On arrival at Prague Airport on Friday morning, my bike appeared and it was immediately apparent that the rear brake handle had been broken in transit. Further investigation revealed a new brake unit was required. Fortunately, the following day, I ran into my old German mate, Andreas Ueberrhein, and he informed his German crew who organized for a new Magura brake to be transported from Germany, almost 10 hours away. That evening, I rode over to their hotel and Andreas helped replace the brake unit. Without him, my race would have been over before it started. Needless to say, that would have meant my journey to Poland was for nothing – wasting not only money and time, but the opportunity to enjoy my first ever European mountain bike stage race.
I returned to my hotel relieved, and looking forward to the following day’s prologue. Along with fellow Australian’s Peter Selkrig and Garry James (riding in a Master’s 100 team), we planned to ride the Prologue in the morning to determine what we had in store for us in the afternoon. We climbed for around five kilometres, arrived at a town but there were no signs for the start. We took a few photos and returned to the hotel only to be informed by our Polish host that we were a mere 100 metres from the start line.
As we made the return journey up the hill my Garmin 510 decided to act very strangely, turning on and off, while not responding to screen activation. At the end of the ride it powered off completely and was hot to the touch. I now had no computer. I rode into town and there was a loud bang as I rode over a broken bottle. No puncture but the tyre appeared to have a number of small gashes, which were not too deep and would be okay for the race. At the hotel, I looked for over an hour but failed to locate my multi tool. Frustrated, I wrote a short Facebook message and Mike Blewitt (riding in a mixed team with Imogen Smith) came to my rescue by offering a Magellan Cyclo 105 and a multi tool. Too late for the Prologue but enabling me to use them in the next five stages.
I rode the gentle climb to the start line, relieved to be close to actually beginning the event. The sun was hot and I arrived dripping in sweat (this is quite normal, as anybody who has sat next to me on an indoor bike would testify. I met another of my Crocodile Trophy buddies, Polish M2 rider (and rival) Zbigniew Mossoczy. Zbig is sure to be a great companion once I am in the Event Centre Village as well as useful when it comes to translating the baffling language of Polish into English. Why does Polish have so many ‘z’, ‘w’, ‘y’ and ‘c’ letters in every word and god knows how you are supposed to pronounce it? Forty million Poles are welcome to it.
I was called up to the start line for the short 15 km Time Trial. Riders were set off at 30 second intervals and so I aimed to target as many riders as I could up the six kilometre initial climb. Perhaps I was being a little optimistic. My only other two competitive time trials have been pretty poor, in terms of results, and this was only short, so I would have no opportunity to utilise my strength of endurance. At least it involved a fair amount of climbing and a technical descent, two areas that would count in my favour.
I settled into my climbing rhythm, but was then passed by two professional-looking riders three quarters of the way up. I realised then that the standard here was pretty high. At the top, I was overtaken by a third rider but managed to pick up my tempo, following him along the undulations across the plateau, before finally being dropped at the final technical pinch section.
I had overtaken two riders on the climb, and now, as we hit the steep, technical descent, which was even more difficult following a heavy thunderstorm, I started to pass several more, some walking, others struggling to ride efficiently through the rocky and heavily-rooted descent. The track opened up, and with only a few pinch climbs, the remainder of the course pointed down. I managed to hit some nail-biting speeds, which were easy to maintain due to the wide corners. Not being the best descender, I even surprised myself that I was carrying so much speed into the corners. I continued to overtake riders, and at no point on the descent was I overtaken.
I finished in a respectable time of 48.22 placing me 20th in M2, out of 61 riders and 91st overall. Zig finished in 12th with a time of 44.40, my German friend Andreas (M1) finished two minutes ahead of me and Australian’s Mike Blewitt and Imogen Smith finished on the third step of the podium in the Mixed Pairs Category.
Quite clearly, a difficult week lies ahead, with a very good standard of mountain biking being set from Day One.