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Gunther’s report…

The 4th Tour de Kärnten started last week with a 21k time-trial in blood-boiling 35 deg C and merciless sun. I was the sole Phoenix rider against some top amateurs and ex-pro’s in the continental cycling scene, with the likes of Stefan Kirchmair who won the Haute Route last year. The undulating TT course suited me well, but I was surprised to score a 2nd place in the opening stage with a narrow deficit of just 0.9 seconds.

Stage 2 was a mountain road race. The plan was to stay close to the front for as long as possible and, legs permitting, throw in the cheeky attack towards the end. On the penultimate climb I opened up a small gap towards the top and decided to go flat out on the descent. The downhill was a kamikaze with 18% slopes on a criminally poor road surface. I was out of sight at the bottom of the last climb and pushed on. After a tough 6k on a modest 5-6% slope I crossed the line for stage glory and grabbed the blue jersey with a gap of 50 seconds.

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Next morning I woke up looking out of the window in disbelief as big snowflakes started coming down a grey sky. The stage was shortened as a result, but still challenging. A solo attack went almost from the gun with me staying in the chase group. Again on the penultimate climb I attacked, got clear and started to chase the sole leader but punctured on the descent waiting several minutes for a spare wheel. Plummeting down through the mist I managed to catch the main group (solo rider was still clear) just before the bottom of the finishing climb, which was a cruel 5k at an average ~12%. Naturally the gruppetto split in pieces and I churned my natural rythm, slowly pulling away from the other riders. In the end I managed 2nd place on the stage, but increased the lead in the overall to just over 3 minutes.

Stage 4 was always going to be decisive with four big climbs in poor weather. It had cooled down to single-digit degrees and the rain was relentless. I attacked 40k from the finish, praying not to puncture. Apparently most contenders were taken by surprise and didn’t chase, leaving me with a sweet solo stage win, a gap of 4 minutes to the chasers and some very wet clothes. The lead in the GC was now a reassuring 7 minutes.

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Stage 5 (mountain time trial) again was shortened due to snow, now only 8.8k long with 900m (!) of climbing. The 30s start interval and the steep slope meant that you could see competitors almost from the start. Overtaking the main contenders I managed to finish in just over 33min, and 1min 43 sec ahead of 2nd placed Stefan Kirchmair.

On the last day, for stage 6, I escaped with 3 others in a breakaway early on, comprising eventual 2nd-placed and 3rd-placed rider. We worked together well until some 10k from the gentle uphill finish, when I went with an attack to split the group in two. In the end I secured stage win number 4 and the overall win in a great event I can only recommend to anyone who wants to make the effort of travelling abroad to ride.

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