The Do’s and Don’ts of a 3 Day Cycling Weekend in Central Europe
I am from America. We have three damn weeks of vacation a year and 3 day weekends are about as rare as a salad at a NASCAR race.
I live in Austria. We have five freakin’ weeks of vacation a year and 3 day weekends are about as popular as a pretzel at Oktoberfest.
I’ll be honest, this summer wasn’t great here in Central Europe. It was a pathetic letdown. Rainy days and chilly temperatures aren’t the best for cycling. With winter right around the corner, my panties were still wet for some gnarly rides. Luckily, when mid-October rolled around a colleague informed me “Feiertag nächsten Montag!”. I nervously checked the weather website thing and BOOM! ...3 days sun. PARTY ON!
So, 3 days. You're smack dab in the middle of Europe - Where to go?
A friend and I decided the weekend had one requirement: big ass climbs. After deliberating over a handful of geographical options, we sharpened our list and ended with the Osttirol city of Lienz, right on the border with Italy. Not only was the weather playing well, but Fall decided to come into full bloom (or is it out of bloom?). Hotel booked, routes planned, and car packed - we hit the road.
Now, this is my 3rd year living in Austria. I am getting the Central Europe 3 day weekend thing down. So, I am going to share with you a handful of Do’s and Dont’s - in case you find yourself in a similar situation, you are able to react accordingly and get radical.
Find the biggest damn climbs in the area
We hit up a few of the most badass roads in the region. I mean some nasty bastards with gradients that will split your knees open - but the views were absolutely worth the pain. Open up Strava, Explore Segments, Filter to HC Climbs, pick a few - roll out.
Stands outs in Lienz were Grossglockner (Austria’s highest mountain and often featured in the Giro d’ Italia), Dolomitenhütte Strasse, and Mölltaler Glacier Road (a private car-free service road leading to a ski resort).
Book a creepy hotel
The hotel was booked in a rush - not a single review was read before. Just a scroll to the cheapest and a “Book” button clicked. When we arrived, things got a little weird. The hotel looked straight out of The Addams Family. There were mildly disturbing heirlooms oddly placed everywhere, dark halls, and even stranger staircases. It felt like we were in a horror movie. Oh, and worst of all the wi-fi really sucked. Did I mention we were the only guests in the hotel that night?
Rip up and down some killer switchbacks
Big alpine roads are littered with baller switchbacks. Luckily, the summer tourist season is over, so the roads are pretty empty. Nothing better than a soft turn on a steep climb or funner than going balls to the wall down a descent carving some curves.
Show up with broken equipment
About 1km into the first climb my god-dang left cleat decided to stop working. Upon inspection, the cleat was completely destroyed. Nothing like riding up 20% climbs with only one working shoe.
Also, bring a second kit. Normally, it is super easy to just shower clean your kit, dry it in a towel, and lay it on a heater overnight. But, when your hotel staff is too busy fighting ghosts than fixing the heaters - you can’t count on this trick. Bring extra kit!
Stop at a mountain top Alm and have a strudel
Yup, when in Austria - it is hard to avoid the strudel. You will see it everywhere. It will haunt your dreams, it will come show up when most unexpected - THE STRUDEL KNOWS ALL. So, just give in - eat a damn strudel at the top of one of the amazing mountains your ride up. You earned it Chap. Try not to puke it up on the next climb.
Forget to bring some headlights
Big alpine climbs often feature long dark lonely cold tunnels. Some of these tunnels can get pretty scary without lights (Gavia in Italy being the worst), so bring some lights along. We ended up using cell phone lights to navigate the short tunnels we encountered. Safety first y’all.
Get wild on some gravel bits
So what you brought your super expensive carbon aero road-bike, f*ck it! You don’t need a special cyclo-gravel-suspension-cross-bike. Tons of amazing climbs have great stretches of gravel off road hiking trails that are prime for ripping it up on. Do it, you won’t regret it.
Forget to pack a jacket
Even during the summer months when the climbs go above 2000m it can get chilly. In the Fall many are already covered in snow at the top. Bring a light jacket + gloves for the descent - well worth the weight carrying it up for the comfort on the way down. Not to mention, you probably will be drenched in cold sweat by the time you get to the top, if you are as out of shape as I.
Really, skiing sucks. Two years ago I knocked my front teeth out when my face collided with ski poles. Since then, I have retired from skiing and I suggest you do the same.
But, savor the weird looks you get when you cruise up to a 2500 meter ski glacier on a road that people didn’t know existed, park your bike by the slopes and enjoy a bit of Après-ski.
SAVOUR EVERY HILL
You know those times you are still sitting at work at 7pm while the sun is out and there is no f*cking end in sight? Well, RELISH the damn freedom of the 3 day weekend and take your time on the climbs, enjoy the summits, and bomb the descents. ...ok ok, this is just my excuse for being slow fat ass.
Try and feed the sheep
Seriously, everytime I try to feed these asshole goats (Ed: turns out they were sheep - still assholes), no matter where I am - they never eat the damn grass. So, unless you want to look like a weirdo standing in a field in spandex and a helmet holding strands of grass - just keep on riding by when you see the pastures of livestock. They don't’ f*cking care about you.
Fall days are short, especially once we fall back an hour on the clock. Make sure you give yourself enough time to finish your planned route. We made the huge mistake of attempting to climb the highest road in Austria too late in the day - so, we didn't make it to the top. So, we ended freezing our ballsacks off descending in the shade and getting back into town just in time to catch the first spooking session at our hotel.
Ok, enough rambling on. Now go look at your national calendar, find the next 3 day weekend, and start planning!