After over a year since any of the MarathonMTB team were overseas, Sam finally managed to fight through the red tape and escape to a European summer, and his first World Cup season.

Well it cost me an arm and a leg, and I’m sure a few premature grey hairs are on their way, but I made it to Europe for the Leogang, Austria World Cup. This is, in no small part, due to the generosity of the team sponsors, and the help from other Aussies. Now this piece certainly isn’t a race review, as there’s not a lot of excitement to dip into there yet, but hopefully I can give you an idea of what Europe is like at the moment, and what my training and life is looking like over here!

I arrived on the plane after 36hours of wearing a mask, into Zurich. I had been planning on meeting Piper Albrecht at his place in Höchst, Austria, but he was already in Leogang so I went straight there. As an Australian, and specifically Tasmanian, we don’t have a lot of experience with trains, transfers or busses. So to be honest, they freak the s**t out of me, especially when I have no idea where I am, or what the signs say. Thankfully some helpful Swiss booked me all the way through to where I was meeting Piper, wrote down the platforms I needed to go to, and even gave me some chocolate! After the first few successful transfers I was feeling more confident, and could finally do a little gym session on one of the longer portions. I had brought exercise bands with me (despite having to remove them from my carry on, as they are a risk for constraint…), and so the trip went pretty smoothly, and I met Piper just before Leogang, where we went to our accom and got settled in.

“30KG” checked luggage, plus carry on.

For those who haven’t been to Leogang, it is stunning. Situated in a valley with steep mountains on both sides and luscious European forest right up to the cliffs, it just makes you want to explore. However we were there for a world cup, so we stayed relatively focused, getting out on course, choosing lines, and making sure our bikes were running. Mine was having a few issues, namely Australian dry weather Aspens, in European mud… Thankfully both Maxxis distributors in Australia jumped to our help, and I had Forekasters equipped in no time.

Despite the course drying out considerably on race day, I think it was still the right decision for me, as my jetlag addled brain was having serious trouble staying upright on a lot of the course, and the Forekasters gave me some much needed confidence through those muddy sections.

My chosen race set-up and the Leogang mountains. minus saddle bag and 2nd bottle cage.
Photo: Piper Albrecht

I’ll skip through a lot of race day, as for me this was mostly a learning experience to see how a world cup operates, get those mistakes out of the way and blow those travel cobwebs out. I was supremely glad to have help from the KMC-Orbea team on the day, and it was great to have them cheering me on, and handing out bottles despite my average race. My race started well, and I moved into the top 30 early on (from 50th or so), but my legs were refusing to work as hard as my brain wanted, and before too long my brain didn’t want to work hard either, and so gradually I dropped back to 48th. Not a horrible start to the trip, but nothing special either, just a good fire in the belly to work harder for the next ones.

That same afternoon, Piper and I returned to what would be, home base in Höchst Austria. My budget is pretty small for this trip, so staying with Piper in an old farmhouse build in the late 1800’s for pennies is perfect. Despite having to maneuver through 130+ years of accumulated junk to get around in the house, Piper has set up a nice living area and cleared out a few rooms so after some tidying and a lot of unpacking I felt pretty settled. I’d told my coach in Tassie that I was keen to push through the early races in Europe, in preference of building form, and he really took that to heart with double days most days of the week. Austria was experiencing a heatwave, where most days were well in the mid 30s and my poor Tasmanian body was suffering! Luckily Austria also has the excellent water troughs that seem quite common in that area of Europe, so crisp water was in fine supply, as I found myself dumping shoes, gloves, helmets etc in them to keep myself cool. After rides Piper and I frequented the local swimming hole that was a few minutes away, working on tanlines and cooling off there, or in the airconditioned supermarket across the road. By the end of my first week in Austria I was feeling well acquainted with the valley, and the Swiss hills just across the border, as well as the front steps where I had been doing my gym sessions from the Tasmanian Institute of Sport. I was also very much ready for a rest day… Instead I had a race!

Where we are living in Austria

Piper and I ducked across the border to Switzerland for the HC (Hors Category) in Gränichen, where we caught up with some Kiwis, and Cam Wright the other U23 Aussie over here. Again I won’t dive into depth on the race details, as it was all over for me pretty quickly. I had a good start again, racing with the Elite, and moved up to the 30’s, but struggled to push myself hard and quickly found myself hurting at what would normally be an endurance pace. Already outside of any potential UCI points, and not proving anything with a 50th position I decided to listen to my body and pull the pin early. However this gave me the excellent opportunity to watch Ben Oliver (NZ) drive his way to a 9th place finish, as well as Anton Cooper ‘cruise?’ his way to the Elite win. It’s always great having the comradery of Aussies in Europe, but Kiwis come in a close second and it’s great watching them do so well. It’s made me very excited to watch Anton battle for his first world cup win in the coming world cups!

Trying to cool myself with my tongue out.
Photo: Ego Promotions

On the other Aussies over here: Bec Mcconnell had a superb race in Leogang, despite being a harsh critic of herself for her descending there, I can say with certainty that she was still descending well, and had an incredibly strong ride to finish 7th. She decided to take the weekend off in Gränichen, instead getting some training in before this weekend’s La Thuile race.

Dan Mcconnell raced in Leogang as well, finishing 28th, which might be nothing special for a rider of his caliber but was a step in the right direction. You could see the form lurking just below the surface, with some killer laps to begin with, before fading in the middle, and finally coming back strong to finish. Dan also took the weekend in Gränichen off after getting his Covid jab and recoving from the Leogang weekend, but will be in La Thuile with Bec. His form is looking like peaking in perfect time for Olympics!

Cam Wright suffered a bit in Leogang, being primarily a climbers course, but was pushing big numbers and finished just ahead of myself in 43rd. He also raced in Gränichen, backing up well with his best HC finish in 31st elite. He is taking this weekend off to train leading into Les Gets next week!

Piper Albrecht had a great start in Leogang moving from 77th, up the 50th, before fading back and finishing just ahead of his start number in 75th. He was another of the Aussie contingent in Gränichen, and finished 63rd after starting in second last position.

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