Sportives don’t come much more gruelling than the Oetztaler Radmarathon. Read on to delve into what this challenge entails and Athlete Lab member, Miraj Makin’s experience.
Not many people have heard of or are crazy enough to enter the Oetztaler Radmarathon. Places are obtained via a heavily oversubscribed ballot mainly going to Germans, Austrians and Italians. Earlier this year I began my quest to cross the finish line. Training began in April – 150 hours, 4000km and 40,000m of elevation later I woke up in Sölden (Austria) “ready” to take on the 238km / 5500m challenge across the Austrian and Italian Alps.
This is an amateur sportive like no other (and this year a UCI pro race). To the Germans and Austrians it needs no introduction and is now in it’s 37th year. Through each town on the 238km route, crowds cheer every participant. At the finish line, a large crowd awaits the first to arrive and stays to celebrate the final finisher as if they had won. This is as close as an amateur rider can get to feeling like a pro.
The route covers four main climbs: Kühtai (18.5km / 1200m), Brenner (39km / 777m), Jaufenpass (15.5km / 1130m) and the mighty Timmelsjoch (28.7km / 1759m) with a time limit check point at each. There are additional checkpoints along the way – any rider not making the checkpoint in time must abandon and take the broom wagon back to the start. If overtaken by the end car, a rider may continue and attempt to overtake the car before the next checkpoint.
I started by making sure I was eating and drinking plenty along the way, maintaining a sustainable pace – not getting suckered in by the much stronger faster local Italian and Austrian riders. The start was downhill and felt like a sprint as many riders charged ahead at full speed. Once we hit the first climb to Kühtai, the 4000 strong peloton broke up into smaller groups.
We then descended and started our ascent of Brenner – I’d lost the others on the rapid descent and then caught them again on the climb. I hit the Brenner checkpoint with 30 minutes to spare so stopped to fuel up. At this point I had been turning the pedals for just over 5 hours!
Before I knew it the downhill section was gone and we were climbing the Jaufenpass. I reached the summit and realised that the checkpoint was about to close (I had been riding for nearly 8 hours now) – I looked behind and saw the safety car coming…I had to move fast. I quickly refilled my empty water bottles and shot through the checkpoint as the tape was pulled across. A fellow rider encouraged me to press on as he was subsequently swept up by the broom wagon. I had made it by 15 seconds or so. Now the race was on. It was a race to beat the broom wagon!
My legs felt fine – perhaps I had been too conservative. I started to descend towards the final climb. There were multiple checkpoints near the summit and another at the top. Suddenly I hear the roar of the BMW M2 safety car overtake me, however I didn’t want to push harder on the descent and risk a crash.
As I rode through St Leonard where the spectators had started to pack up, they realised I was still in the game and cheered me through, motivating me to catch back up to the safety car. At this point the road was filled with normal traffic but the cars made way for me as I was fortunate to have a police motorbike as a front escort. I caught the car and made the checkpoint but didn’t have anytime to stop for food or water. I was back in the game.
Tagging onto a group of riders at the back of the peloton, I asked them if they thought we could make the time limit. Some were wearing finisher jerseys from previous years, one had an Ironman tattoo on his calf. No one was positive. I crunched the numbers and believed we could do it. It is possible and we will finish. We made the checkpoint and then briefly stopped to refill water and drink what was on offer.
Only 20km of climbing left, I got through the last bits of food in my jersey pocket (donating one chia charge bar to a rider in serious need) but now had to survive on gels. Fast forward and the Timmelsjoch was conquered after a brief stop, 7.5km from the top.
There were no more checkpoints and the only way was downhill. I had made the checkpoint with 42 minutes to spare. I couldn’t feel my hands, the road is soaked and my feet were waterlogged. I descended cautiously knowing I’d made it. Surprisingly my legs felt ok.
Riding into Sölden was overwhelming. I’d done it and the feeling was magical. The crowd greeted me with a cheer that I thought only a victor would receive. I wasn’t last but I was close! My time was 12.54.05 and I had officially finished!
I owe a huge thanks to everyone who encouraged, rode with or sponsored me along the way.
Overall we managed to raise £845 for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital!