I'm going to be honest, this isn’t the sort of thing I wake up in the morning and think, I fancy cycling up a 21,4km Alpine climb in freezing conditions and feel pretty motivated about it.We woke up to a still, calm morning and everyone around the breakfast table seemed pretty nervous. The weather forecast for the day seemed grim, chilly to start with a hint of rain and then the higher we got the possibilities of snow as we got closer to the summit. So we threw down a few more espressos and thought what the hell there was no point in delaying the inevitable few hours of torture.
Okay I know I haven’t started off sounding very optimistic but we’ve just come from Italy a few days ago and the weather was utterly glorious. 35 degrees in the Tuscan sunshine and now we are facing this grey, chilly morning up an alpine monster. The great Edmund Hillary once said "It's not the mountain we conquer but ourselves", so I guess we’ll thrown down our 5th Espresso and hit the road.
The Grossglockner is the highest peak in Austria at 3798. Our journey takes us to 2504m the highest through road. The climb is 21.4km with an average of 8.3%. As we wound through the valley setting off from Kaprun on our 95 km route. At the foot of the climb there was certainly a sense of banter on the road. We were a group 10 cyclists winding each other up who’s gonna get to the top first and who’s gonna be the first to be at the bar. As we travelled closer to the bottom of the climb we got a clearer view. There was certainly a change in tone in the group.Thick fog covered this mythical mountain which gave a sense of mystique about it. We stopped threw on our Gillet and said our final goodbyes to everyone like we were about to go to war or on a space travel expedition.
The first few kilometres are quite refreshing allowing the legs to gently defrost and it allows your body to be energized before the gradient hits you. After a few kilometres the gradient kicks into double digits and the road starts to wind into the abyss of the black mountain. The road starts to fade into the distance and all you can see is a haze of white fog blocking your view to the road ahead. As we got through the first haze of fog we are greeted by the toll gate in the distance 5km. later. Cyclist are allowed free access into past the toll gates. Once you pass through the pearly gates, then you know it's every man for himself to the top.
The gearing most of us use, were either 36x28 or 34x25. Long gone are the days of trying to grind up a climb, pretending to be Jan Ullrich, churning 52x14 at 30rpm devouring the gradients.
I started this climb with 9 of my compadres and turned around to find just an empty road. The air gets thinner and the chill in the air thickens. All you can do is focus on your breathing, rhythm and pedalling. In the distance, pockets of views creep through the fog and you can see the waterfalls rushing down the jagged rocks as it wind its way down the mountain. The road side is covered in a white blanket of fresh white snow blessing the mountain earlier that morning.
As we near the summit, you hit the tunnel which offers scenic views to the left.You can hear your heavy breathing echoing as you inhale as much oxygen as possible.I can only describe the current situation as being in a pain cave.There’s no view of anyone or anything ahead of me.The fog has thickened with visibility no more than 10 meters.The temperature has dropped from 10 degrees to 2 degrees and all I can think of, is a nice warm bottle of tea.I believe they used to give it to the boys on the chilly stages of the Giro’d Italia. Now all I can think of, I wish domestique had. The gradient still hovering 8-9%, we hit 19.5miles on my Garmin. The road then kicks up to a mouthwatering 17.6%.
It then levels off back to a sensible percentages, but you still have the sting in the climb towards the end.The final 3km, the average softens to 7%.In the distance, is the iconic Hochtor tunnel. Its lit bright with these perfectly unformed stoned bricks which hypnotise you towards the light at the end of the tunnel.As you emerge from the tunnel, you are greeted by the most magical view.The fog has blown over and the majesty of the white mountains and distant lakes, seem so post card like.The next stop, was the Kaiser Franz Josef restaurant for hot chocolate, and everyones tales of the journey up White mountain.