Tour durch Wien (TdW) is a Viennese cycling competition organised by bike courier and fellow Brit Barry Hooper, made up of various stages across and around the city. Now in its 4th year, it is enjoying a surge in popularity with over 50 registrants for both the full length and shorter “classic” variants.
With a full-time job, I decided to register for the “classic” variant, with stages of around 30-40km in distance. It’s a great opportunity to build up fitness quickly and practice bike handling skills.
Stage 1 – Rohrwald (34 km, 358m elevation)
A promising, relatively flat 34 km stage, with some light hills in the second half. Out of the 8 stages what make up the TdW, this Stage 1 and Stage 7 are flattest and therefore I decided to take the Speedmax.
The window in which I could complete Stage 1 opened on Wednesday at 6.30 am and would close on Saturday at 10 pm, however from Thursday on wet weather was promised (which doesn’t make for fast racing). Time trial being my forte, Wednesday it was.
Things went well, with a SSE wind carrying me along the first half by the Danube, cruising at over 40 km/h. I took pleasure in overtaking a number of roadies, and I suspect there may have been 2 or 3 participants on the way.
I had to get out of the aero bars and onto the base bars as the route turned into Korneuburg, which meant residential areas with side roads and parked cars. Traffic got a little busy, but racing in the TT position made cars overtake me with a wide berth.
In Bisamberg the route became hilly. My Di-2 gears worked a dream, however either my legs were still stiff from some wild climbing on the weekend – either that or the Speedmax wasn’t the best climbing machine despite the 36/30 lowest ratio. But then again, its designed to eat miles, not mountains.
The route presented me with a variety of broken tarmac, gravel, cobblestones and steep downhill section. I took the bad surfaces gingerly, but the Speedmax was surprisingly forgiving, especially with its disc brakes.
I got stuck in traffic and behind a police car over the last few kilometres, but made the most of the opportunity after it turned off with a sprint at the end.
On the first day, I ended up with first place and the course record, beating next competitor by 1 minute. He was on a road bike, so I suspect he had the advantage on the hills. No time to ease up!
Stage 2 – Rapid Wien (30.4 km, 699m elevation)
It’s a cloudy Sunday, the rain has finally stopped for a day. Off now to the southeast of the city, in Ottakring, where the route would wind into the hilly Wienerwald. Ottakring is not really familiar territory to me, so now I’m really relying on my computer to get out. From the start line, I already hear the cheers of crowds from the Rapid football stadium, and later on I hear other competitors struggled with police roadblocks due to crowd disruption.
Today I took my Cannondale CAAD13, a pure race bike, with 55mm carbon wheels, and tubeless tyres set at about 5 bar front and back for the uneven surfaces. I used the 52/36 semicompact chainring and 11-30 cassette for both speed and climbing.
Stupidly, I forgot to take a starting photo, so I tried to take a couple of selfies at race pace through a residential area. The road hooked left and right, eventually hitting a long steep ramp upwards which led onto a footpath between fields. My legs burnt and my breath rasped as I crawled past pedestrians, myself politely offering thanks as they stepped aside.
That’s the difficulty of racing against the clock. Your invisible competitor is right behind you, breathing down your neck, if not a few hundred metres in front of you. Keep pushing, but keep a little in reserve so you don’t blow up later.
The road goes up the Gallitzinberg, a nasty climb on a single track road passing through a forest. It has steep ramps, and the odd car races up or down without much concern for other road users. I was lucky, but was coughing up my lung at the top, pedaling through and onto the steep downhill hairpins that make the Kordonsiedlung. Unluckily I was stuck behind a huge SUV which cautiously crept along the road. I couldn’t afford to overtake and was losing speed, cursing all the way down.
I was back on familiar ground when I hit the Sophienalpe climb, which has become one of my favourite climbs in Vienna. It has an almost Alpine air, running along a small brook with a medium steep, winding slope. My computer showed me the Strava segment, including the KOM holder and next fastest rider, both racing on ahead of me. Nevertheless, I kept my head down, ignored the pain in my lower back muscles, and punched my way up.
At the top, I overtook another rider with a quick wave, and set off down the last few kilometres to the finish line. I raced past another rider and down the serpentines of the Exelberg, focussing on improving my descending. Chin down, brake with my upper body, corner with weight on the outer foot and pushing on the inside handlebar. My final sprint was interrupted by another SUV.
Still, a review of Strava afterwards surprised me, I second fastest on the course, 3 minutes behind last year’s winner, and lead of this year. I even got a personal best on the Sophienalpe. I was absolutely stunned.
Stage 3 – Kahlenberg Roubaix (28.4km, 556m elevation)
It’s the second stage of the day. A bit ambitious to race two stages in one day, but my work makes it a little difficult to race during the week. I rest for about 30 minutes between stages to give myself a fighting chance, thankfully the transition is about 5km away.
I felt surprisingly good, so took my selfie, started my computer and started along Krottenbachstraße before turning into a side road. The stage name is appropriate, as within a few kilometres I turned onto the cobbles of the infamous Höhenstraße. The route flirted between false flat and light uphill which made – in theory – for a good pace. We’re not talking Roubaix cobbles, but the road is in various stages of repair, and it was an exercise to find the smoothest route, whilst not falling into the large gaps or potholes in thoughtlessly laid asphalt patches.
My tyre choice here was a winner. 28mm tubeless tyres front and back, set a little lower than for normal races. Once I got into my rhythm, I felt like I was flying uphill, averaging about 20km/h. The time trial pressure kept me going, feeling like my closest competitor was right behind me and ready to attack on any weakness.
The road flattened a little near the Cobenzl hotel, but again I was stuck behind one of the very few slow cars on the Höhenstraße. Whilst cars normally like to flount the law and do anything between 70 to 100 km/h on the winding road, this local stubbornly stuck to 30km/h, whereas I could have done 40km/h unimpeded.
He finally pulled down a side road, and I made my way up the next ascent to the highest point at Kahlenberg. The route then went a short downhill to the Leopoldsberg, where it turned back on itself at the bus terminus. I then followed the same route all the way back, knowing that there was only a slight uphill left.
The cobbles were getting to me, my handlebars were buzzing and I noticed my fatigue, and I felt like I slowed to a crawl on some ramps. Nevertheless, I pushed where I could and slowly I recovered and was again back in form, overtaking a few roadies on the way. Were they TdW competitors? Who knew.
Finally the route turned onto the final downhill, all on asphalt and winding through beautiful forest. Cautious of the parked cars and the odd hiker, I tucked in and tried to keep up my speed, and thankfully there wasn’t an SUV in sight. I crossed the line and the magical letters “KOM” popped up on my computer. Epic. Let’s see how long that lasts.
Stages 4 to 8
I had hoped to write a different blog post, with exciting details of the next 5 stages. These included longer rolling races through the forests of the Wienerwald, another cobbled race up the Höhenstraße, a time trial through the Prater park and the Donauinsel, and a night race around the city.
Unfortunately real life got in the way.
Stages 4 and 5 were impossible because I had a conference the same week (which resulted in a rather nice blog post) and then I fell ill over the weekend.
The next week I hoped to complete stages 6, 7 and 8 (night stage), and rely on my good performance on the first three. Monday was a public holiday and I was feeling better, so I decided to tackle the longer stage 6. After all, the other two stages could be combined with my work schedule, and getting to the start line of stage 6 would be a faff as it was in the south of the city.
On Monday, I took the train to Meidling but then had to ride a bit to get to the start line in Liesing. The weather was fantastic so I was really looking forward to a good ride. Things went well at the beginning, however things changed about 15 minutes into the race.
I was on a narrow bike path when I hit a junction with three options – continue along the path through a tunnel, turn off the path onto a road, or turn off the path onto another road. My GPS map didn’t clearly show the right path, so I continued into the tunnel. The bike path in front of me appeared to go in a different direction from the map, so I quickly turned around and went up the path.
My GPS suddenly flashed the message “off segment”, which meant that the Strava route I needed to follow to complete the stage had been interrupted. Game over. I had no time to get back to the start line and restart, as I promised Mrs MT that we would have a late lunch together. With a heavy heart I gave up and rode home slowly, enjoying the weather.
I still wanted to do the TdW time trial and night stage, however work was particularly tough that week and I simply couldn’t make the stage deadlines.
I tried hard to finish the Tour durch Wien, however sadly work and sickness got in the way. I finished only 3 of 8 stages.
But there’s still good news! Despite this lackluster effort, my performance on the first three stages (1st, 1st, 2nd) put me in a great position for the overall placement. I made 4th place overall!
It’s a strange feeling – on one hand, TdW wasn’t a priority race for me, so I didn’t put too much effort into placing well. It was more an exercise in bike handling and pacing, and I finally got to ride my Speedmax under race conditions! On the other hand, I did feel disappointed that I couldn’t compete properly and fully enjoy the experience.
Training and racing in the real world is tough, but after all someone still has to pay the bills. Whilst this blog post may be a bit of an anticlimax, I hope it goes to show that failure is an option, and that amateur racers will always need to make compromises.
In short: do what you can with what you have, and make sure you have fun!
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