Words by Kaddi Kestler
Photos by Jens Scheibe
Corona forced us to stay at home, but it couldn't stop us from dreaming. "As soon as the borders are open, we're off across the Alps on our brand new FOCUS IZALCO MAX 9.7", that's what Munich Mountain Girls Meike and Kaddi had decided: To ride from Munich via Sylvensteinspeicher, Achensee, Patsch, Brenner and Jaufenpass to Lana and back to Sterzing via Penser Joch. And they were excited - after all, the IZALCO MAX is not a climbing goat built for mountain passes, but rather a nippy racing mouse for the flat. Usually...
"I call it Hannibal!" my Munich Mountain Girls friend Meike greets me. "It" is her new FOCUS IZALCO MAX 9.7 and she wants to call it Hannibal because it will take her over the Alps. At least, if nothing goes wrong over the next two days. To make sure that doesn't happen, she has tied a tiny lucky elephant to the carbon handlebars.
Our new Izalco Max 9.7
I haven't even thought about a name for my brand new bike yet, but I have already "customised" my light blue beauty. In preparation for and out of fear of the upcoming mountain stages, I have fitted a more uphill-friendly 10-33 cassette instead of the standard 10-28 cassette. Meike tries it (for now) with the original equipment and trusts her thighs, which are well trained in lock-down. It's her first time over the Alps on a road bike, I've already done it once. The advantage in experience doesn't really make me more confident, however, as I love my mountain bike a bit more than the road bike and Meike, therefore, has considerably more road kilometres in her legs. Unfortunately, I can't talk my way out of the equipment, we have exactly the same FOCUS IZALCO MAX 9.7 - except for the cassette - and while Meike will need much more power on the climbs, I will still have two or three gears to go down. And: I ride the IZALCO MAX with my 166 centimetres XS, with an 80 instead of the original 90 stem and Meike, who with her 181 centimetres is exactly between M and L, has chosen L with a stem that is also one centimetre shorter, thanks to the size finder on the FOCUS website. The different frame sizes don't make any difference to performance, but it does look a bit funny when the two racing bikes are side by side.
Our plan is to cycle from Munich via the Sylvensteinspeicher and Achensee to Patsch in Tyrol on day 1 and via Brenner and Jaufenpass to Lana near Meran in South Tyrol on day 2. The idea to cross the Alps several times this summer with the IZALCO MAX came to us during our lunch rides together in the spring lockdown. The Italian border seemed to be closed for a while, so we originally thought of heading for the Großglockner. Since the Italians opened earlier than expected, we changed from the southeast route to the south route. First, we trained on the Timmelsjoch on the way to Dolce Vita Land for a spritz and pizza, then we tortured ourselves on the Glockner, Austria's highest paved pass road - that was the new plan. But no sooner does the virus give us a moment's rest than another circumstance thwarts our plans: a landslide makes the approach to the Timmelsjoch from Austria impossible and we have to change our route to Brenner and Jaufenpass.
From Munich to the Achensee
It went pretty well for the first 60 kilometres - but we still have most of the tour ahead of us. We cycle on to the Achensee and take a cycle path against the will of our GPS device, which promptly turns out to be a gravel track after a short while, but that is to remain our biggest problem today.
In Achenkirch, after 86 kilometres, we have covered more than half of today's distance and allow ourselves a longer break. Meike orders "Pommes-Salat", salad and chips, and I order a soup. While eating, we discuss whether we want to jump into the lake or not.
From Lake Achensee into the Inntal
After lunch we cycle along the shore of the Achensee. At some point the turquoise glow from the right is too tempting. We jump into the clear mountain lake and would love to stay in it after the first shock of cold, but we still have a few kilometres to go. After the swim, we continue with the descent to Jenbach in the Inntal: the asphalt on the extremely steep road is so new that we hardly feel any friction - somehow a disconcerting feeling.The sun is now just above the horizon, and with a view of the Patscherkofel, our destination for today, and the wind at our backs, we roll along. It's one of those easy moments on the road bike when you cover an incredible amount of distance in an incredible amount of time without really having to exert yourself, because the slightest pedal stroke feels like it pushes you forward for miles.
Up to Patsch
I try to forget what lies ahead: The day's altitude profile ends with an almost vertical line. On the ascent to Patsch, another 500 metres of altitude creep up on each other over seven kilometres, with gradients of up to 20 percent. Meike dusts off and I slowly spiral up the not-so-little-travelled mountain road after her on the biggest sprocket. After fearsome overtaking manoeuvres or pressure waves from the left side, however, there is usually not much time to get angry, as the next pretty view is literally around the corner. So now we roll out of the forest, around the bend and with a view of the 3,000-metre peaks of the Stubaital in the light of the evening sun into Patsch.
From Patsch over the Brenner Pass
Sunset, Stubai view, schnitzel, mosquitoes - that sums up our evening in Patsch after almost 150 kilometres and 1,400 metres of altitude. The next day the alarm clock rings at seven o'clock and we know that we have to hurry up a little. It's supposed to be the hottest day of the summer so far, and there are thunderstorms forecast for the Jaufenpass around 3 pm. We have 120 kilometres and almost 2,000 metres of altitude ahead of us.
From Patsch we roll...
Over the Jaufen Pass to Lana
In Sterzing we have 50 kilometres behind us and the ascent of the Jaufenpass right in front of us. Time to fortify ourselves at the bivouac, a highly recommended restaurant at the Rosskopf valley station. Then it's uphill, almost 1,200 metres in altitude over 15 kilometres await us.
Let's face it, too much endurance sport makes you a weirdo, doesn't it? In any case, I start talking to myself and...
...commenting on my gear changes
Over the Penser Joch to Sterzing
After the tour is before the tour, isn't that what they say? Actually, our plan was to cycle to Lana and chill there for two days. But it's clear that with a good weather forecast, this won't work out with Meike and Kaddi. So on Sunday we started out on a cycling highway along the Etsch river from Merano towards Bolzano. After a few kilometres, the route takes us away from the cycle path and through villages to the entrance of the Sarntal valley - including a view of the Rosengarten.
The Sarntal valley is...
The Izalco Max and long distances in the mountains
Despite the conversion to the more uphill-friendly cassette, I had a lot of respect before our trip for the long distance and the many metres of altitude on the IZALCO MAX, which is celebrated in all the tests as a sprinting sportbike. Meike was also a little nervous before the first laps on the sky-blue aero bike - everyone always said that carbon was a completely different riding experience, and the streamlined frame and high rims were also new to both of us.
My ex was a leisurely long-distance aluminium guy, and since I don't quite fall into the Tour de France aspirant category, I thought maybe I'd better stick with him. But my worries about the new guy proved unfounded: Neither my knees nor my back hurt unduly and long distances with very different asphalt qualities were much more pleasant and less tiring than I was used to, thanks to full carbon. Meike also quickly fell in love with the directness, the contact with the road and the push forward that the IZALCO MAX brings.