„What’s your goal for this race?“ asked our supporter one week before the race. As a team of four we had different answers but more or less we were saying: we are there to have fun. Each one of us had his seasonal goals a few weeks ago or in short reach. But I remember that Barbara was giving a different answer, let’s say something like „If there is a chance to take, we will take it.“ This sentence is a summary of what happened during the 34 hours we were out to ride the Tortour as a team of four.
The Tortour is well known and established as a cycling ultra race here in Switzerland. The name is a play on words mixing „tour“ and „torture“. It’s a tour because the course consists of 17 stages leading the riders around Switzerland and it’s a torture because of the 1’000km and the total ascend of 12’000 meters. There are teams of 6, of 4, of 2 and single athletes. Yes, single athletes.
We had a mixed team of 4, supported by 4 supporters in two cars. One car was navigating and supporting the active rider and the bus was driving the other 3 riders from checkpoint to checkpoint. Here is an inside view of the bus.
And here is a picture our team „Sleepless“.
From left to right: Hansjörg Aebersold (Supporter), Frank Panknin (Rider B), Martin Jung (Supporter), Eliane Jung (Rider A), Patrik Wolf (Supporter), Barbara Schwarz (Rider C), Marc Sax (Supporter), Patrick Utz (Rider D)
A nervous cough (1km and Position #7)
The race already started the day before with a speedy, steep and short course of a bit more than 1 kilometer. The deal was: The faster the average time of all team members, the more time credit we got. Our result was disillusioning: rank 7 out of 9 and 3 athletes with a nervous cough and cardiac fibrillation. After a rollout, serious food, some self-made technical hassle with our communication system and the gps we had a very very short sleep.
02:39 Friday Night (Started #7, Ended #3)
Catching the girls (49km flat)
What a surprise, the night was dry and lukewarm. We had to drive over to the starting area to take off at 2:39 in the morning. As we were allowed in this stage to draft we tried to do it like the pros. Everything went well but I realized immediately that we are going to leave our comfort zone. And that our two girls were tougher than expected: Pain in sight! Deducting the bonus time from the prologue, we were the fastest team in this stage. The time for the 49km was a solid 1 hour and 21 minutes. The fastest team of 6 made it in 1 hour and 17 minutes net. Not bad for a start. Rank 3 at this point of time.
04:00 Friday Morning (#3)
Leaving the comfort zone (63km/+100m)
Eliane was passing the checkpoint without a stop. As rider A she had a double stage. In here bottle cage was a gps sender which was communicating with the tortour system. With this technology each team was traceable on the Tractalis iphone app. And each team could track the other ones. This was the spark firing us to our success. In the beginning we didn’t wanted to follow the app because it was putting pressure on ourselves and the rider outside. I guess it took us something like 90 minutes till we started to discuss about permance, position and chances. It started raining. Eliane did well but I it was harder than expected. For all of us.
05:53 Friday Morning (#2)
Starting the chase without communication (70km/+320m)
It was now up to Frank to ride into the sunrise on long and slightly uphill section with headwind. Tractalis told us that Frank was riding head-to-head with one of the riders from a competitor team. Unfortunately our communication system broke down and we lost some time to try to fix it. Without success. From then on we were fully dependent on our supporters in the follower car. They had a gps system, but unfortunately the ipad based software was much slower than a normal gps was and they got the direction often (too) late. Frank did well but we lost time with our electronics. We were falling back to 4th out of 9.
08:01 Friday Morning (#4)
Climbing strong (49km/+1400m)
I have to admit that our strongest weapon was our female department. Eliane was so strong in the flat and in light uphill section. And then there was Barbara which I didn’t know well at this point. Knowing her achievements and following here in the first team stage it was clear that she might push us with her performance. Our smallest and lights athlete had to climb up 1400m over a distance of 25km and a total stage distance of 49km. Still fourth place in the group but side by side with number 3 and 2.
10:11 Friday Morning (#4)
Climbing slow, flying fast (43km/+1000m)
As a weak climber I was suffering here in this 13K wall. Badly. My legs were still a bit stiff from our morning ride and I had to step directly into that climb of 13km and 1000m of ascend. Our supporters were driving along the course. It was a bit like in a ZZTop video, when our tough guys were passing by to stand in front of the car after the next to give me the motivation I needed. Turn by turn, up to the top. And that was the point when it all changed: downhill. The average speed down from Albula was 55km/h and the top speed reached 80km/h. I was able to push hard and the hold the position we had. I’ve never smoked burnt rubber from my breaks before.
12:00 Friday High Noon (#3)
The long ride (91km/+1140m)
This was definitely the suffer stage for Eliane. We all knew that she can play her strength after crossing the highest point. It was the longest single ride in this tour. The supporter team was doing hard to guide her and almost lost her in the end in the early evening traffic of Chur. But all did well and Eliane did excellent. She was able to hold the position. The leading team in the group was 40 minutes ahead, which was at our race pace an equivalent of 20km. But all the others were in reach. We all switched to race mode.
15:22 Friday Mid Afternoon (#3)
Racing head-to-head (63km/+1510m)
The pressure on Frank was high now and the upcoming course was one of the toughest. A constant up over a distance of 63km with a high potential for headwind. We were still third but lost a bit. But in this race you can’t compare your performance stage by stage. As we were mixed teams the performance of the individual athletes varied and you always have to compare your team performance. The overall race time and distance was the only reliable benchmark we had. The gap to the second team now was only 2 minutes or approximately 1km.
17:39 Friday Early Evening (#3)
She came up with a smile (52km/+1900m)
When we crossed the finish line at the end of the tour, the moderator wanted to know, who of our team was riding the hardest stage. Barbara. She was our rider C and responsible for the tough stuff. There are so many stories I could tell you about Barbara but to make it simple: Barbara is racing faster than most of the big boys and for sure harder. Her races normally are ending on the podium. She was something like our super weapon to reduce the gap between us and the teams in front of us. And she did it again without a twitch. Also this time, the stage was about 1900m of ascent over two passes and ending in grueling weather. In Andermatt we made a guiding mistake and Barbara had to ride an extra distance of 2.4km (4 minutes). But hey! Ffrom now on we were second!
20:12 Snowy Friday Evening (#2)
Riding the waterfall (61km/+264m)
My answer to Barbaras strong uphill climb was the downhill ride from Furkapass to Brig which I had to ride at 0°C in something between rain and snow. To be honest, I was very nervous as I had to defend the second position. It was my intention to ride it fast and hard. Which I always do – downhill 😉 But I never did it under these circumstances. It turned to the good with a top speed of 85km/h (200m of sight) and an overall 54km/h for the first descent. In the flatter second part I was unpacking all I had. It took me a bit more than 90 minutes for the 61km. Happy and empty. But bad news at the check point: our bus was stucked in the traffic 😦 We never got a credit for waiting down there, but they disqualified the team that blocked all the other riders and drivers.
21:45 Early Friday Night (#2)
Warm but windy (53km/+221m)
Some of the best fruits and wines are coming from the Wallis, a very long valley in the south of Switzerland. Down from the cold and wet 2400m of the Furka to the dry and warm 700m in Brig: it felt like summer again. Eliane was out and it was her type of stage. She is a typical triathlete: once she’s down in the aero position, she’s able to push very hard and strong. At this point it was clear: we had the two strongest girls in our category. Eliane was cutting her way through strong headwinds towards the end of the valley.
23:35 Short before Friday Midnight (#2)
Hard to follow (58km/+203m)
58km later at the airport of Sion it was up to Frank and Barbara to work together. They had to ride the stage together and were allowed to draft. Guess who was in front? And unfortunately Frank is a bit bigger than Barbara. I guess he wasn’t able to profit from that shadow at all. He told me later that this stage was a torture. 😉 Guys, instead of paying a fortune for a domina, go out for a ride with Barbara. You will suffer as much as Frank who ended up a bit empty.
01:23 Saturday Night (#2)
Uphill swim (52km/+915m)
A few seconds before Barbara and Frank came in, it began to rain again. Just a few drops. I decided to take on my light wind jacket. What happened after a few hundred meters was something between riding under a waterfall and crossing a river at the same time. It was extremely dark and there was only water. I had to follow some slower team of 2 riders as my follow car was not behind me. Finally I found the crossway to climb up from the lake of Geneva towards Châtel-St-Denis. After crossing the highest point I was pushing my wet body through the freezing cold to find the warm bus in Moudon. The scenery must have been great and all the villages sounded romantic, but it was just wet, dark and cold. And I lost some time. Still second.
03:18 During Saturday Night (#2)
A long sleep over almost three stages (61km/+562m Eliane, 77km/+547m Frank)
Two be honest, I don’t know anything about this stage. I was so exhausted and so tired that I woke up in Murten. It was still night and I recognized that Martin our driver was driving through nowhere, crossing grassland with cows and passing farm houses. Eliane did well over the last 61km and 562m of ascend and Frank was now out for 77km and 547m from the greater region of Berne towards Basel. It was morning when I woke up and Barbara had to go out again for a very tough one. Eliane and Frank stretched again the gap between us and our followers. And Frank rode the fastest stage in our category.
07:39 Saturday Morning short after Sunrise (#2)
Ride, don’t walk! (52km/+865m)
Barbara was now out to ride the whole stage without walking. You might ask yourself now why she should walk? There was this legendary climbing section of something like 20% in the middle of this stage where the top single riders normally were walking up. And many others too. But not Barbara. I remember the short but clear comment from one of our drivers: „She did it. She rode it.“ And then this stupid crash at the checkpoint when Barbara came in. It was fortune in misfortune. A rider of the other team didn’t see her when she was coming from the main road. But she was well and her bike two.
09:27 Breakfast Time Saturday Morning (#2)
Stretching the gap (55km/+510m)
The reason why I was trying to sleep that much was the fact that I had two stages in front of me. One alone and one with the team. It was my intention to stretch the gap between us and the third team to make sure we had enough time for the last one. It was hard as we had a very strong headwind almost to the end of this boring and unspectacular stage. After all I saw that the strategy to push hard in this section was right. Our followers tried to push hard too and ended up with the same split time. So there was no loss of time for us and we had about 40 minutes of advantage for the upcoming 44km to go. Homerun.
11:08 Close to Dinner time Saturday (#2)
Trying to take the team train (44km/+564m)
I expected to take the team train as we were together again for this last drafting stage. But when Eliane was pushing in front with something like 36km/h I was dying. Barbara gave her instructions of how to build the group to give me some extra boost and … you won’t believe me, Barbara was pushing me uphills. My motivation was high but I wasn’t willing to invest some extra power. I realized that deep inside of me a mixture between a diva and a bitch was activated. I was finding my motivation again and we got some very nice rain. I mean serious rain. Something like we had in northern ireland with the difference that the water falls vertically and doesn’t jump in your face. At least as long as you are riding alone and not in the back of a race bike. It took me some time to switch the programme and everything was forgotten, my power was back gain and the smile in my face too.
12:46 back in Schaffhausen (#2)
We did it. Happy, proud, exhausted in totally wet clothes with cold hands and feet.
Thank you team sleepless for this experience. I left home as a stressed man but came home again as a very rich man. It was a great experience to work together with such great people. This team made me going beyond myself. Several times.
And I was never invited before to a winner ceremony before!