Austrian Alps – Day One, 2019
Our 2019 Alpine Adventure is a split affair, with 5 days of cycling the lesser known mountains around Innsbruck (Austria), followed by 5 days in Bormio (Italy), taking on some of the giants of the Giro d’Italia. We’re staying just outside Innsbruck in the small town of Mutters, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
It all began today with a 45 minute drive from our base in Mutters to Rattenberg, which is famous as being Austria’s smallest historic town & also the start point of the 2018 World Road Race Championships. It’s a stunningly pretty town (population of 400) with a pedestrianised central area, surrounded by craft shops & quaint cafes.
We started our ride under bruised & heavy clouds, but already feeling fortunate as rain had been forecast for the entire day. We’d made the decision to ride today regardless of conditions, as we’re here for the cycling, not to sit indoors if the weather’s a bit moody!! Having said that, I was wearing wet weather gear, just in case.
After leaving Rattenberg, we followed the main road alongside the River Inn for the first 3 miles, which gave us an opportunity to warm the legs up a bit. At this point we turned left onto a smaller side road & it immediately started to rise – nothing too steep, but our first experience of an Austrian ascent. This was a very deceiving introduction to what was in store for us for the remainder of the day!
The first proper climb of the day would take us up to Alpbach, a mere 4 miles in length, but rising 1,500 feet in that time. Significant chunks of the climb were above 10%, so we took our time & admired the spectacular views of the mountains all around us. By the time we reached the first summit of the day, we’d covered a total of 10 miles, climbed 1,900 feet & been riding for 1 hour 12 minutes. We joined a main road at this point for 15 minutes of respite as we descended into Reith.
Before we knew it, we were at the start of the day’s 2nd climb – the first mile or so was a 10% incline, so we were pleased when we saw somewhere to stop for our first coffee stop of the trip. After a quick cappuccino, we continued the climb & to our surprise, the first mile was as easy as it got….the gradient didn’t drop below 11% & at one point hovered at 16% for a couple of hundred yards! As we neared the summit, the peaks of the mountains all around us came into view, a few still had snow on display.
The narrow road plummeted back towards the Inn Valley, many hundreds of feet below us. After a cautious descent, we took another single track lane that followed the River Inn along the valley floor for mile after mile. As we zig-zagged through small villages, we passed two distinct styles of churches in them – either tall with a slim spire or squat with an onion type protrusion in the spire.
After 30 miles we were back in Brixlegg, where we had a quick lunch stop, before heading off on our 2nd loop of the day. This one would take us up a couple of climbs on the opposite side of the valley. We started off by following a fast flowing river up a gently rising side valley, however, it wasn’t long before the gradient steepened. The sun was still shining at this point, but the first signs of storm clouds were showing themselves on the other side of the valley.
As we continued climbing, the views became more spectacular, as the dark clouds made a great backdrop to the mountains. It really felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere. After about 6 miles of heading ever higher, we reached the afternoon’s first peak at the small village of Aschau. The road briefly headed downhill for little more than a mile, before rising again. For the next 5 miles the road rose steadily at between 8% & 10% as it climbed towards the Branderberger Ache – & my, did it ache! As we were within sight of the summit, we felt the first drops of rain, so we put in a big effort to reach the bus stop & get into the dry before putting on our rain macs. In less than 2 minutes, we were looking out on torrential rain, as thunder & lightning competed with each other in the skies above us.
The rain looked as if it was in for the long haul, so we carefully set off on the 4 mile descent back to Kramsach. The original plan was to take on a 3rd 20 mile loop, but we were cold & drenched by the time we reached the valley floor & the rain was still bucketing down. We took the decision to head back to the car & count ourselves extremely lucky that we’d been able to ride most of the day in the dry.
All that remained was to pack the bikes into the car, retrace our tyre tracks back to Mutters & try to dry out our kit for tomorrow – more rain is forecast, so our rain macs will be earning their keep again! My first day of cycling in Austria has been an absolute joy, I can’t wait to see some more of the stunning scenery over the coming days!