text: Eva Schwienbacher, photos: Reini Fichtinger
German World Tour Cycling Team Bora-hansgrohe, one of the very best in the world, has been training in Osttirol (East Tirol) this season. Sport.Tirol accompanied the racing team on a training ride during their summer training camp.
Their presence is impossible to overlook: The Bora-Hansgrohe professional cycling team truck is parked in-between the regular cars just outside Sporthotel Hochlienz in Zettersfeld, at 1,850 metre above sea level. The cargo and passenger doors of the black lorry are wide open, eight carbon bikes are carefully arranged alongside. There is a folding table with energy bars, bananas and gels spread out on its top. The truck serves as bike store, workshop, living room, kitchen and laundry room during the grand tours. It is also a steadfast companion at training camps, like this one here in Osttirol.
Hikers walk right on by, in order to take advantage of the sunshine before an expected thunderstorm arrives. Hobby cyclists, however, stop to take a closer look. Their gaze is drawn towards the car park, where a group of cyclists dressed in black and turquoise jerseys is slowly gathering, after exiting the hotel together with their support crew. A chairlift rattles in the distance, while the distinctive click-click of cycle shoes can be heard against the asphalt. Final preparations are being made before the planned training run: One or the other screw is given a final tweak, drink bottles inserted into their holders, a quick test spin undertaken. The lads crack jokes amongst themselves, laughter is in the air. And then they set off. Their first destination: the top terminal of Zettersfeld cable car - Lienz, which transports the athletes down to the valley and the start of their training run.
This is the second time the Bora-Hansgrohe-Team has set up training camp in Osttirol. Ten of the 27 athletes of the team, some of whom are already world champions, state champions, giro stage winners, as well as a number of young hopefuls, prepare themselves here for the remaining races of the season.
As in the case of every day in training, a strict schedule is adhered to. Apart from eating, massage, physiotherapy and sleeping, a four-hour training run is on the programme, which is divided into three phases: one 20-kilometre team ride on the level, after which the riders are divided up into groups for sprint or interval training, rounded off by an uphill climb for the whole team.
“The stable weather conditions, mountain roads, scenery and good working collaboration make Osttirol an ideal training location”, explains Dollinger.
“Every day has a purpose. Every training session has a specific goal”. explains Tirolean man Helmut Dollinger, one of the squad’s three trainers. The 48-year-old, who started working for the Bavarian racing team this year, is responsible for nine riders, including the three Austrians, Patrick Konrad, Lukas Pöstlberger and Gregor Mühlberger, who are also in attendance in Osttirol. Working in conjunction with two sports directors, masseurs, physiotherapists and a mechanic, he supervises the athletes during the training camp.
Dollinger also used to be a professional cyclist. During his active career, he covered many kilometres in Osttirol and was a staunch advocate for creating a training partnership with the region. “The stable weather conditions, mountain roads, scenery and good working collaboration make Osttirol an ideal training location”, explains Dollinger. In May, for example, nice weather meant that the team could train daily. “It would have snowed in other mountain regions”. Some riders were even accompanied by their girlfriends and children during the first training week.
The fact that the team enjoys being here is confirmed by cycle pro, Lukas Pöstlberger, as he rides down to the valley in the gondola. “I would have liked to have spent New Year here at Zettersfeld, but the hotel was unfortunately already booked out”, he says. The 25-year-old joined the Bora-Hansgrohe team this year. Like his fellow compatriots Konrad and Mühlberger, hey used to ride for the Tirol Cycling Team. The Tirol Cycling Team was an important stepping-stone for all three riders.
Now part of a team with pro-tour status, his life as a cycling professional has changed enormously. “Everything has become more professional: the training, the tests, the support”, says Pöstlberger. The athlete from Upper Austria has already proven he can take on the cycling world’s elite, not only at this year’s Giro d’Italia: He was the first Austrian to achieve a stage win in the second-most important grand tour. His next goal: “To roll over the finish line before everyone else at the Tour de France or Vuelta”.
The three Austrians at Bora-hansgrohe: P. Konrad, G. Mühlberger and L. Pöstlberger
Once arrived at the valley terminal in Lienz, the cyclists climb out of the gondola and into the saddle. Together with two accompanying cars, the peloton moves on to the village of Huben near Matrei, 20 kilometres away.
Driving alternately in front of and behind the team, Helmut Dollinger stops often at the side of the road in the escort car to let other drivers pass or communicate with the team. The highest concentration and attention is demanded of the support staff. “With cycling, it is normal to train on the road. You always have to be prepared for surprises, such as roadblocks or construction sites and react accordingly“, says the coach.
The training really heats up for the racing cyclists along the flat sections: While all-rounders, such as Christoph Pfingsten, Juraj Sagan and Lukas Pöstlberger, pedal against each other along the flat on a 2.5 kilometre section, the rest, including Patrick Konrad, Gregor Mühlberger or Cesare Benedetti must battle against the uphill forces of the mountain during interval training. The latter have to contend with making the 2.3 kilometre long ascent towards Kals am Großglockner no less than five times, with precisely defined guidelines on time and revolutions. Wattage specifications are individually adjusted to each rider. Helmut Dollinger measures the athletes’ lactate levels after each intense exertion with a mobile testing device.
“Lactate levels combined with wattage information provides us with important data on the riders’ performance. We then know how to plan training accordingly”, explains Dollinger. Training amongst pro-teams has become extremely specialised over the past few years, he explains. “To get ahead in cycling sport, you need a wide range of support staff - from nutrition consultants, to bio-mechanists and sports scientists. It is the only way to achieve maximum performance from the athletes”. "Each rider has his own training plan with detailed specs.
Reigning Austrian state master Gregor Mühlberger, for example, pedals 385 watts on average in the direction of Kals. How does he feel after his last interval? “It’s going well! My legs are super today and I feel good. Just the two minutes with maximum cadence (pedalling rate) were extremely strenuous”. But he can’t give his calves a break just yet, as he has another 1.200 metres in elevation and 65 kilometres to go before he can head back for to the hotel in Zettersfeld for a massage. “This final section is part of the endurance training and serves to stabilise overall performance. As a result, the body learns to process higher lactate levels”, explains Dollinger.
“To get ahead in cycling sports, you need a wide range of support staff - from nutrition consultants, to bio-mechanists and sports scientists. It is the only way to achieve maximum performance from the athletes”.