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14-08-2023 | Edwin Roetman

BIKE Transalp 2023: an unforgettable experience

Embarking on a journey of nearly 500 kilometers and conquering over 17,000 meters of elevation in just seven days of mountain biking through the captivating Alps feels surreal. Partnered with Pieter, who triumphed through this very challenge last year, I find myself pinching to reality... a daunting yet exhilarating endeavor that faith assures me I can conquer.

Riders at the starting line.
Photo: Riders poised at the start. © Sportograf

My endurance has been honed through extensive rides, including an incredible cycling week in Slovenia. Pieter and I, a harmonious team forged during an extensive spring MTB ride, are primed for this challenge. While Pieter had originally partnered for the BIKE Transalp, a twist of fate led him to invite me as his new companion. It was an easy decision, considering the legendary nature of this Alpine stage race. With its breathtaking locales and meticulous arrangements, the opportunity was too alluring to pass up.

And what an experience it turned out to be. Scenic routes, enchanting destinations, thrilling descents, and impeccable support throughout the stages painted a tapestry of unforgettable memories.

Indeed, it was a remarkable experience.

Organization, accommodation, and support

The 25th edition of the renowned Maxxis BIKE Transalp showcased the organizational prowess derived from years of expertise. Registration was seamless, reception impeccable, luggage transfer effortless, and route details generously shared through their dedicated YouTube channel. Each town provided secure bike parking, catering to all participants' needs. We opted for the TranaCAMP package, entailing shared accommodations with about a hundred fellow participants in sports halls or schools at each starting and finishing location. This arrangement included hearty breakfasts and, in some instances, transport between the Camp and start/finish points. While hall accommodations differed from plush hotel rooms, the camaraderie and budget-friendly approach outweighed any limitations. The evenings were often crowned with satisfying recovery food and pasta buffets, followed by delightful ice cream indulgences.

Riders at the bike park.
Photo: Riders enjoying the bike park. © Edwin Roetman

Embarking on the Austrian leg

The 25th edition kicked off in Nauders (Austria) and, as tradition dictates, culminated in Riva del Garda (Italy). After an early departure from the Netherlands, we arrived in Nauders by afternoon. The process involved check-in, retrieving our gear and day bags, securing the bike with the handlebar plate, and parking the car outside the village. The car would remain there until the bus transported us back from Riva at the end of the week.

We strolled through the village, shared a delightful meal with fellow participants, inflated our airbeds at the Camp, and retired early in anticipation of the coming day. Nerves kept me awake for a while, but eventually, the excitement lulled me to sleep.

Stage 1: Nauders - Reschensee (51 km, 2,200m+)

'Start steady, conserve energy, it's a marathon, not a sprint.' This mantra guided our initial ascent in favorable cycling weather. While I partially adhered to this strategy, the day revealed mixed results. As the stage unfolded, I found myself overtaking more riders than those passing me, witnessing fellow participants struggle with uphill pedaling and grappling with cramps. This was just the beginning, a challenging entry into the journey, despite the manageable distance. The stage showcased captivating bike park trails, including the technical Haidertrail, which posed a unique challenge. A series of similarly technical trails lay ahead during the week, a novel addition per feedback from fellow participants.

Riders tackling a challenging section.
Photo: Overcoming a demanding section. © Sportograf

Not everyone found these trails tailor-fit for BIKE Transalp. This inclusion of enduro-style trails mirrors the evolving landscape of mountain biking. Admittedly, some sections tested my technical skills and courage, prompting brief walking intervals.

Stage 2: Rechensee - Livigno (96 km, 3,000m+)

Day 2 treated us to a comparatively leisurely ride. While the stage included ample climbs offering panoramic vistas, not all descents proved equally enthralling. The trail through Val Mora emerged as the week's highlight, compensating for any shortcomings.

Thrilling descents.
Photo: Exhilarating downhill stretches. © Sportograf

All in all, the day posed its challenges. Upon reaching Lake Livigno, an additional circuit awaited us, featuring a rewarding downhill stretch. Yet, this triumph was preceded by a climb with steep gradients, exceeding 10%, adding a layer of difficulty to our well-earned descent. As I crossed the finish line, a blend of euphoria and contentment washed over me, erasing all earlier struggles.

Stage 3: Livigno - Bormio (65 km, 2,200m+)

The moniker 'Beauty and the Beast' aptly describes this stage. The 'beauty' resided in the descents, while the 'beast' unveiled itself through the relentless uphill battle. From the onset, we confronted steep slopes near Livigno, requiring prolonged hiking stretches due to gradients exceeding 20%. The day continued with sections posing similar challenges, necessitating extended periods of on-foot cycling (schieben). Interestingly, this elevation-induced hiking was relatively new to many participants, diverging from previous years. The beauty, contrastingly, emanated from the thrilling downhill stretches. Notably, Livigno hosted a bike park descent, Passo del Foscagno showcased a trail descent, and a forest trail led us to Bormio—a gratifying feast for the senses.

Challenging uphill sections.
Photo: Scaling demanding ascents. © Edwin Roetman

Stage 4: Bormio - Malè (100 km, 3,200m+)

The night preceding the queen stage, storm clouds gathered. Morning dawned relatively dry, but the forecast promised rain around the earlier-than-usual 8:00 am start. Sadly, the forecast proved true, unleashing a fierce storm and an uncertain outlook for the next hours. Kudos to the swift organizational adaptation; the stage was promptly canceled, and we were directed to the bike park. A brief cycle led us to the park, though rain left everyone drenched upon arrival. The organizers swiftly arranged buses, trading cycling hours for bus hours. While the Gavia ascent remained unrealized, warmth, dryness, and safety prevailed, mitigating disappointment. Witnessing the weather clear later was bittersweet, but the organization's nimble response was commendable.

Breathtaking views.
Photo: Captivating panoramic vistas. © Sportograf

Stage 5: Malè - Valle Del Chiese (71 km, 2,500m+)

Stage commencement blessed us with favorable weather, offering an enjoyable ride. A prolonged ascent, attracting the tenacious few attempting to pedal uphill, was balanced by exhilarating descents. Sadly, the final hour unfolded amidst thunderstorms and torrential rain, adding a heroic dimension to the journey. The concluding descents, including a motocross track traverse, posed an exciting yet tricky climax.

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Well-equipped rest stations.
Photo: Nourishing rest stations. © Edwin Roetman

Stage 6: Valle Del Chiese - Valle Di Ledro (64 km, 2,500m+)

Day 6 bestowed a second highlight upon us: the Passo di Tremalzo! En route, we tackled numerous ascents, often walking in instances of uncertainty. Gradually, fatigue set in as the week progressed, humbling our strength. The final ascent to Tremalzo was demanding yet gratifying, the asphalt giving way to an unpaved path. Reaching the summit near the tunnel was awe-inspiring, prompting goosebumps and numerous photo stops. A crowning moment in my cycling journey!

Passo di Tremalzo.
Photograph: Enthralled by Passo di Tremalzo. © Edwin Roetman

Passo di Tremalzo.
Photo: Reveling in Passo di Tremalzo. © Sportograf

Stage 7: Valle Di Ledro - Riva Del Garda (46 km, 1,700m+)

The final stage, comparatively shorter and lighter-rated, wasn't short on challenges. The scorching heat and steep climbs pushed our limits. However, the exhilarating trails leading to Riva showcased the beauty of the journey, occasionally nudging my comfort zone. We concluded the stage, overwhelmed with satisfaction, receiving accolades, medals, and finisher's shirts. Celebratory beers followed by a refreshing dip in Lake Garda perfectly capped this remarkable experience!

Crossing the finish line.
Photo: The triumphant finish! © Edwin Roetman

While some approach BIKE Transalp as a race, our goal was to complete the journey unscathed, savoring every moment. We succeeded, proudly wearing our finisher's shirts as tokens of triumph. Memories of scenic vistas and challenging trails will accompany us on future rides, a testament to the allure of this event. For those contemplating participation, my message is clear: if your physical prowess allows, don't hesitate—enroll in 2024, and perhaps our paths will cross once again!

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