On the border with the Czech Republic and Poland, Kudowa-Zdrój, is a spa town and recreation jump off point for the Stołowe and Sudety mountains which dates back to the 16th century. Laying claim as to being the place where heart and circulation system diseases were cured, it must the the inspirational point for the Polish diet which is rich in meat, especially pork, chicken, beef, and cabbage. Being a vegetarian for the past 21 years, and not speaking a single word of Polish or Czech, ordering food in Kudowa has been a comedy of pointing to other patron’s meals and hoping for the best. Menus with photos are my friends. It’s also full of active but dorky parents towing around awkward tweenage children who are crawling in their skin at being seen in public with their parents. Ah, the memories of family vacations.
This is my first trip to Eastern Europe and the region reminds me quite a bit of upstate New York. Hardwood trees, loamy soil, large embedded rocks and thick tree canopies define the area. That was a slight surprise but what really was a revelation of the trip has been the technical nature of the race. The Sudety MTB Challenge, started and run by Grzegorz Golonko, is in its 9th year, and continues to evolve into one of the best stage races in Eastern Europe. Coming to Europe, I was expecting endless gravel and tarmac climbs, chocked full of skinny Euros on even skinnier tires, sprinting endless up every hill with their forks locked out.
But this is not what we’ve found.
I am traveling with Jose Luis Acre, race director the southern Spain’s Andalucía Bike Race, and with a Friday free to shake out the jet leg, we pre-rode the first 20km of stage 1. Expecting gentle rollers and some farm tracks, we found a vast network of xc single track laced throughout the hills above town. Slowly working our way between fields and farms along the tree hedges, we eventually climbed above Szkoła ski area, we realized this route will not only be incredibly challenging because of the nature of the competition, but also by the terrain. We’ve been told that its similar in many regards to the terrain and ground found at the BC Bike Race. Loamy, physical, technical, and expansive.
Prologue. The last time I did the Cape Epic, back in the US we had just finished the Mellow Johnny’s UCI C1 cross country event. I think the winning time was around 90 minutes for the race, whereas the prologue that year at the Epic was over two hours! The MTB Challenge served up a more appropriate prologue, though a time trial would more accurately describe the stage: 8.5km with 550m of vertical gain. Once again, looking at the race bible we expected Euro madness – dirt roads, steep gravel driveways, and fire lanes. Instead the route was almost 100% within national protected forest areas. Proper single track, urban trails, and a cruel 1500 meters of really lumpy pavement made up the brutal return to racing reality after a leisurely couple of days since landing in Prague. The bottom half of the track was fully of slow and twisty climbing in the trees, which over excited my effort. I paid the price on the pavement section at the top with twice the pain and half the speed being my reward
Still yet, it was somehow good enough for 2nd place on the day, behind the Czech rider Tomas Vokrouhlik. Tomorrow the racing gets going in ernest – 90km, 2200m+ of climbing, and as we’ve been told (and seen) it won’t be on a bunch of gravel roads. I think I might be wishing for some by the end of the stage!
Day One Photo Blog:
Words and photos by Jason Sager.