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That’s the limit: BORA-hansgrohe cycling team for training in Ötztal

When the air gets thin even for cycling pros

At the high-altitude training camp held in Ötztal in mid-August 2022, part of Germany's top cycling team BORA-hansgrohe got the finishing touches on an upcoming season highlight. We spoke to coach Helmut Dollinger and all-round cyclist Luis-Joe Lührs to find out more about the training units and what tips they would give to ambitious amateur cyclists.

Hello Helmut and Luis-Joe! Thank you for your time and for answering a few questions. First of all: why did you choose Ötztal for the training camp?

Helmut: We wanted to do a special altitude training camp with some of our professional cyclists in preparation for a season highlight. At comfy Hotel Laurin in Hochgurgl we have found a hotel partner who could fulfill all our wishes. We were fully satisfied thanks to an altitude of approx. 2150 meters, excellent cuisine and fabulous rooms and wellness infrastructure.

Luis-Joe: It feels like you have a completely different climate in Ötztal than in the rest of Tirol. It is milder and there is less precipitation due to its southerly orientation. And if it should be raining in Ötztal, you can also go over Timmelsjoch Pass towards South Tyrol and find Italian weather conditions there.

Helmut: The most important argument for this training location, however, is the variety of long climbs and high alpine routes, which can be found within the entire valley and several side valleys.

BORA-hansgrohe altitude training camp

How is such a training camp planned, what does the coaching team pay attention to?

Helmut: The BORA-hansgrohe professional cycling team has a team of 4 coaches, usually athletes from different coaches go to the training camp and therefore we first have to agree on a joint training plan. The purpose of a joint training camp is of course that the riders train together! As soon as the training plan is in place, the appropriate training routes are defined.

It is important to mention that you have to start with dosed training units at high altitude for the first 3-4 days! This is absolutely necessary, because otherwise you would overstrain the organism due to two factors: altitude and training load. After that, the training usually continues for two or three days with more intensive exercise and then - very importantly - a relaxing rest day to process the previous training load well. On such rest days it can sometimes happen that you have to offer a side program for the racers, such as an excursion to the 007 ELEMENTS James Bond Adventure World, so that the guys don't get bored and are not tempted to do some extra training hours on their rest day.

If a cyclist nevertheless wanted to spend more time on the bike on his rest day, then we took him downhill to the BIKE REPUBLIC SÖLDEN. This is how cycling, having fun and relaxation were combined in the best possible way.

BORA-hansgrohe altitude training camp

Which training routes were on your program in Ötztal and why did you choose them?

We were mainly on the following three routes:

Basic round:
The following loop is particularly suitable for long basic units and is also very popular with our racing cyclists: 170 km and 3500 altitude meters with relatively moderate uphill gradients - that sounds like basic training!
From Hochgurgl through the entire Ötztal in the direction of Oetz and then at the valley entrance via Roppen and Sautens back into Ötztal, further on to Umhausen and here comes the climb to Niederthai. Back to Umhausen and further into the valley to Längenfeld and up into the next side valley towards Gries. The great winding road back via Sölden and Zwieselstein to the mountaineering village of Vent. From Vent out of the valley to the final climb to Hochgurgl.

High altitude loop:
Hochgurgl - Timmelsjoch - Vent - Rettenbach Glacier - Hochsölden - Obergurgl - Hochgurgl
The special feature of this round is that half of the training is at an altitude of over 2000 meters. The 110 km long route featuring 4000 altitude meters is very well suited for training sessions of about 5 hours always at an altitude above 1500 meters.
It's not a classic tour because you keep returning in the side valleys of Ötztal, but the end points such as Timmelsjoch, Vent, Glacier or Hochsölden offer brilliant panoramas and are always the end points for varied intervals in our training sessions!

Ötztaler Cycle Marathon course:
Luis-Joe: This is the highlight of every training camp. The queen's stage, so to speak, covering approx. 230 km and over 5000 altitude meters. This route is always a myth and a challenge even for the top pros, as you would probably never do such an exhausting loop in normal everyday training! The route is simply unique because of the long climbs and the fantastic mountain scenery, it is truly challenging and satisfying at the same time!

Helmut: On this round, the basic endurance in particular is perfectly improved by the long training time of about 8 hours and the long climbs automatically lead to an improvement of both strength and endurance. Usually, we use parts of these climbs for special intervals to train exactly this strength endurance.
As a coach, you can actually always observe even with professionals that they feel a certain relief when they arrive at the tunnel of Timmelsjoch!

BORA-hansgrohe altitude training camp

In conclusion: What should ambitious amateur racing cyclists generally keep in mind when training, and what in particular during training excursions to Ötztal?

Luis-Joe: First and foremost, I would recommend that ambitious cyclists in Ötztal enjoy the scenery and take time to look at all the beautiful places, ha-ha. But seriously: In general, it is important to ensure that you have enough food with you and that you have enough energy when training.

Helmut: Especially in Ötztal, amateur athletes should be aware that the high altitude at which they move can have an impact on the body. That’s why you should plan leisurely units in the first days.

Helmut and Luis-Joe, thank you very much for the interesting conversation!

BORA-hansgrohe altitude training camp