Three Days, Nine Countries, One Long Drive

In the last few days I have become very well travelled, nine countries in three days. We left Scotland and drove most of the length of England, spending a little time with my parents in Lincolnshire, the first time I have seen them for a few months. From there we headed down to Dover and left England in the pouring rain on Monday morning.

It took us much longer than intended to get across northern France as we got stuck in the suburbs of Lille and had to do a dozen laps of the city before finally achieving some sort of escape velocity and emerging into southern Belgium.

We quickly passed through the country and into Luxembourg, which despite it’s diminutive size took much longer to traverse, there appeared to be a traffic jam the length of an entire nation. From there we crossed into Germany, where we stopped overnight, somewhere in the Black Forrest, not too far from Stuttgart.

It had been raining hard for the whole journey but the following day dawned bright and sunny. We hit the autobahns again, our elderly Transit coping admirably on the derestricted roads, at one point it hit nearly 80mph!

We spent much of the afternoon unsure as to exactly which county we were in. Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland all meet at more or less the same place. We stopped for lunch somewhere in one of those countries, a lovely lakeside restaurant, but I still have no idea which one it was in.  

We were definitely in Switzerland when we stopped for the night, somewhere on the road between Klosters and Davos. We were woken early the next morning by the police who seemed curious about the rusty white van with foreign plates, by far the oldest and scuffiest vehicle in the whole country and therefore clearly up to no good.

Davos itself was also bright and sunny, it was about 30 degrees when we arrived, which was lovely. We had a bit of a walk around the town looking for some breakfast and found the big conference centre where the World Economic Forum is held every year, complete with the sandpit and playground in the grounds, presumably put there back in the days when George Bush was attending such events.

From there we headed over to the race venue at Frauenkirch. Some things were already starting to take shape, the main marquee was up, the bridge for the flyover was under construction and the pits were marked out. However, we were told that most of the track could not be ridden, for reasons which were unclear. We set off on the bikes to ride whatever bits of the track we could find and, here in the heart of the Swiss Alps, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and high Alpine meadows, were distinctly underwhelmed by it. It was, for want of a better word, much too ‘fieldy.’ What parts of the course we did find were mainly grass fields, a bit of fire-road and a surprisingly large section of tarmac, hardly the exciting Alpine trails we had been looking forward to. At least it was sunny though and the detour we took up to Jakobshorn was lovely.

Thursday was warm and bright, although the track was still not marked out so we decided just to go for a ride around the area, following one of the signposted routes up in the hills. We headed from Frauenkirch up to Glaris and Spina, past the lift station at the top and then followed a lovely piece of singletrack from Abirűgg down to Sertig-Dőrfli, that was a lot of fun.
Some of the locals on the trail

There were two other Brits entered into the race, Matt Jones and Jason Miles, and we received word from Jason that evening that Mrs Miles was quite ill and he therefore would not be coming. Judging by the parts of the course we had seen so far he wouldn’t be missing much.

Friday morning was also nice and sunny, although the forecast for the afternoon and the race on Saturday and Sunday was grim. The course was now apparently all marked out, apart from the final quarry section. That could be good, maybe we had underestimated it, riding old quarry workings is always fun.

We set off to have a look and were soon completely baffled. There was plenty of marker tape around but no arrows so we had no idea which section went in which direction and there were so many cross-overs and two-way sections that we couldn’t even tell which followed which. There was even more grass field than we had first thought and we only managed to find two bits of singletrack, the longest of which was only about 400 yards long.

Why wasn't this is part of the course? Less than a mile away
and it was brilliant!

Matt arrived just before 5pm, accompanied by his wife Sarah, defending champion Daniel Schmidheiney, mechanic Luke and the rain.

Daniel had raced at Davos before and offered to take us out for a lap. Despite having been there for three days I still had no idea where the course went and so decided to go with him and Matt out into the pouring rain. It turned out that the majority of the descending was on fireroads. Normally these would be used for the climbs, with the more entertaining singletrack sections as the descents, but a lack of the latter obviously necessitated that the downhills would also be fireroad. The speed of these combined with the hard surface and the heavy, thundery rain which rapidly tuned them into rivers meant that it was nigh on impossible for me to see where I was going through the spray from the rear wheels in front and from my own front wheel. Even local knowledge proved to be of little help as Daniel lead us astray before we retraced our steps and tried to figure out where we were supposed to go. 

The quarry section was something of a disappointment, rather than drops and chutes down though the old workings it turned out to be a gravel access road for the trucks. Even when we returned to the arena there was still some confusion as to exactly where we were supposed to be going, but surely it would all be fixed for the race tomorrow…

Friday evening was spent in the pit tent fitting crud-catchers to the bikes and wishing that I had brought a proper set of mud tyres. I was not looking forward to this.

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