MountainZone.combike transalp challenge

The 2002 Trans Alp Challenge
8-Day Stage Race Across Alps
July 2002 — Mittenwald, Germany
Preview  Intro  Stages: [1]  [2]  [3]  [4]  [5]  [6]  [7]  [8]  [Wrap]

Editor's Note: Brett Wolfe, who lost his leg in a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1990 was again nearly killed in 1997 when he was hit head-on during a race by a Jeep, this year became the first one-legged rider to complete the brutal 300-mile with 24,000 feet of elevation gain La Ruta de los Conquistadores, a race in which 30% of racers dropped out.

Trans Alp
Brett at Trans Alp
The adidas Trans Alp challenge is 569 kilometers (360 miles) with 19,708 meters (60,000 feet) of vertical, raced in eight days across Germany and Austria, with a brief interlude in Switzerland, and then into Northern Italy.

At times it felt surreal: whipping through old villas at 30 to 40 kilometers per hour (kph) with people cheering, maneuvering agilely down narrow streets, racing down orchard road/bike paths dodging tractors, reaching speeds of 40 to 70kph on a Formula One-style bike path, hammering down ancient cobbled roads so rough my vision blurred, negotiating the rocky alpine terrain both up and down... And these scenarios are all contrasted by riding the groomed trails suspended high above the valley floors while traversing around a mountains, trails so littered with roots and rocks they would make any Northwestern technical trail rider giddy with pleasure.

"Riding with only one leg makes relaxing and recovering while climbing more difficult though not impossible...."

Each stage route is meticulously planned in order to give racers the most incredible journeys through the countrysides. The geology is unique, with outcrops of chiseled rock mountaintops surrounded by lush forests. The landscape was like nothing I had ever seen. As an American used to riding on American soil, I rode through a montage of images so unfamiliar they almost seem impossible to process.

Each day we would climb a mountain, or two, amidst scenery impossible to capture in still pictures. The smells changed constantly depending on our altitude and surroundings — farms, flowers, foliage, trees, the lichen of the high alpine, stale snow, wet rock, impending rain, orchards, lakes, and small villas bustling with life.

And considering the vertical climbed and distance covered it became a tour de force that required me to constantly monitor my body. Because we rode everyday and there were no rest days, we could only recover on the bike. Even days after the finish, my brain is still numb from the steep climbs that seemed to reach to the sky only to then crest in the alpine passes, mountain passes that positioned us at eye level with even more jagged peaks of rock.

The grade of the climbs was so steep that I spent an average of two to three hours in "threshold," a state of effort (that burning feeling) in which we're are unable to process lactic acid properly. This process became part of our daily routine. Riding with only one leg makes relaxing and recovering while climbing more difficult though not impossible. Sometimes recovery came by shamelessly zipping through the alpine meadows with the wild flowers in full bloom only to pick up speed on a blurring descent to the valley floor, though reaching bottom only meant we were on our way to the next mountain ascent on the way to a stage finish.

The competition was very strong and after the first day I fully expected my partner Kurt and I to place dead last. In Europe they take their cycling seriously and the racers at the Trans Alp Challenge were extremely fit people.

I wish I could regurgitate the course verbatim, but I'm having a hard time remembering the details of the course. My support crew informed me that I wasn't the only racer who had trouble remembering what town were we in, and even what country. By day four, only the midway point, I was so overloaded with information that it felt like coming out of hibernation in the wilderness and going straight into the city. Hoping for clarity, I took notes after each stage but they only shed a dim light on what we raced through.

I'll try to hit the highlights but there is so much more...

Brett Wolfe, Correspondent