no rainwear. Let's hope this goes well...
The first two hills I'm flying. I start about around the six-hundred spot and on the climbs I catch up to many groups. There are always a few riders trying to follow and I get to the top with a group of fifteen. After a 10-kilometer descent, we enter the valley and can work together nicely. But then all hell breaks loose: a twenty-minute freezing hailstorm. Enough to soak me completely and leave me riding the next 40 kilometers in a hypothermic state. Not to mention my feet turned into blocks of ice. I have to let go of group after group. At 25 kilometers from the finish we come to the last long climb. By now I have warmed up a bit and regain my good pace. On the descent I am startled by a crash in front of me. After a small stop I descend further and after 2 hours and 55 minutes I arrive in Imst. My choice of clothing really did kill me. But that's another life lesson for next time.
After a nice plate of pasta, I headed to the awards ceremony and presentations. This trip has been excellent for me. The food is delicious, the people are friendly and the travel distance is manageable. So Imst, I do not say goodbye to you, but goodbye my friend.