Saltzkamergut – a mythical word known by every biker. Since 1998, this event magnetises hundreds of bikers from all over the world. I have been engaged in mountain bike racing for 20 years and consider this race as an exceptional one, with its track and atmosphere radiating magic attraction.
Racers may choose from seven tracks, from the giant 211 km long Strecke A to the pro-family 22,1 km long one. The event includes an insane unicycle downhill as well as Junior Trophy, a race for kids. The racing weekend in Bad Goiserne also packed with accompanying events, such as talks, screenings and concerts, all among cheerful people, in lovely atmosphere.
Well, how was it in Bad Goiserne this year? For many years, I have been enjoying this adventure with my friends Laco and Miro, and our families. We want to come earlier, to spend some time in local mountains and have time to prepare for the toughest race in Europe. Not a single one of us is here for the first time, we all have a black T-shirt, the reward for those who manage to conquer Strecke A. On Monday, the area comes to life. The first duty of the riders on the longest track is a technical inspection of their bikes. Here I saw the first and only flaw at Saltzke. After long waiting for bike-check to open, the check was cancelled without further explanation. Another official part to come was registration which, luckily, was not cancelled. There we got numbers and start packages, looked at the expo zone and joined a pasta party, free for the participants.
For the rest of the day, we ate and drank at the camping site to gain the energy we would need for the following day.
Our Saturday starts at 3.30 AM. With length of 211 km and altitude difference of 7119 metres, Strecke A starts at 5.00 AM. That really is a reason to set the alarm clock for so early. We try to eat (with problems at that night time), to go to the bathroom, just because it is necessary before the race, we put on the rarely worn outfit, fill the back pockets with gel and, with the friends and still before the dawn, head for the starting line.
As every year, the start line is brimming with amazing atmosphere, for which I never hesitate to come again to this giant marathon race. The start zone is banked by hundreds of spectators, dramatic music is playing and the speaker, no matter whether understood or incomprehensible, cheers everybody up so that it seems this town might explode. Then it starts raining, nothing too serious, just a few drops. Even though, the option of 14 hours of cycling in rain unsettles my mind. Nearly 900-headed pack starts moving and there is no more space for rain in my mind, the instinct of a racer drives me ahead. The first half of the track is more difficult both up- and downhill. Wide long rises, gravel down-hills complemented with technical trails and crossing of rock rim over Bad Goisern. Passing through fascinating alpine valleys, the track is full of tunnels built in rocks and includes crossing of an old-time stairway. I can never get bored of this.
The first 90 km were not very easy, I don't feel okay. Well, after drinking a cup of Coke and eating a croissant with cheese at one of the refreshment points, the real biking begins. It also stops raining and the sun starts shining through dispersing clouds. It feels weird, but still, after 7 hours of pedalling I finally came round and went through no other critical stage till the finish line.
The second half of the track starts with a chill-out ride around lake Hallstatt, cool 30km on flat surface. And then? Saltzberg! A spine-chilling peak – wonderful, yet extremely tough biking. Just after Saltzberg we climb Rosalm, the highest peak of the track. This is a tough part. For everyone, dare say. And I'll buy a beer to anyone who claims the opposite. To me, Rosalm is a breaking point, here I already know I'll manage to successfully finish this ordeal. One more hill to go. This part takes just around 40 minutes, yet after all we've been through… But then, the fantastic atmosphere of the finishing stage. The spectators are lovely, they cheer us up and applaud, the commentator announces every black number. This year, I am extraordinarily happy. What an excellent finish! And not just me, my friends succeeded, too. That makes me even happier. At the camping site, we open a bottle of cool champagne. This is the after-party, short for me, because after only one cup I fall asleep in my seat. What's wrong? Just 13 hours and 22 minutes make me so exhausted? I may be getting older.
What to say to sum it up? Strecke A is a very specific track. Definitely not for everyone. You either don't understand it and never come back again, or you get enchanted and become its slave.
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