Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dobrý den!

I completed my second trip to Europe last weekend – special mission to World Cup #6 in Nové Mésto na Moravé, Czech Republic.

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After the first Euro World Cup trip to the UK and Germany this Spring, the whole process felt very relaxed…considering I was flying this far away for a single bike race! I thought sarcastically that it’s a good thing for my wind energy job at Ridgeline so that I can still offset the carbon footprint.

I arrived in Prague and zipped down the 2 hour drive in my Škoda Roomster...
...great dimensions for carrying bikes...

...and checked into the Hotel Hajčman in Žďár nad Sázavou, about 10km west of the race venue.

This area of the country is big on cycling, or at leased appeared to be this weekend. There are tour routes all over the place, and it was a big deal that the World Cup was in town. There were huge billboards and signs advertising the World Cup (with local hero Jaroslav Kulhavy front and center) set up within an hour radius of the town.

The race venue outside of Nové Mésto is used for Nordic Ski World Cup events in the winter time, and the organizers certainly knew how to put on a perfectly run event. The race started and finished in a big stadium, and on race day, over 20,000 fans poured in to watch the races. Most people gathered in the stadium, but thousands more were spread out through the woods screaming riders' names as loudly as possible. Fast lap times on the course were right around 13:00min, by far the shortest lap times so far this year. The soil in the wooded trails was very loamy, fed by a thick canopy of coniferous trees, and soaked up rain water like a sponge. There were 4 steep climbs between 1 and 2 minutes long, and descents were fast and technical with roots and man-made rock gardens. With 7 laps plus a start loop, that made for around 30 hard efforts (just with the climbs, not counting the flat dragstrip through the stadium) in less than two hours.

There were 117 starters in the men’s race on Sunday afternoon. I've moved up slightly in the international rankings since the spring, but still not enough to gain immunity to the start-loop melee. I got caught in solid pile-up exiting the stadium, and those of us caught up were instantly at the back of the pack. Going into the woods I was about third-to-last, and hemorrhaged 2:45 in the start loop alone! The race was exciting and fast-paced, and I felt strong and aggressive, but it was still a fight. On the third lap a small twig wound its way into my cassette. It was heinously narrow and flexible enough to instantly work its way between the mid-range of my cassette, forcing me off the bike to pick the pieces out. By the end I fought my way up from near 114th to 65th, and it looked as though I would complete the race without being pulled, but unfortunately, the race judges decided otherwise as I rolled into the stadium for the last lap. It was discouraging, since I sat there for over two minutes before Kulhavy came roaring into the stadium. All frustration went on pause, however, as I marveled at the noise of the crowd cheering Kulhavy across the finish line. It was so loud, it made a rumble in my chest.

The result in Czech was consistent with my performance in the North American World Cups, but I had hoped for a better improvement. It was still a trip and effort well-spent, but I'm looking forward to a solid, culminating effort in a couple weeks in Champery, SUI. In the meantime, I'm back in New England for end-of-season fine tuning before the last big race.

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