I've just returned from a 2.5-hour trip to Leysin from Biel, Switzerland, on press trip to visit with Schwalbe tires and DT Swiss. Biel is the home of DT Swiss, on the German side of town. (It's interesting that on one side of Lake Biel, the lake is called Bielsee, the German name, while its Lac Bienne, the French version, on the other side.) East of the lake, German street signs. On the west, French. Pretty cool. The train trips are great too... rolling past Montreaux, Lausanne and Lake Geneva, and all the gorgeous countryside that comes with this area.
Biel is also the home of Breitling, Rolex, Rado, Swatch and other timekeeping legends. Its also home to tons of CNC factories. So to say the that Biel is loaded with some of the world's top engineers is a fair understatement. And DT Swiss has a ton of 'em. I had a chance to tour the factory, which was an impressive scene. I hope to have a nice tour story, one that's pretty eye-opening (at least for those who wonder how much work goes into how something as simple as a spoke is produced) at Slowtwitch.com soon. I will never take for granted the lowly spoke again. Or rim, or spoke nipple. Or freehub body. All of which are created right there.
We did a good 3:30 ride, with about 2:30 of that climbing up to Mount Chasseral. Some turned back (the MTB guys.. I'm not naming names), while the rest of us continued up. Actually, VeloNews tech editor Lennard Zinn continued up on his own, ahead of us, eager to reach the massive radio tower at the top, while the rest of us refueled with water from all the little fountains you find in town through these parts of Europe. He said from there on a clear day, you could see the Grand Ballon and the Ballon d'Alsace in France, as well as the Alps. The mount is the namesake for the Mon Chasseral climbing wheelset. It consists of long grinding climb of about 40 minutes, a flat to recover, then another long climb through forest, opening to clear fields, and the iconic cows, bells clanging about their necks, finishing at the massive radio tower you see at top right. The reward is a view of Lake Biel and Lake Neuchatel... a gorgeous view after over 4,000 feet of climbing.
It also marked the start of the flies. For whatever reason that day (Donna said the files were bad in Leysin as well), flies were just... bad. Everywhere. On the climb, I was going juuuust fast enough for the flies to keep pace. Schwalbe North America's Henry Horrocks came up on my wheel and past me, and as I bitched about the flies, waving them off as I struggled to keep the bars in a straight line, he said "the trick is to go just a little faster than they can fly." Hard to do when the pitch is a steady 13 percent and you've been ascending for an hour and a half. Someone said the flies are slower at altitude too, a bit more sluggish. I tested that theory, and easily killed every fly that landed on my arm.
On the descent: blat-blat-blat, they stung the forearms and face. Die, flies. And once we were back to the lakes, we weren't done yet: swarms of gnats hung in the sky, and even going 23mph behind the big figure of Zinn acting as a big cowcatcher for the flies, they still hit you, sticking to sweating skin, getting into the mouth, the nose, the vents of the helmet, inside the jersey. Showering at Rut von Gutte afterward and watching them all swirl down the drain was... just nasty.
That was a minor concern, however. One fellow scribe, Bicycling mag writer Dan Hart, took a spill on our descent from the mountain, overcooking a left-hander as I heard "whoa, whoa, whoa!" behind me. I circled back to find Hart prone on the pavement, his bike 35 yards further down the mountain, on the opposite side of the road. It took a while for the medics to arrive, but they scooped the young guy up and carted him off to Biel... then to Bern. Turns out his little offroad-to-rock-to-pavement adventure netted him three broken vertebrae. He destroyed his helmet and was totally lucid as I kept his mind off his aching back before the ambulance arrived...he was so concerned that his girlfriend was going to be mad at him. But at least he remembered he has a girlfriend. Unfortunately, Dan's first trip to Europe was memorable for the wrong reasons. Maybe he comes with his girlfriend next time!
Spinning the clock back, I was saved on the ascent from blowing up on two counts: gel and drink. I've been using the new Gu Roctane, which is simply awesome.. I think I've talked about that ad nauseum.. it's da kine. but I also sucked down two bottles of the new Fruit Punch First Endurance EFS. They styled me with their two new flavors, fruit punch and grape, and I opted to take fruit punch with me to Switzerland to try.
I've never done such a steady, long climb, but I brought the right stuff to sustain it. I had no idea how long it was, but being a triathlete, I settled into my tempo, letting the roadies attack early up the road. And watched some of 'em come back to me as I tapped out my tempo. First Endurance says its aminos (Glutamine, Leucine, Iso-leucine and Valine) helps keep your acuity sharp when fatigued. And it's loaded with 1,000mg of electrolytes and 270mg of sodium, which is what my body craved. For as long as that climb was, I was happy to say I held a straight line, bottom to top. Maybe it wasn't the drink... but maybe it was. Whatever, it tasted awesome, and it was wet. Those two were top of my priority list at the moment.
My wife Donna, on the other hand, is product-sponsored by PowerBar. But it hasn't stopped her from now religiously using First Endurance's Optygen HP, for two reasons: one, she's training like never before, and the stuff truly helps her recovery and ability to work hard, day after day under the TeamTBB regime while she gets ready for Ironman Switzerland. She never takes anything if she doesn't have to, and it didn't take much convincing from me to start using it. Now, she feels she needs it to keep her oxygen uptake and recovery on track. I used it every day when I did my 50-mile ultramarathon, and felt the same, that I had to have it to stay on point. It's really that good.
The other reason: they test their lots. The last thing Donna wants is an inadvertent positive test. The fact that First Endurance goes to the lengths it does via certificates to prove to its customers that its products are clean means a lot. It means it's safe.
Will have more to update... gotta chat about my ride to one mountain stage of the Tour de Suisse, and maybe my trip to the first few stages of the Tour de France....