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Innsbruck: Hitting the Alpine trail

Just days after the Crankworx mountain bike festival in Austria, find out what it was like to follow in the tracks of the pros

By Matthew Hampton
Published 27 Jun 2017, 13:00 BST, Updated 8 Jul 2021, 15:40 BST
Innsbruck: Hitting the Alpine trail
Innsbruck: Hitting the Alpine trail

Pedal out of the gate, shift up two. Coast until first left, downshift one. Four pedal strokes until rutted right, downshift one more. Stay in this gear until finish line. Focus; breathe, pin it.

In my mind, I'm that rider; racing against the clock, shredding the trail, kicking up the dust with my rear wheel, pinning it — winning it — all for the glory of being outdoors, on my bike, and in the woods, going downhill fast on the edge of the red line.

But in my body I grudgingly accept reality: these are not my thoughts but advertising copy. Brendan Fairclough, one of the bright stars of mountain biking, is on the back cover of MBR magazine this month: pinning it, winning it. Or in other words: looking like a hero. A knight in dayglo polyester.

I, on the other hand, am a middle-aged man who spends more time sitting at his desk than on his bike. But today, I'm lucky. Mountain bike festival Crankworx has descended on Innsbruck for the first time. It's a big deal for the Austrian city and its surrounding villages. The locals took some convincing it was a good idea — but after wrapping this weekend, they were already looking forward to welcoming it back next year.

The pros are in town, competing for prizes and going big off the specially built jumps — bigger and more extreme, even, than those in the event's home town of Whistler, Canada. My bike is also from Canada: a Norco Sight Carbon 7.2 with Race Face components. It's my pride and joy; born and bread on the Vancouver shore.

I'm here for the chance to ride the same trails as the pros. And what trails! Like most ski towns, Innsbruck needs a summer income, and they realised there was money to be made from mountain bikers. They've indulged us with nine purpose-built downhill trails, mostly accessible by public transport from the city centre.

Today, I begin my commute in the rain; from the village of Mutters, down into the city with local guide Patrick Ribis. "I remember a trail I rode; near my grandmother's house; 20 years ago," says Patrick. "We can find it and it'll take us down to Innsbruck. From there, we catch the tram up to the Arzler Alm, have a little lunch and ride back down." I love it when a plan comes together with lunch. Lead the way!

The Arzler Alm is one of Innsbruck's newer trails and, as I'd discover, a sinuous ribbon of dirt flowing down to the city. But first we have to get there: a bonkers ride down Patrick's memory lane; through town and country, down woodland singletrack, past grandma's house, across railway lines and city streets, and finally up the Nordkettenbahnen funicular. Designed by the late Zaha Hadid, this futuristic tram connects with the fearsome Nordkette downhill trail — one of the toughest mountain bike runs in Europe — and the more user-friendly Arzler Alm.

But first, lunch, at Arzler Alm, a lovely mountain restaurant. "It's Sunday," says Patrick. "Schnitzel day in Austria!" But I had schnitzel yesterday, I think. With dumpling soup. "The dumpling soup is also very good!" And do you know what? It was. So good in, in fact, that I had it the next day as well. Dumpling soup and schnitzel; three days in a row. Do you know what else? I don't regret it. It was bloody delicious.

And enough fuel to get me down the Arzler Alm without stopping too much. There is a pro line on some sections; rough and tough with jumps built in, but I'm sticking to the mellower side. It's all steep, though.

Roll in through the gate; downshift two; then another. Just find any gear you can pedal in. PEDAL! Come on legs, it's not that hard; I gave you dumplings, you should be good to go.

The rain has stopped but I'm still soaked from the inside; no amount of Gore-Tex is going to wick this away. But the trail is dryish and our wheels find enough grip, even over slippy roots and rock. The bike is doing the work.

BRAKE! Hold it, hold it, hold the line; Christ, that was close. Rein it in. Get a grip for God's sake. Shift down, there's a hill up ahead…

I may be getting older but there's life in these legs yet. And anyway, I've got Voltarol in my pack; my physio on speed dial. So focus; breathe. Pin it. Win it.

Follow @aftersunmatt

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