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26-06-2024 | Michelle Zacht

Bike Festival Willingen: drop it like it's hot!

BIKE Festival Willingen is one of the largest mountain bike events in Germany, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It attracts participants of all ages with its wide range of off-road disciplines and a sprawling outdoor trade fair showcasing the latest trends and products. For cycling enthusiasts, it has become a cherished tradition.

Participants at the start of the BIKE Festival Willingen

My partner Axel and I took part in the marathon event held in Hochsauerland. The day unfolded with unexpected twists, starting Saturday morning under clear skies alongside 600 fellow riders at the base of Bikepark Willingen. Axel opted for the challenging 119-kilometer route with over 3,600 meters of elevation gain, while I opted for the 88-kilometer route, offering 2,700 meters of elevation—a perfect adventure for me.

Starting with equipment failure

As the starting gun sounded, I attempted to lower my dropper post, only to discover it was malfunctioning—it refused to lock when I sat and stubbornly rose when I stood, opposite to its intended function...

The marathon began with an immediate climb, and my saddle dropped unexpectedly with gravity, causing me to sit lower each time by 10 centimeters. Every few seconds, I had to stand to readjust the saddle. I feared my ride might end prematurely but clung to the hope, albeit misguided in hindsight, that someone along the route could assist with this issue. With this thought and the realization of being hours away from home, I persevered.

Participants at BIKE Festival Willingen

Muddy course of three loops

Following the initial ascent, the course became a slippery challenge among predominantly running participants, turning technical due to the extensive mud. Recent heavy rainfall had certainly taken its toll on the track. Despite these conditions, I found a rhythm, adopting a makeshift approach on climbs that helped me gain ground on other participants. The slick descents, despite their muddy state, brought an unexpected element of enjoyment!

After completing a 53 km loop, which was the shortest route, we returned to the festival grounds. At this point, the temptation to head straight for the finish line was strong—my legs were sore, and my back was protesting due to the awkward position. Despite this, I embarked on the second loop, encountering even more dirt trails and singletracks, which meant even more mud. I cursed more during this marathon than ever before, but my smile at the finish line was especially wide upon learning I had secured third place in my category.

Podium at BIKE Festival Willingen

No mud, no glory!

Checking the live timing, I saw Axel had begun the third loop. Despite not favoring this marathon course typically, he crossed the finish line impressively, securing a strong second place in his category. The muddy conditions added an extra layer of challenge and enjoyment to what is normally a well-organized German marathon featuring mostly wide gravel paths and relatively few singletracks.

After a makeshift refreshment, we parked at the festival grounds, where a grand stage ceremony was underway. We left our bikes at our favorite bike brand's booth, where they received a complimentary cleaning—a fantastic service! The atmosphere was quintessentially German: a relaxed post-event glow at the festival grounds with "bier und bratwurst" served at communal tables buzzing with great stories. The prize money we won was promptly spent on a round of drinks with our fellow cycling friends present. Cheers!

The BIKE Festival for a whole weekend of entertainment

Staying an extra night to explore the expo and enjoy the full program at this venue is highly recommended. During the same weekend, the German Enduro Championships will be held, alongside events like the Junior Trophy, Kids Cup, gravel race, E-bike challenge, and Downhill Cup, catering to diverse age groups and interests. There's also a Kids Area featuring a pumptrack and specially designed courses to engage even the youngest visitors. Major brands offer test models for direct trials around the grounds and Bikepark. Additionally, abundant hospitality options and a Saturday night party with a DJ add to the festival's vibrant atmosphere.

Kids Area at BIKE Festival Willingen

With a registration fee close to 90 euros per person and our two-night stay, it was a somewhat pricey but incredibly rewarding weekend getaway. While the marathon itself may not be exceptional, the event excels in creating a fantastic atmosphere and ensuring excellent organization, making it a must-attend on the calendar! The same organizers are also behind the renowned BIKE TransAlp and BIKE Festival Leogang.

For the results of the May 25, 2024 marathon, click here.

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