24th July 2008
John Randle usually goes classic racing in Holland, but this summer he took on an Austrian challenge...
I just got back from a wonderful classic race meeting at the Grossglockner in Austria and feel I share my experience of this unique meeting. But before I get going, remember this name: Thomas Fritsch.
The Grossglockner is the highest mountain in Austria, some 3798 metres in fact. It is a most wonderful and calm place which boasts not only one of the best biking roads on the planet but a glacier, a game park, a panorama cable car, waterfalls, celtic mountain shrine, a lake, a host of other things and stunning scenery.Grossglockner Trophy poster detail
The road itself is owned by a private company and is therefore a private road so you have to pay to go up it. In 1935, 1938 and 1939 it was part of the 'Berg Races' known as the Austrian Big Berg Prize. These races were held on the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse. During this time the Swiss Klausenpaas race was also held and these two races were known as the toughest in Europe. After the war the permission to race was refused and the races ended. That was until 2002 when permission was once again granted for pre-1962 bikes. Since then the races have been held every two years, so 2008 was the fourth outing of this running event in modern times.John Randle's Grossglockner Triton
The riders start at 20 second intervals and get two runs; the first is at 8am and the second is at 4pm. Leaving the start-line you come into a right hander and then onto a 12% incline mountain road which gains gradient. The course is 12.6 km and takes in 20 hairpin bends and rises to an altitude of 1260 meters. The entry is limited but of the 150 bikes taking part there are more than a few rare and wonderful machines to hear and see in action.
Competitors come from all over Europe; Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy and England among them, and everyone is there for the love of classic machinery and racing.
So, the day arrived that I had been waiting for for over a year which started with the drive to Austria. We suffered a blow-out on one of the rear tyres on the van in the middle lane of a busy German motorway - oh joy! Not a pleasant experience. Eventually we approached the course, and the road up to the paddock area tested the van to its limit. We were down to first gear (!) at one point but we made it and set up at the bottom of a mountain and in view of a waterfall and cows with bells.
Saturday 28 June was the day for signing on and scrutineering and also the day most of the competitors arrived. We passed scrutineering -- all was well with the bike and you get a commemorative plaque and the all-important free pass for the road. There is no official practice for this event but you are encouraged to familiarise yourself with the course. This must be in or on a road-registered vehicle, so it is amazing how many race bikes suddenly sprout a number plate at this time!"It is amazing how many race bikes suddenly sprout a numberplate..."
Lining up for the start I already knew my jetting was right but the gearing was still too high -- but what can you do? Nothing, just enjoy it. Called up to the start, watch the clock and the starter and -- blast off. Well, it was 'blast off' for the first 200 metres until I missed a gear, sending the revs higher than the Alps, bending a pushrod and jamming the inlet valve open! Game over.
My next two hours were spent sorting that lot out for the 4pm run. There were other casualties but they all got further than I, although one guy only beat me by a few hundred metres…
Race Two was run in 30-plus degree temperature, just the thing wearing black leathers and sitting on top of a red-hot motorbike. Again: watch the clock and the starter then blast off again. Yes, perfect take off and no missed gears this time. All you can do is focus on the road ahead, the turns have no marker boards or chevrons marking left or right, so concentration is the order of the day. It is a wonderful experience, blasting up a mountain pass on a classic race bike…
…well, it was a wonderful experience until just past the half-way point. I felt a sharp pain in my right knee. The bike suddenly sounded like a VW Beetle and had about as much go as a Beetle too. The cause? The right hand spark plug had decided to leave the building, taking the threads from the head with it. So sorry folks: no RealClassic flag on the top of the Grossglockner this time!
The pass claimed quite a few scalps that day but most in the afternoon which was probably down to the heat. Coming back down the pass is probably just as hard as going up it as you need brakes a lot more than on the way up.
What is it like then? Awesome: it is extremely hard to put into words.
Will I do it again? You bet I will. Roll on 2010! I've learned a lot from this time so I look forward to flying the RC flag at the top.
So have you remembered that name from the start of this story, Thomas Fritsch? I certainly hope so. If it were not for the efforts of this man we would have never been there at all. Thomas is a giant among men. It was his persistence that got the races reinstated in 2002. Thomas is helped by a small army of volunteers from all walks of life and the Motor-Veteranen-Club Zell am See.
If ever you are on holiday in this region I strongly recommend you take a trip to the Grossglockner, pay your fee and have a ride up the pass. While you are there, go into the town of Zell am See and find Thomas Fritsch and buy him a pint -- in fact, buy him more than one because he deserves it. Without men like Thomas Fritsch our sport would be a poorer place.
May I take this opportunity to also thank Thomas and the many members of his team for giving me a wonderful time. I am counting the days to the next Grossglockner Trophy.
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