What does a man get alongside the luxury title of 'Goat King'? A very appropriate living, breathing, bleating, four-legged goat for a prize. In the end, King Pritzel couldn’t quite repeat the success of the previous year, but what had become of that special trophy
? Having graciously accepted the miniature beast at the podium, Timo had the foresight to realise that farm animals of the Austrian mountains and city life in central Berlin are not the most sensible of blends. With that in mind, however soul-crushing, the decision to leave this furry little bundle of joy behind was made. Although Timo returned the next few seasons to compete, contact was lost and his ‘kid’, if you will, long forgotten. That is until he got the call from an old friend and resort ambassador Tibor Simai - did he want to explore Saalbach’s most rugged enduro trails and sample some of the backcountry beyond the bike park?
It was a no brainer... an offer he couldn’t refuse and who knows, maybe he’d have the chance to track down his long-lost goat. They say ‘never go full enduro’ - well nevermind the commenters and the memes - it was high-time Timo went ‘full mountain biking’ and there was no better place to test his Propain all-mountain machine, than the legendary ‘Bike Circus’ of Saalbach-Hinterglemm in Austria. As it happens his good friend, Tibor, was a judge at that very slopestyle competition some 10 years before, but the pair go way back much further than that, 26 years to be precise. As a famous BMX racer, built like a weightlifter before finishing school and with all the coolest gear and bikes, Tibor was an inspiration to Timo the grom.
Several days and several phone calls later, myself, Timo and Tibor found ourselves high up above the tree-line, at the very back end of the Saalbach valley. It was dawn, shortly before 6am, as we approached the top of a sharp climb that followed the near 1000 height-meter shuttle we couldn’t say ‘danke’ enough for. Despite the head-start, our heavy breathing and clunking along in the dark was enough to startle a herd of chamois drinking from a lake and they set off at pace, their tiny black and white heads hurtling across the damp, steep moorland.
The wait for first light was coming to a close and when the sun finally broke, it came beaming over the distant ranges with its max wattage from under a big bank of cloud. It was to be a short-lived window, but we'd certainly take it. This is a part of the mountain few people get to see on a typical holiday to the bike park; an epic ridgeline of contrasting colours, backing onto multiple empty valleys of nothingness, bar rock and nature. Even fewer are up at this kind of time to see it lit up in gold. It was a great welcome to the Austrian wilderness.
These were trails formed purely by mix of hiker and sheep, making for the kind of loose, unpredictable terrain, you can't get enough of following a summer of hard-packed braking bumps. As a second home to Munich local, Tibor, he was naturally the leader of our adventure and in this kind of wild landscape it seemed he could put the hurt into Timo and get ahead in this long-standing rivalry between the duo from years gone by.
|I met Timo when I was 18 on a school trip to Berlin, waiting in line at a food truck at a motorway service station. The young kid came up to me and asked if I was Tibor the BMXer and we had a good chat about bikes and racing. That little guy was Timo. It must have been 1989. From then we would see each other at the BMX race, eventually competing against each other. It is great that we have stayed in contact despite how our careers took us to such different places. - Tibor Simai |
|Although I'm a city kid, I have a lot of love for the Mountains! I am best known as a dirt jumper, but I always liked to just go out in the woods and have a cross-country ride... or you know, 'Enduro' as we call it today! It's important for me because I live in the city and I feel some quality nature time really helps me. I'll often head out for a quick ride in the morning before starting work as a yoga teacher in Berlin, but there are really no hills so it's amazing to come to Saalbach with Tibor and discover this stunning landscape beyond even what I had imagined was out there - Timo Pritzel - Propain |
After a short biscuit break, or ‘dried fig break’ as it is in the case of two guys sponsored by a health food company, we began the epic descent down to Lengau village. For a dirt jump guy, Timo was coping with the gnarly terrain surprisingly well, tackling the 'axle-scraping muddy rut into rocky switchback' scenarios with relative ease in his skate shoes and bare hands.
As we rumbled down the fire-road for the remaining few kilometres back to the village, gravel spitting up at us in mud-coated chunks from our tires, it was clear he’d passed Tibor's unofficial backcountry test. A steep, gullied stream crossing and a couple of burly root sections that wouldn’t look out of place between the tape at Val Di Sole World Cup had sealed it.
Any athlete will tell you the importance of a good diet and after that kind of morning, we needed to think big. A trip to the famous Spielberghaus did the trick and we were soon scoffing the finest locally produced Leber wurst and most delicious, crispy, fried potatoes in town. The sun was back so we couldn’t spend too long in the deck chairs and on the radlers; despite Timo’s best attempts at stealing a regenerative nap, we had laps to do; this time, some lift assisted sessioning of the Panorama trail and Milka Line.
That really marked the point when Timo came into his own. Chasing Tibor through the flowing berms and jumps of the bike park was like a trip back to the BMX crazed 90s for the pair. Tibor for sure knows how to handle a bike, but as soon as there was any hint or suggestion of airtime no matter how small the lip, Timo was able to show off his enviable style and we got to see his timeless, signature one-foot table.
Next up on Tibor's itinerary to continue the good times behind bars, we were headed to the Schattberg Express gondola to make some laps on Saalbach's main DH trail, X-line. It was obvious Tibor knew the track like the back of his glove, slashing rough turns and gapping the roots, but once again Timo stole the show on every jump, whether the kicker was real or imaginary, finishing with the big ladder drop on his enduro bike. A quick refresh in the ice cold water of the river at the bottom and Timo had his zen back on track and we were good to go.
Not satisfied with merely the 6am summit and some post-early bird laps that afternoon, Tibor had a sunset plan for us. From Saalbach centre, we hopped on the Schattberg X-press gondola and began the remainder of the fairly huge ascent to the top of the Westgipfel mountain. It felt huge at least, at over 2000m altitude. We rode into the top of the Hacklberg trail, equipped with its awe-inspiring backdrop; the giant snowy triangle of the Kitzsteinhorn ski area, before dropping into one of the most technical trials of the whole Saalbach Bike Circus - the Bergstadl trail.
Initially fast and flowing to fire-up the reactions, the Bergstadl soon turns aggressive and a lot more white-knuckle as we dipped below the tree line and the sun started to dip below the horizon. We definitely got the best of the final moments, arriving at a section of insane highland colours, as the rocky trail meandered through orange heather with big clumps of yellow and green bracken. After a top day on the hill, over dinner at the Bergstadl mountain restaurant, Tibor dropped the bomb; he had found Timo’s goat, so he thought and had arranged a reunion for the next afternoon.
With the bikes packed up, there was onIy one thing left to settle back in Hinterglemm village; the long awaited reunion Tibor had promised… It was a nervous time for us all, not least Timo, as the 'father'. Could it really be the goat awarded to him so long ago? How would the beast look if it was still alive today? Do goats live for more than 10 years? So many questions! Thankfully the suspense wouldn’t last much longer. Tibor took us to the very spot where the 2004 slope contest was held under the Reiterkogelbahn lift, apparently just too obvious a place to look previously… Tucked in the corner below the trees was a goat pen and from the herd of many, there was one fine specimen that truly stood out.
|This huge goat was an impressive animal... I guess he was the boss of all the goats they had there. Taking this guy out for a walk was intimidating at first, but I think it was important I didn't show fear and acted as the father that I am and, in the end, he was ok with it. We had some moments off 'reuniting' and some quality time spent comparing our goat beards in front of the Goat Stall bar after all these years...! Fair play to my old friend - he won - Timo Pritzel - Propain Bikes |
And so it was - reunited after 11 long years of thick and full beard growth. Despite looking a spit of the goat pictured on the podium so many years ago, it wouldn’t be possible to determine the goat’s identity definitively without rigorous DNA testing… But of course, what mattered most was the obvious and immediate bond between the pair; something that Tibor and I spotted the moment that lasso slipped over his horns. All you need is love, and more than a decade after being crowned the Goat King of Saalbach it’s clear the great passions of Timo Pritzel endure – four legs, two wheels and great beards for life.