For many ambitious racing cyclists, the ARLBERG Giro is a fixed date in their racing calendars for the Alpine region. What athletes like about the race is more than the fascinating landscape – it’s the thrill of pushing their personal limits.
It’s close to 6 am in St. Anton am Arlberg. The mountains are still hiding in the darkness, but the town is already bustling with activity – in just a few minutes we will hear the starting shot of the ARLBERG Giro.
You can feel the excitement in the air. The cyclists are trying to focus on the upcoming challenge, checking their tyres one last time. A couple behind the starting line shares a brief kiss before the race begins.
A considerable number of women participate in the race: Esther van Veen, for example, who cycles for the women’s elite team in the Netherlands. She takes part in the ARLBERG Giro for the first time and looks forward to the route and the stunning landscape. It’s great to get carried away by the energetic atmosphere and the passion of participating athletes.
Time for a timeout
The last few bikes are brought to the starting area. We hear the clicking of gears. Then there is the starting shot of the first of four relays: The 148 km long scenic route goes up to the Arlberg Pass at an elevation of 1804 metres, then leads through the beautiful Montafon valley, before it ascends to the Bielerhöhe Pass at 2032 metres with a view over the Silvretta reservoir. It continues through the Paznaun valley, Ischgl and Pians, which used to be a Roman village, and finally goes back to St. Anton am Arlberg.
“You need to know yourself well to choose the right relay,” says Lukas Salzer from Lower Austria, who already knows the route. His personal goal is to make it to the finish line.
What poses a challenge to many participants is the “cold start”: “You get on your bike and go one kilometre through town before the first ascent starts – that’s intense,” says Jaroslaw Kardasch from Silesia. The amateur cyclist and professional photographer is taking part in the ARLBERG Giro for the fourth time. “The length of the track is ideal, because it gives you time to enjoy the scenery, and the elevation is not too high - that’s a big issue for a lowlander like myself,” he smiles. “It takes me about 40 kilometres before I really pick up my pace.”
To him, the most difficult part of the ARLBERG Giro is getting up at 4 am. However, his passion for cycling is stronger than anything: “When I don’t get to cycle for more than three days, I get this urge and need to get on the bike for at least 60 kilometres.“ Of course cycling is a very time-consuming hobby – it takes a lot of enthusiasm and persistence to go through those long training hours.
“Just do it and enjoy“
But what’s the real challenge behind a race like the ARLBERG Giro? “Well, going uphill, endurance is key, because you have to get your own body weight up there.“ Going downhill, the right technique comes into play. And the right fear management. “You need to let go and stop thinking that you might not get that next curve, or you will fall. You need to just do it and enjoy,“ Jaroslaw Kardasch says.
His personal goal for this race is to finish 12 minutes faster than last time: “You always need to set yourself a new goal, because without goals, life is boring.“ Spending all that time with sports and pushing your own limits might also open up new perspectives in life. Jaroslaw Kardasch, for example, learned to cut out things that cost him time and energy he needs for for his sport – like watching TV. What he likes best about cycling is that it gives him a chance to take a timeout: “In the first hour you can really de-stress and think about your problems. After that, you won’t have any problems.” And for that, the mountains surrounding St. Anton am Arlberg seem to offer the perfect scenery.
Text: Sandra Pfeifer
Photos: David Payr // friendship.is
Dec. 9, 2016