Inside the first Global Bike Festival: Road, gravel and mountain biking come together in the Austrian Alps

Cycling Weekly was there to find out why hundreds of people travelled to Austria with their bikes for a weekend

Global Bike Festival
(Image credit: James Cheadle)

There was a moment last Friday where within about 12 hours I went from standing in a bar watching people race on Zwift next to André Greipel, the winner of 158 pro races, to riding up Austria's highest road with him, albeit briefly. I was at my limit at this point, Greipel, to prove a point to GCN's Ollie Bridgewood, only had one foot clipped in.

12 hours after that, I was once again in the bar, this time watching Dan Lloyd present a cycling-themed pub quiz to an audience weary from a day of epic cycling.

This, obviously, is not an ordinary experience, unless you are one of Greipel's close friends, or you work for GCN, of course. It is was just a few of the things on offer at the first Global Bike Festival, which took place last weekend in the Austrian Alpine town of Saalbach.

Delayed by two years thanks to the pandemic - remember that - the Festival brought together all the cycling channels of the Play Sports Network, from the Global Cycling Network to the Electric Mountain Bike Network, in one weekend of fun in the Alps.

450 people from across the world had bought tickets to the first edition, with people from the UK, Germany and Austria, but also further afield, some had even come from the USA for the experience.

Back to Greipel on the Großglockner; it was one of the road rides that were on offer, rides that put ordinary cyclists together with professionals and GCN presenters. The 17km long climb took cyclists up to 2,504 metres, up to the top of the Großglockner High Alpine Road for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

However, that was not just all that was to do, not by a long stretch. For a start, there were rides for those of a more gravel or mountain bike persuasion, with people tackling trails around Hacklberg and Leogang for off-road things.

The Global Bike Festival gave people opportunities to do something memorable, a base to explore the region from, meet fellow cycling nuts and bump into semi-famous people.

Global Bike Festival

(Image credit: James Cheadle)

Back in Saalbach, punters were presented with talks from experts and former professionals. A highlight was Calvin Jones from Park Tools giving technical demonstrations on what might be wrong with your bike, but there were events to satisfy most, with big cycling brand there too.

The evenings became a bit more raucous, with events hosted in a bar usually reserved for après ski (a sign on the door said it was usually used for Scandinavian rock). There were events hosted by the GCN presenters before sets from world-class DJs. These are definitely two different sets of people.

The festival is booked in for two more years in the Austrian Alps, and one can see why - it offers everything for a festival of cycling; it was not too small to be absolutely swamped by the event, but not too big that it just felt lost either.

"In a challenging climate where many events are being cancelled we were very happy to host a successful first edition of Global Bike Festival," James Pope, the festival's director, said. "With attendees from over 20 different countries travelling to Saalbach the event definitely had a global feel to it which has always been our ambition. We were pleased to see a diverse mix of MTB, road and gravel riders and the feedback on the riding experience has been excellent.

"Saalbach is a well known MTB destination but is also a hidden gem for gravel and road riding. The gravel side in particular has huge potential and is an area we are planning to focus more on for future editions. Feedback from guests has been fantastic so we are already looking forward to making the event bigger and better in 2023."

With it finally happening after two delayed years in 2022, there is ambition for the future from Pope and his team; they aim for 1000 guests next year, and even more in the future. Now I've cycled up the Großglockner once, maybe I'll be back next year to do it in a more respectable time.

The inaugural Global Bike Festival in Saalbach, Austria was held in June. The festival was created by Play Sports Network to bring road, gravel and mountain bike riders together for four days of talks, skills sessions, rides and interactive events with iconic riders and brands. Ticket sales for 2023 will be announced in due course.

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