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Premiere on the World Championship course

Premiere on the World Championship course

The Gran Fondo Team and Thomas Rohregger following in the tracks of the World Cycling Championships

Text: Eva Schwienbacher, Picture: Franz Oss

During the UCI Road Cycling World Championship 2017 in Bergen, Norway, the World Championship course was presented for next year's top event in Tirol. During an exclusive tour with course official Thomas Rohregger, seven Gran Fondo riders were able to get a first impression of the home World Championship’s most spectacular route.

When the Gran Fondo team met with Thomas Rohregger, World Cup Sports Director and Ambassador of the World Cycling Championships, in Kufstein on this September morning, the riders were still oblivious to the challenge that lay ahead. Because even as World Cup ambassadors, the team members were not yet privy to the exact routes of the World Cup courses, as these were kept strictly under wraps until the presentation in Bergen. "It has always been said that this will be a mountain World Championship. We therefore suspected that we would not be staying down in the Inn Valley,” says Walter Weinseisen from Wörgl, who has been riding racing bikes for over 45 years and is a member of the Gran Fondo team for the home World Championship. The big surprise was revealed at the end of their ride.

The main route of the UCI Road World Championships 2018 Innsbruck - Tirol leads past lush green meadows.  Gran Fondo team tested the course.

Hot on the idol’s trail

The riders left Kufstein, the starting region for four races, amidst a bracing six degrees Celsius. Following exactly the same course on which their great idols will battle for the coveted rainbow jersey in a year’s time, the Gran Fondo riders set off for the city of Innsbruck - the finish line for all twelve races. The tour leads through the Inn Valley - via Breitenbach, Kramsach, Schwaz - before we head on to Gnadenwald. We then snake through the villages of Absam, Thaur, Rum, Arzl and Mühlau, before pedalling onwards to the state capital. 

“As far as I can see, the route has been chosen in such a way that you are treated to views of the most beautiful parts of the Lower Inn Valley," enthuses Weinseisen who, coming from “Unterland”, knows most of the area like the back of his hand and appreciates the numerous opportunities it presents for exercising his hobby. "Nevertheless, it is not possible to say which section is the most scenic." 

Peter Zini

Walter Weinseisen (above)

The “Mousetrap” of the World Cycling Championships

Once arrived in Innsbruck, the team enter Peter Zini’s “patch”, many kilometres of which he has already covered with his road bike. The passionate sportsman played in the national ice hockey team for many years. In his mid-thirties, the 66-year-old ended his career on the ice and sought a new challenge. He found this first on a mountain bike, before finally switching to his road bike. For him, it is a privilege to be an ambassador of the World Championships as a Gran Fondo rider. "I represented Austria for 13 years in the national ice hockey team. Now, I am proud to represent Tirol in a cycling role, "says Zini enthusiastically.

The ascent to Gnadenwald

After riding through the Inn Valley, Gnadenwald and a row of villages, the Gran Fondo team and Rohregger tackle the ca. 24-kilometre road race circuit. This leads the riders from Innsbruck via Aldrans to Igls and then back to the city, before a loop takes them to Hötting and back to the finish line in front of the “Tiroler Landestheater”. The women cyclists have to complete this circuit three times before the name of the fastest world champion can be determined. The men complete the circuit no less than seven times: the “normal” version six times, followed by a gruelling seven kilometre additional section on the seventh lap, which really takes them to their limits! The men also have to ride up the so-called "Höttinger Höll” (Höttinger Hell), in other words, the steep Gramartstrasse up to the Hungerburg, before they reach the final finish line.

"Höll” is probably going to be the section of the men's road race that separates the wheat from the chafe. It will be the “Mousetrap” of the World Cycling Championships," says Thomas Rohregger, who, as course consultant for the International Cycling Federation UCI, planned the route. As a former professional cyclist and passionate sportsman, he knows the province like the back of his hand, which was of course a defining factor in fulfilling his responsibilities as course planner. He was instructed to design a challenging route. The 2018 World Cycling Championships present a unique chance to showcase another side of Tirol’s mountainscape, the natural treasure that makes this province so very unique.  

World Championships for mountain performers

The mountain performers, who so often set the pace on continental tours, should also have a chance at winning the World Championship title, explains Rohregger. "The aim of the International Cycling Federation was to give championship riders, who achieve podium finishes at the Tour de France or Giro d'Italia, the chance to win the World Cup jersey, i.e. Froome, Quintana or Chavez.” While previous World Championships, such as Richmond 2015, Doha 2016 and now Bergen, had relatively simple course profiles, Tirol will now favour the strong mountain performers.

"It is important to dose one’s energy carefully, only then is the “Höll” section feasible. I would certainly advise hobby riders to take a closer look at this passage."  Walter Weinseisen  

Höttinger Höll was also the section that the Gran Fondo riders described as the highlight of their ride. For Walter Weinseisen, for instance, it was a premiere. "I've heard a lot about it, not least from speculation surrounding the World Championship course, but I've never ridden the “Hell” before." He manages to overcome the extremely steep section with a 25 percent gradient without having to dismount. "It is important to dose one’s energy carefully, only then is the “Höll” section feasible. I would certainly advise hobby riders to take a closer look at this section," recommends Weinseisen.

Racing pulse

Peter Zini was also particularly impressed by this section, even though he already knew the steep road from his previous job as driver for the city of Innsbruck. Before retiring, he often carried out winter road maintenance on this route. “Höll is only surmountable with non-motorised forms of transport, however, for highly-trained athletes,” as far as he is concerned. “This section really gets your pulse up,” says Zini. The mountains may be his preferred riding habitat, but:  “Hölle really is Hell." What makes it even more difficult for the cycling pros in their battle for the world championship title in a year’s time, is the fact that they will already have covered over 4,000 meters in elevation difference by the time they reach this Gran Final. "I'm really looking forward to seeing the speed with which the big cycling stars approach the Hungerburg. This is where the attacks will happen and when things get really exciting.

It was a special experience for both him and the other Gran Fondo riders to get to know the World Championship course together with Thomas Rohregger. And the guessing game on what the race route will be, can finally come to an end. The matter of who will be crowned World Champion next year remains open, however, until next year.  

Cycling sport meets the city

Das Gran Fondo Team mit Thomas Rohregger an der Spitze in der Host City Innsbruck

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