Four weeks after Race Around Austria – The Challenge, Anna-Maria shares an intimate and very personal recap about her race: the pain and torture, the joy and laughter - and the special challenges that only female cyclists have to deal with.
Written by Anna-Maria
After months of preparation and a short-term decision to go solo, the day had finally come: Race Around Austria, The Challenge. 560 kilometers with 6500 meters of altitude. But let's start from the beginning.
Race day. 12.30 PM in St. Georgen, Attergau in Austria. I am really having a hard time dealing with stomach cramps, trying to breathe through them. I curse myself for being a woman sometimes. Because of all the nervousness and excitement, my period started unexpected the night before the race. Annoying and quite painful. But antispasmodic drugs are completely prohibited for the race – doping, of course. Yet, my mood is extremely positive and as always, I'm a bit lively. I'm so much looking forward to the race that I cover my pain with laughter, I am in a good mood during the final preparations. My team puts me in bed again for some final rest. I can't believe that I can actually sleep for an hour just 3 hours before the start. With a big smile on my face I get into my cycling kit, apply sun protection, put the helmet and radio on, eat some pasta, get into the team car.
Time machines, disc brakes, carbon aero bars, disc wheels. Me: a 4-year-old bike.
Our team – Martin, Thomas, Isabella and I - are now driving to the start area with our team car. Due to the COVID-19 protective measures, we now have to say goodbye. My team stays in the car and lines up for the starting grid. I'm rolling to the start. I chat a little with other riders - and then it's go time. The race director instructs all riders. We are waiting behind the stage with face masks on. I’m looking at the other cyclists. I feel pretty stupid comparing my bike to the others: Time machines, disc brakes, carbon aero bars, disc wheels. Me: a 4-year-old bike with scratches from my very first rides, as I had to learn that clipping in and out is an art in itself.
We’re having a quick chat, wishing each other good luck and good legs. And then it’s my turn: I put off my face mask, get onto the starting ramp. I’m smiling all over my face. The race moderator asks whether I’m smiling because of pleasant anticipation. “Pleasant anticipation with a little fear”, I say. I have never cycled such a long distance, let alone with 6500 meters of altitude, and certainly not through the night. So, yes: My joy and my desire for this race are huge, but I'm also a little scared.
And then the race is on. Let's make my dream come true. Goodbye St. Georgen, hope to see you again soon. The radio connection with my team crackles and I hear their first words: “Anna, we are behind you. Let’s go!”
Pushing harder than planned
“Anna, ride your own pace, don't let yourself be stressed. How many watts do you have right now?", Martin asks me. And that's good, because I'm quite stressed and push harder than planned. So, off the throttle, take it easy. It’s going to be a long day anyway. Already after the first few kilometers I notice that my abdominal muscles are quite cramped due to my period and am looking for the perfect bike position to ride without pain. Found it. The pace of the race is incredibly fast, all female riders give their all.
I am able to overtake rider by rider uphill. In the flat passages, the time trial machines overtake me again with their characteristic sound. It doesn't bother me at all, because I know that my strength is in climbing versus flat roads. At the next hill I pass again. I am in third place - at least for now. I’m feeling good.
Dedicating myself to the most beautiful thing in the world: cycling.
The support from the team car works great. My team has everything under control. “Anna, it's time for a drink again. Do you like chocolate flavor? And what taste do you like for your iso?" We had set up a nutrition plan in advance and my team manages it perfectly. All I need to do is to focus on my legs. And dedicate myself to the most beautiful thing in the world: cycling.
Short stopover, night is falling and from now on the support vehicle will always stay behind me. I am glad that I tested the lighting sufficiently in advance and I am sure that I will not have any problems. The course takes us along the river Danube. There’s a lot going on, spectators and fans are cheering incredibly. The atmosphere is just amazing, and my cadence is really remarkable.
Now comes the part that I feared the most. The Mühlviertel with its hard climbs and sharp descents. But with so many people cheering along the route, and even parties going on in some villages, time goes by. I hear cheers from the pace car: “Anna, you have now reached the 200k mark! And faster than planned!"
My target for Ulrichsberg was 9 hours. I pass the village at 7 hours and 30 minutes. I can't believe it. I’m starting to think I could potentially make the race in under 24 hours. At the same time, I am aware that still a lot can happen... and will.
A bright, indescribable pain cuts through me. My body turns off.
I know the race course very well, and I also know there’s some more climbs to come at Guglwald, before the route becomes flatter again. I feel that my unusual bike position (due to the stomach cramps) is slowly but surely becoming an issue. My back is sore. I try to stretch myself on the bike as good as I can. Martin immediately notices that something is wrong with me. "Anna, are you okay?" Well, sort of. I don’t want to admit that I’m close to tears in my eyes. Maybe if I don’t speak about it, it’s simply not happening.
We decide to make a short stop and give my back some relief. In this moment, I don't really care that I'm being overtaken by other riders. Thomas lifts me up, going into a buddy back stretch. Each vertebra cracks and suddenly a bright, indescribable pain cuts through me. My body turns off. Standby mode. I wake up again as Thomas gently pats me on the cheek. “Anna, you collapsed for a moment. We'll put you in the team car." Immediately I am clear again. The pain is gone. I see the worried faces of my team. But the race is not over for me. Isabella checks my physical functions and after confirming that it is not a herniated disc, my back and knees are taped. Get a muesli bar and ride on. I’m not made to give up. #fearlessfemalecyclist
Female cycling challenges...
I've found my flow again, but the pain in my back and knees is, pardon my words, shit. In the Josefstal area I urge my team to take a break again. The tampon squeezes so much that it is impossible for me to find a good position on the bike. Ok, tampon doesn’t seem to work anymore. Then we had the stupidest idea: use a sanitary pads instead. Ladies, let me tell you one thing: Don’t do this at home. It causes skin irritations, really! I torture myself a few more kilometers, after some time I need to take a break again. I'm exhausted and my morale is pretty down as I'm being overtaken by some teams of two. On the last notable climb before the Hengstpass, at 325k, Isabella tries to relax my back. Thomas and Martin realize that it’s going to be a long fight for me.
Cycling towards the sunrise. Slowly, but steadily.
But somehow my good mood returns, my motivation comes back and I start again. I am currently in 5th place. But to be honest: I don't really care.
I’m cycling towards the sunrise. Slowly but steadily. It was clear to us that I couldn't use any pressure in my situation, so we often take short breaks. After every break I have new strength and keep biting my way. Meanwhile, I wonder how my team is feeling. These poor guys have to come after me at a snail's pace. Unfortunately, Martin is also struggling with his stomach. But professional as they are, they have not made me notice it.
And then it was there, the magical 400 kilometer mark! Yeahhh, I can hardly believe it. For a short moment, I even forget that my body is at the limit. The Hengstpass is up next. Not very steep, but still a challenge after 420 kilometers in the saddle. Somehow I manage to get up there. My motivation is high again.
Down the Hengstpass with 84 km/h…
Once at the top of Hengstpass, we take a short break and I do some math with Martin. The result: I could actually still finish within 24 hours. Really? I'm still a little skeptical. Anyway, I race down the Hengstpass at 84 km/h and am fully back. My team has trouble following me with the car.
I’m riding almost too euphoric. But I quickly notice that I can no longer sit and need to take a break again. I sit in the team car, with a chamois cream in my hands, and I look at my genital area. The only thing I can say right in this moment: Oh dear. Well, I have to go through that now. Meanwhile, the heat is increasing.
In front of the Ziehberg I'm begging for another break again. I lie down on the grass and my team tries to massage my calves and bring my body back to normal temperature with lots of water. A male solo starter joins me. It encourages me that he's also struggling a little right now. I guess hardly anyone can accomplish such a race without problems.
I am being overtaken by the Spanish 24h world champion. I don't care, I just want to finish. Life is great being ranked 6th place. In terms of performance, I can still put a lot of pressure on the pedals, but really feeling at the limit. Once at the top of the Ziehberg, my mom and sister are waiting for me. "Go, Anna, only 100k left!" I answer short & sweet that that 100k is still a long way to go. Really long!
As Thomas lifts me into the team car, my head turns off for a few minutes.
I'm going full speed down the descent once more. After a few kilometers I feel bad again. I need another break. Deviating from my original nutritional concept is beginning to take its toll. We are looking for a place to rest and Thomas gets cold water to cool me down. I can't get into the team bus anymore. That damn 40 cm step is just too exhausting! Thomas lifts me into the bus and suddenly my head turns off. I doze off for 4 minutes but wake up immediately. We're on a race here, let's go! In retrospect, I was told that I was completely off track. Answering questions like an old lady with dementia rather than a 32-year-old. In my head, however, I felt I was very clear... perception is an interesting thing.
Shortly before Gmunden my good friend Veronika cheers me on. An angel much needed. I'm joking again. But the next break comes faster than I had hoped. During the busy bypass around Gmunden, my body has to be cooled down again. Veronika visits me again: “Anna, you can do it now!" No sooner said than done, I'm back on my bike.
"Anna, have you ever cycled 500 kilometers? Now you did."
A few kilometers later. Team radio: "Anna, have you ever cycled 500 kilometers?" Me: "No, never." Team radio: “Well, now you did.” The last climb is waiting for me. It’s a torture. Back pain, knee pain, high temperatures and a digestion that has developed a life of its own make the ascent particularly painful for me. Before the race someone said to me: Enjoy it. Yeah, I’m enjoying hellish tortures at a snail's pace!
My team has to dig deep to motivate me. They run next to me, talk to me, read out messages from friends & family in our What’s App group. Thomas runs next to me and I dare to say that I will give up at the top. 40 kilometers from the finish.
The moment I thought I couldn’t do this no more.
"Do you feel like crying a bit”, he asks. “Yes, I can’t do this no more.”, I say. And then he says: “Anna, everyone is climbing up this mountain with you. All of your friends and family are sitting there in front of the live tracker and cheering you on. You are not alone, they are all with you. Anna, you deserve this. Come on, you can do this. Get up to the top, then we’ll talk and determine what to do. Just give it a bit more, come one.”
Along the road, Sandra from Veloine cheers me on, so does Hanno from Haix, and I make it to the top. I get off the bike and am being put in the team car. Thomas is right. Damn yeah, I deserve it. I've been training for this race for months. St. Georgen, I'm coming. I’m regaining energy on the descent. The fun is back.
30 kilometers to go, I keep telling myself again. Ciao Lake Attersee, hi Lake Mondsee. One more push and I'll be rewarded with tailwind. I’m having a pace of 40 km/h during the last few kilometers.
And then: finish line. Time stops.
The moment I’ve imagined for so long. Tears of joy.
I am welcomed by the Race Around Austria team, rolling through the village behind a motorcycle. I’m hearing applause, and suddenly there comes the moment that I’ve imagined for so long. Up to the finish ramp. Confetti rain. Tears of joy. In this race, I’ve lived through all kinds of emotions that one can imagine.
After the finish line interview, the moment has finally come. I see my friends and family, I hug everyone, I am beyond happy and I've already forgotten all the pain. We made it. And the emphasis is on “we”. None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for all of the emotional tailwind my team sent me during the last 25 hours.
I now know that I can compete in races like this, that I have the fighting spirit and that I am physically capable of doing this. Still, it was the toughest challenge I ever faced. And I made it 6th place with a race time of 24 hours and 51 minutes.
Now for the hard facts and numbers:
- Kilometers: 560
- Meters of altitude: 6500
- Race time: 22 hours 5 minutes
- Total time: 24 hours 51 minutes
- Average cadence: 80 rpm
- Maximum speed: 84 km/h
- Average power: 135 watts
- Best 20 minutes power: 186 watts
- Calories consumed: 9395 KJ
- Total sleep time: 4 minutes
- Music: drum & bass and the crew’s good mood
- Kit: Veloine Jerseys Ventoux Light & Mendola, Veloine Rocacorba Bib Shorts
- Liquid food: 3400 ml
- Isotonic drink: 8700 ml
- Water: 1200 ml
- Muesli bars: 3 pieces
- Gel: 1 piece
- Banana: 1 piece
- Fruit pulp: 1 piece
- Magnesium in capsule form
The greatest adventure with the greatest team. Thank you.
Two days after the race my body was completely fit again. No discomfort, no exhaustion, just in a good mood. I now know that the issues I had during the race were due to the unusual sitting position following stomach cramps caused by my period - and not a lack of training or fitness. So you see what can happen to female cyclists, and we just have to deal with it. For my part, I said from the start: I'll do my best, whether it's enough or not. And I succeeded.
It was the greatest adventure with the greatest team. Without you it would not have been possible, and I would probably still be lying on the Ziehberg. Thanks to Veloine and HAIX for the support and professional media work onsite, thanks to my family, who let the confetti rain down on me at the finish line. Thanks for the countless messages and thanks to everyone who cheered. Thank you to all partners.
Thank you Isabella for your support and healing hands. Thank you Martin for the calm and steady motivation pushing me further. And thank you Thomas for supporting me in all my projects: I love you.
Check out our Instagram Story Highlights for some exclusive captures from the race