Where do I begin...
My bike arrives a day after I do. I put the pieces together. Everything fits. Nothing broken. I ride through costums (quite literally) where they don't even bother to check my passport. The days of stamps in Europe are a thing of the past apparantly. Swiss Air reinburses me 150 swiss francs for my inconveniences which pays for my night in Zurich and the train on to Austria.
My first ride is at 7pm. Rain. I wake in the morning. Put my bike on the train for about 40k, getting off at the begining of the Grossglockner Highway. Only 40k to go to Heiligenblut - the sight of the first mountain race that I competed in last year and again this year. I failed to look at the map and quickly found myself riding up a 15% grade that would go on for over eight miles. Four hours later I finally arrive at the hotel - fall asleep on the bed still in my bike clothes. Martin Cox - a good friend and accomplished mountain runner of ten years arrives a few hours later. 'This isn't a suite. They promised us a bloody suite.' I'm not complaining though.
'Hup, hup, hup! Bravo! Soupair!' The Austrian fans are staggered throughout the 13k course, chearing, clapping, giving out their own water to the athletes. I am in the same position I was last year for this race. 4th place, battling with Marcus Kroll - the number one Austrian mountain runner (he has his own line of running socks). Just like last year, I am leading, pushing the pace and he is only a step behind. I love races like this. It feels as close to a boxing match as I might ever know first hand. Last year, with only 500m to go (and 250 vertical meters, I might add) Marcus left me in the dust. I was told after the race that you should never let it come down to a steep climb with Marcus. He is much too talented. So, as we are approaching the final climb again, him and I, I essentially forfeited my position. But to my surprise, he does not take it. He falls back little by little and before I realise it, I have a 30 second lead over him. I take 4th again, like last year, behind the usual suspects of European mountain running - Jonathon Wyatt from New Zealand (who not only wins nearly every race, but also owns the course record for nearly every big mountain race in Europe), Marco Gaiardo from Italy and Robert Krupicka of the Czeck Republic. My time is a full four minutes faster than last years time. The race organizers ask about Merritt who was with me last year for this race - weloming us both back to the event again next year.
Its a three day ride onto Slovenia from Grossglockner. I find myself enjoying the leisurely pace that is mandatory with touring. 15mph if you're really pushing it. Up mountain passes, I've looked at the speedometer noticing 7... 6 kph. Usually I don't bother converting this into mph as it can get rather depressing... but about 4 mph is about right.
The first night out of Grossglockner I manage to find a window/cave halfway through a backroads tunnel just big enough to lay out my sleeping bag. Not a car passed through the entire night and just below me I had the roaring of a high mountain stream going past. The next night I find a nice flat spot just off the 7th hole of a golf course to pitch my tent. I pray through the night that the Austrians are as good at golfing as they are at skiing... at least enough to not hit a stray shot into the tent.
The border through to Slovenia was anticlimatic - half way through a one mile long tunnel, which was nice only for the break in the rain. As I begin riding through Slovenia and at first only want to cover some ground, I get on the super-highway only to be pulled over by a the police a few kilometers down the road. He gets out of his car and already I can see the broken english being chewed around in his mouth. He gives me a verbal lashing then sends me on my way... off the highway.
By the end of the day I arrive at the race sight for the next race - Grintovec. 10k in length and 2000 meter climb. This is like going climbing Pikes Peak from Manitoe Springs in six miles rather than 13.
I took the race out from the start and had only a Polish runner at the front matching my lead. One quarter of the way into the race he falls off my pace and by half way I knew that I had the win. The race was delayed five minutes as the organizers waited for a weather forcast from the airport to let them know if it was okay to finish the race on the top of the mountain - the traditional finish line. As I topped out with 40% of the race left to go, I could see why the weather is so important. No roads, no chairlifts. Nothing. Once you finish, you have to turn around and walk/run back down. Luckly there was a man at the top with a bottle of snapps for me to nip off of before the descent.
In addition to the prize money, I was awarded a six liter bottle of Slovenian sparkling wine - that's the equivalent to eight bottles. Luckly a friend has a car and will be able to take it to the next race sight where many more runners will be able to help me drink it.