Date 15.-21.7.2018

20 years of Transalp – Part 6: The secret winners

We are turning back time in our sixth part of the 20 years of Transalp series to shine a light on the inaugural edition and a drama two Austrians did experience. Ekkehard Doerschlag and Siegfried Hochenwarter led the pack of 250 teams for several days until a little mischief turned things upside down bursting their title dreams like bubbles.

Ekkehard Doerschlag and Sigi Hochenwarter back in 1998 © private

Ekkehard Doerschlag, a skilled physiotherapist who came in second in the men's event back in 1998 and 1999 whilst winning the master category four times in a row since 2006, reminiscence about that brutal day 20 years ago and talks about much more in this interview. Ekkehard, please tell us what happened back in 1998 when you lost the title due to a detour on stage six...

Ekkehard Doerschlag: Actually, we did ride on a fully signed route which was shaped as an eight. At the point in the middle where you meet the old track again, we missed a turn. But as we found another sign again pretty quickly we thought we were on the right way.

After 90km we noticed that something went terribly wrong. We kept going and finally passed those riders at the end of the field. They were obviously pretty surprised and we were soon laughing on the other side of our faces. Especially as we had run out of nutrition. It was getting tough, but we did learn from that.

To what extent?

Detours have always been a big topic. But we then knew at least that we had to take it carefully at crossings. One of us was always entrusted with the task of checking for the right way.

Things changed when GPS systems came up. Until then, it was all about riding alertly.

Did it change the Transalp?

Yes it did. Matthias Walkner, the Austrian Rallye Dakar motor cycle star once said in an interview that everyone can do it with a GPS.

GPS devices did kill the far-sighted riding. You always know where you are, and you will easily find your way back on track. As a result, you can now fully focus on your riding.

Nevertheless, the signs did get better after our faux pas, too. Uli [Stanciu] did learn a lot from that.

You talk about all this pretty lighthearted. Didn't you bite your handlebars in anger when arriving in the finish after 110km and more than 4,100 metres of climbing?

You are freaking out, of course. And it most certainly was an all-time record for the most climbing at the Transalp. But to be honest, I wasn't that disappointed as the media did report in a positive way so KTM was placed well, and that was my main task being a team rider for them. However, it was a mix of bad luck and inability which did cost us the win.

And in retrospective, some two years later, we noticed that it was even better that we lost.

Why is that?

We went all in on the last two stages. We were fighting until the end hoping for a miracle. We did receive a lot of credit for that.

Besides the arise of the GPS, what else has changed at Transalp over the past two decades?

One thing which is pretty striking is how professional things have gotten. The whole organisation has made a huge step forward which is pretty impressive.

The route was and still is a dream come true for every mountain bike fan. I'm still following the Transalp action every year, and I'm always thinking that I would love to do it again. It's always a good mix of well-known parts and brand new sections.

Well, you should know being part of it for almost ten times. What have you kept in good memories?

Well, for sure the first win in the masters category with Heinz [Zoerweg] back in 2006. It was a tight battle until the very end in Limone. Both of our families were at site to support us. It's been a very emotional week. Now that my daughters have grown up we still talk about that year from time to time.

It was a fair but an hard and physical fight. Actually we already had lost the Blue Jerseys on the Col Tremalzo but then did gave it everything we had in the descent finally catching up with the stage winners to keep the overall lead and take home the title.

What else do you remember?

The sixth stage back in 1998 when we lost the win due to our detour is also something you will always remember, that moment when we passed the check point for the second time.

You are experiencing so many things. Once I had a collision with a dog but nothing happened. Another time, I did ran over a chicken which ended up in the soup. The teams who came in behind us told us that the farmer was screaming blue murder.

Then there were flat tyres, broken rims etc. which is all part of the Transalp.

2010 was your last Transalp year.

Yes, and I finished in third position of the masters category. But it was it, for me as a person and us as a team. We noticed that it was the right time to retire although I have to admit that I would love to do it again.

This year, I already have my holidays booked. The jubilee would have been a good reason to do it. Maybe I come back with Sigi for the 25th anniversary.

Until that time comes, do you have any tips for the Transalp rookies?

There is one thing I have learned at every Transalp: the first two stages are ridden pretty nervously and fast. It's the same with road cycling events, so actually nothing special. But if you are not having that much of a routine with it, and if you keep up with that pace, you will pay for it in the second race week.

If you are able to stay out of that action and find your own rhythm, you will be able to make up even more on the last stages. You won't believe it, but it's true.

In addition, it's important to check the route. You should know where you might be in problems, or what passages will be hard for you. For me, it was always the Idjoch on the Ischgl stage when we were climbing up to more than 2,500m. You have to be prepared.