Searching in gutters and along side the curbs of the bus depot here in Prague at 10pm, I felt like, and probably looked like, a junkie hunting for his latest or lost fix. And…in some ways, I was. Only my fix was an iPhone that was lost earlier that morning somewhere between taking a photo and a misaligned insertion into my back pocket while out on a ride.
I like to tell race stories around photos. Words paint pictures when you possess a deft hand with words, but failing that talent, I rely on photos as much as anything to simply jar my memory as much as share the experiences of a journey. We’re going photo free on this one, for the most part.
Stage 3 – The MTB Day
Natural whoops of loamy soil, filled with perpendicular roots and endless open canopy forests summarized today’s stage.
Racing from Stronie Śląskie to Złoty Stok, we took what amounts to a trail that is THE EXACT BORDER between Poland and the Czech Republic. When I say the exact border, I mean the trails traces the exact border line along the ridge tops of mountains and hills between Poland and Czech Republic, eventually dropping us into the old gold mining town of Złoty Stok. A trail 18″ wide and 20 miles long, filled with the roots of millions upon millions of bushes and trees, this stage was equal parts pleasure and pain. Slow loamy soil and horrendous climbing pitches required full muscular effort to keep from grinding to a stand still…but the rewards on the back side of the shark’s tooth stage profile provided constant smiles. Drago Smash stretched the elastic several times, from which I could rebound back to his inferno on the downhills, but each time it was a matter of when, not if, I would get put back into my place, which was 2nd for the stage, once again.
Another 4 hour stage with the last 2.5hrs being pretty much an escalating uphill battle, one massive forest roller at a time. OSHA would not approve of these forest grades. Drago and I escaped pretty early, me learning how to climb within my limits and capitalize on the surprisingly technical and downhill segments of today’s stage. The Sudety MTB Challenge does not pull punches on course design. Brutal climbs and equally challenging technical trails come early and late in these stages.
Despite the last 45km being all uphill, the stage had two major downhills. The key, as Rocky knows, to knocking down Drago is to not play his game. Attack the climbs, be the hammer, not the anvil. This leaves two choices at the bottom of each descent – continue the effort and force Drago to do the same work as I in order to close the gap, or sit up and rest, hoping to put a little gas in back in the tank for next Drago assault. I went for a mixed assault, and on stage 4 it paid off, Drago unable to ditch the lesser of rider that I am.
A major part of bike racing is making fewer mistakes, and accordingly, forcing mistakes. Taking a gamble, I let Drago take the lead on a DH, hoping to apply the ultimate of effective social weapons – peer pressure. Without witnesses, we’re able to dance how we want, eat with our elbows on the table, and downhill as poorly as possible. Put those same activities in the spot light of a pair of watchful eyes, and everything changes.
Drago charge downhill! Drago flat. An unfortunate puncture, for sure, but one that I was not going to wait around for him to repair. Facing the hardest 30km of the course alone, it was a be careful what you wish for effort. No pacing allowed, just fleeing and hoping to make it to the last climb alone. The finish into Walim was all downhill, and coasting never felt so good, as did my first mountain bike stage win in Europe.
Typically in stage races, the last day of racing is a “gimme” stage. Short, easy and one that you can easily coast through if so desired.
Not at the Sudety. Another 3.5+hr stage, with raw and open terrain mixed with multiple village crossings as we headed back to Kudowa Zdrój, where the whole adventure began 6 days ago. Drago smash from the word go, while the rest of us let the opening two monster climbs slowly warm the legs. The last stage of a stage race are often rebates, as we say in skateboarding. A do over. A last chance to make something happen, and plenty of riders were going for it today.
Swiss rider Fabrice Clement was the best of the rest today, tearing our legs to pieces with his Dancing with the Stars on the pedals climbing style, always out of the saddle, changing speed and tempo constantly. I dropped a bottle in waist high stinging nettles grass and wasn’t about to go digging through those plants looking for it, so by the time we hit feed 2, my tanks were empty. Taking a 20oz coke and two bottles, the Swiss dropped me and quickly put 60 seconds between us. Once the calories kicked it, I rejoined Fabrice, who then attacked on the second to last climb. Just as I thought for sure I’d be dropped, the Coke kicked in and the climb went from tarmac to full medieval cobbles interspersed with roots and rocks. Keep your chin up folks. Sometimes hitting rock bottom is just a launching pad for things turning around. Another 2nd place, about where I belong this week.
I came into the race with zero expectations other than to enjoy what I fully knew would be a difficult event. The race course, the vibe and energy of the participants, and the warm reception of us racers in the small Czech and Polish communities is what really was a pleasant and rewarding surprise. Race routes were difficult and well balanced. Scenic and full of history – where else can you race on ancient cobbled cart paths in the forests while passing WWII bunkers, Castles, and historical markers from as far back as the 14th century? The technical single track and brutal nature of the terrain made you feel as if you really had seen the best the country side could throw at you.
Our adopted group team of Germans took care of everything from feeds to luggage transport, not to mention the most important of things – socializing with beer and pizza. Of note is that the Czech and Polish consume an average of 1 liter of beer, per person, per day. If that, and the particular lack of compression tights at race breakfast doesn’t give you an insight into the laid back nature of the event, then we need to talk. Creating friends and a becoming a part of the racing village community is what stage racing, and ultimately, travel, is all about for me. Shared experiences, tribulations, and challenges form better memories and make you a better person than most other things you can do with 7 days and a mountain bike.
Remind me of this in 3 weeks when we start the Mongolian Bike Challenge!
On to the photos…
Complete results from the Sudety MTB Challenge can be found at mtbchallenge.com.
xxcmag.com would like to congratulate Jason Sager on his 2nd place GC finish at the Sudety MTB Challenge and thank him for taking the time to share his race experiences with us. Best of luck in Mongolia!