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CROSSING THE ALPS ON A MTB - TIPS & TRICKS

Summertime sees many mountain bikers get in the saddle and attempt to cross the Alps. Being on the road with their bike for several days requires plenty of planning and preparation. We asked Stefan Hermann for some helpful tips and got some information about his alps crossing.

Summertime sees many mountain bikers get in the saddle and attempt to cross the Alps.  Being on the road with their bike for several days requires plenty of planning and preparation.  What helpful tips have you got for these bikers?

First of all of course you need to think about how long you want your tour to last. And when do you actually want to go? I think July and August are the best months for crossing the Alps because you don't have a lot of old snow to contend with in higher areas and the weather is by far the most reliable at this time. Once you know your tour dates, it's time for the key preparation: planning your route. You need to think in advance about which routes to take and how far you want to bike each day. For this it's important to use up-to-date maps. Paying out a bit more for good maps always pays off. Additionally, you need to note all the areas en route where you can disembark and stop if required, for instance if you suffer health-wise or encounter difficult technical problems. Lastly, you should look around early enough for accommodation. It's advisable to book overnight stays or a place in a dormitory in the spring ahead of a summer tour because once summer arrives the huts are very busy.

Is there a guideline for how long your tour stages should last, and the overall tour?

It's hard to make any generalizations on that. It depends partly on people's individual fitness levels and what they want to achieve. Of course, they must prepare properly with regard to their stamina levels, and their training should ensure they have plenty of miles behind them, also at different altitudes, before setting off. It's a strenuous activity to be biking up in the Alps for several days at a stretch. It is not a good idea to plan your tour so that every single stage pushes you to your physical limits. You need to incorporate some less intensive periods in between. There is always the chance that technical issues or a sudden storm could throw your plans off course. And at the end of the day, Alpine tours are also about taking in the great landscape that surrounds you instead of just going hell for leather to get through as fast as you can. 

Is it a necessary in advance to practice biking techniques specifically for crossing the Alps? 

Absolutely. You'll be biking in high alpine areas and encountering some very demanding terrain. So you can't sidestep having a well-honed and safe biking style. Also, you need to know exactly what your riding capabilities are so that you can make quick decisions en route about whether certain stretches of the route are suitable to bike on. If you have any doubts in these situations , it's always best to dismount and push. After all, biking with a rucksack on your back isn't something everyone does all the time.

What factors need considering when it comes to backpacks?

Firstly, look at the details and tips given by the backpack manufacturer. This often contains good information on stowing tools ad helpful packing lists. When you are biking it is important that the backpack is fastened as securely as possible to your upper body. Because the heavier your backpack is, the more important it is to keep it from moving around. Anyone unused to doing this should train up on several things before embarking on their Alpine crossing: setting off, how to take hairpin bends as well as how to jump over minor obstacles. Riders also need to have looked at things like how to choose which road line to take.

What should a backpack have in it?

Well that's a good one of course. The backpack naturally needs to weigh as little as possible. However, there are certain pieces of equipment, food and drink as well as clothing that you must have with you. So it's a real balancing act. You should know how much energy your body needs each day, based on tours you've done in training. With regard to eating and drinking, all I can say really is to make sure you always allow a short break to eat, and also to pack too much rather than not enough. 

You mention the topic of nutrition.. On a given day on tour, you're likely to be on the road between 8am and 5pm. And you use up a lot of energy in this time - and then straight again the next day. What role does sports nutrition play in Alpine crossings and what experiences have you had?

Nutrition is very important on Alpine crossing tours. By eating properly before, during and after the tour, you will save yourself a lot of problems. And I don't just mean physical problems, the mental side is key too, and you need the right amount of energy for this. On difficult stretches it is incredibly important  that your brain is fully switched on so that you can spot any dangers well ahead. If you're not properly on the ball, situations can quickly become dangerous. When you're on a tour, it is a good idea to take on board caffeine, for instance using HydroMax Cola. This can really help to keep your mental and physical strength up.

What sources of energy do you recommend?

I can't give you any general tips here that would apply to all mountain bikers. But there is no science to ensuring your body gets the right energy intake. At the end of the day, there are so many options of how to get the energy needed. For example, if you're not a big fan of bars, you can turn to a Performance Smoothie (fruit purees with a special carbohydrate mix or an Energize Wafer). Variety is the key. For breakfast for example I eat a bread roll with honey and an Energize bar. Then I have tea, coffee with milk or a glass of water. At midday in the hut I then have low-fat food that is nevertheless high in carbohydrates. What you don't want is for your body to have digestion problems. In the evenings, I mostly load up on carbohydrates by eating lasagna or pasta. I then most days allow myself an alcohol-free beer too.  

And what do you eat when you're actually out on the bike?

Of course you must drink a lot. If possible I take on up to one liter of liquid per hour and, if I need it, I eat a gel. Ideal for taking on sufficient fluid are the 5 Electrolyte Tabs. 10 soluble tabs in a compact package give you a 7.5-liter drink. You just add liquid and it's ready. Also you need something to chew on regularly when on tour. My favorites are for example the Energize Banana Punch and the Energize Wafer. So, as  I said, there are many ways to keep your energy levels stable, and to steer clear of feeling tired.