The Mountain Bike Challenge 2007

Bob and Col race 450km across Poland and the Czech Republic in 6 stages with a whopping 13,000m of climbing. Amazing scenery, great people and lots and lots of pain!

Kinda like the TransAlp but with a more-difficult-to-pronounce language. Thoroughly recommended, the official website is here.


MTB Challenge – Race Report

Pre Race

First challenge: getting on the right plane. “Now boarding flights to Vrutslav”. That’s not us surely, we’re going to Wroclaw? The language barrier might become a bit of a recurring theme!

Our first sighting of a fellow Scot racer came as the flight attendants tried to shake a passenger back into consciousness. Sandy “Death in a Bucket” Thomson would recover later that day, but first we had to survive the drive from the airport along narrow country roads. Who'd have thought a fully laden minibus with a trailer could overtake so many cars/lorries/tractors/cyclists in so few miles?

That night Col suffers head pain, reaching 7.4 on the migraine scale. This leads to a post dinner vomit. Yuck. Thankfully Col recovers sufficiently to go for a quick spin through the forest the next day.

...TT are then run into the ground by Laurence (“Lance”) and Ken. Made to feel like amateurs. Seriously guys, you’re old enough to be our Dads! Fortunately their ineptitude with a map allows us to remain in sight. 40 hot kilometres later we discover they were 15th last year. Erk.

It doesn't stop there either: later that night we meet a guy who thinks the Iditabike is fun, a pair of Whyte sponsored riders and Jonathan Edwards*. This competition might be quite tough.


Ken pretends he's not utterly lost, while Lance pretends he's riding.

Stage 1 - 84km (155th, 5:09:59)

Our suspicions are confirmed. We have the heaviest, longest-travel, knobbliest-tyred bikes here. Carbon hardtails and SID forks as far as the eye can see. Bar ends on every 22" flat bar, "Racing Ralph" emblazoned on every wheel... we pray for mud and big rocks.

We start slow. We climb at a comfortable pace and ride leisurely along hilltop roads, winding among long-abandoned pillboxes... we didn't stop for tea and cake, but only because there weren't any tearooms.

20km from the end and according to plan, we pick up the tempo. The hill steepens; quads are burning now. The sun is beating down, sweat stings the eyes. We start to pass people on this long hard slog. False summit after false summit, and Col begins to pull away. He drops a gear and Bob hangs onto the wheel... just. We pass rider after rider... after walker. They're pushing now. Backmarkers of course, but it feels good all the same. Suddenly we crest the summit, across a road and into the forest.

Brief pause; a drink of water, one last gel and its downhill. A v-shaped gully, smooth sides with boulders down the middle. This is what we've been waiting for! Our knobbly tyres bite in as we rip past rider after rider. Energy renewed, we're flying. Swinging from left to right we carve down the trail; off camber corners, roots, rocks, deep ruts. Perfectly in control, this is the zone!

We're spat out onto a road; its flat now. 5km to the finish. Lockout. We dig in and wind it up. 1km out and we're flying again. Bob tucks in behind Col, Tour de France. We spot pairs ahead of us and chase them down: pass, see another, dig deeper. Then it's into the streets of Kraliky, tight corners on cobbles - careful, don't wipe out here - and back on the power. Every second counts you think, burning legs and gritted teeth. Then it's the town centre, the banners and arches and the finish.

And then a long lie down in the shade. People are milling around, but they've been finished for ages. We're 155th... but we passed 30 teams in the last half of the course! We're pleased with that. Complete, not compete, yeh?

Shower time, then massage, then dinner! Then we get organised again for the next day. And then we have another dinner. We could get used to this!

The view at 6am, Col on the start line.

Stage 2 - 62km (156th, 5:12:04)

Team Denmark set the tone for the day as we loiter near the startline:

TD: "Have you seen ze contours for today?"

TT: "No?"

TD: "You should call your mom. I did!"

Starting slowly as normal was only so much use today... you still had to get over these three massive hills. A hot, hard day but special in that it marked our first crash! Bob pushes a little too hard on the downhill and lands on a treestump/bush. Col christens it "the Exploding Pants" crash, on account of the manner in which Bob leaves the bike. A moment of panic too, later on when Bob discovers a horrible purple blotchy rash on his arm... later established to be the blueberries he crushed involuntarily earlier that day.

Selected other quotes from the day:

Tom to a hard looking Estonian: "Where's your teammate?"

Hard looking Estonian: "He vos too veek!"

We are warned to look out for "singletrails" and "super downheels" by marshalls. The 'downheels' are indeed super!

Also, our man at The Front (Tom) informs us that the riders at the front are all “Spankers” (translation: fast). Tom has been keeping up with Doug by riding “Flat out, cock out.” (translation: really fast)

Stage 3 - 67km (118th, 4:12:50)

This time we decided to go out a bit faster to see what happened. So serious were we about speed, we cut our feed station stops from 10 to 5 minutes, and refrained from oiling competitors chains. The result? Best finish so far, which is nice.

More mental downhills today: we're getting a reputation! The continentals remain unconvinced that "all hills in Scotland go downhill", despite our attempts to convince them otherwise.

In other news, Bob takes a commanding 23-2 lead in the tyre-bumping competition. Perhaps flattered by the proportion of time he spends behind Col, it's still a remarkable lack of control that should be applauded. Also, it was established that Col does in fact feel pain (until this point it had been in doubt), when he received an insect sting and emitted a noise that caused his concerned teammate to think he had perhaps severed a hand. They don't have midges in Poland, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality!

The finish was pretty special today. Caught by the Lost Boys (Team Brighton to you, delayed by a mechanical) on the final climb, we accelerate to keep pace. Or rather, Gavin and Col accelerate, and Bob and Jerome hang on for dear life. 5km of up is followed by an amazing 9km of down.

9km of twisty doubletrack, sharp corners and full-on top gear spinning all the way. One by one we pick off the Swedes, That Team in Green and some Belgians. A little British train two-wheel-drifting round every corner, we eventually catch up with the orange-clad Czechs we've been chasing all the way. 500m from the end a crash behind turns heads; he jumps up but we later discover he's snapped his bike through top and down tubes. At 45kph, that must have hurt!

We emerge onto tarmac road, flick the lockout levers and gun it: the Czechs know exactly what we're after and are sprinting too! It's another 500m to the finish and its 100% effort all the way, lactic burning in the quads till it feels like the legs aren't moving at all. We edge the Czechs in the sprint and enjoy hearty if breathless handshakes and backslapping, quite a race!

A stage start, team kit bags.

Stage 4 - 64km (117th, 4:29:57)

This is the magical expanding stage. 47km on the website, 52km on the startline, 64km when we eventually drag ourselves across the finish! The victim of unexpected tree-felling, the course was re-routed late the night before.

Your humble report-writer remembers little of this stage because he bonked (synonyms: hit the wall, got the knock) after just 30km. Its all a blur of pain, dribbling and incredible tiredness. I do remember having a bit of a strop after slipping into yet another muddy line - it's hard to ride ruts when you can't ride in a straight line.

We also record our best result thus far. No-one is more surprised than us.

Some views, some rocky and loose downhill.

Stage 5 - 78km (114th, 6:25:10)

Determined not to repeat the sorry events of yesterday, Bob fuels up on whatever he can find. 30km later, he bonks again. Yesterday was low, but this is something else! In an effort to set a sustainable pace, Bob takes the lead. He then misses a very well signposted turning, and turns into a field. He stops and looks bewildered. Col resumes the lead.

Things get so bad that Bob consumes THREE bananas. Bob HATES bananas. Lowest point reached when it starts raining. Col bursts into fits of giggles. Long, slow recovery begins... we have plenty of time! By far the longest day in the saddle, stage 5 was later billed as "the hardest thing I've ever done". Also record improved result, again... it seems more pain = better results. Amazing.

Despite all the bonking, we still have time to ride some gnarly downhills. Col claims top honours, cleaning the !!!!! section. Some seriously challenging, very steep and loose stuff with a great natural drop over a fallen tree, brilliant! The scenery was again beautiful, even passing a farmer using a horse-drawn rake.

Other notable incidents: Bob receives his second insect sting of the week and spends the final descent screaming like a small child, we sing "Seven Nation Army" with the Italians (somewhat deliriously... it was that kind of day), and we argue with a nice Czech man about why our Superlights are indeed superior to his Heckler.

Best of all, tomorrow is the last day...

Stage 6 - 69km (79th, 5:04:49)

The event has taken it's toll on some of the bikes by now. Jonathan's carbon Genius has cracked, but he's somehow wangled himself a Titus Racer X Exogrid. Michael The German gets top marks for fixing his cracked frame with 3 zip ties. Ollie toys with singlespeeding his mech hanger-less Scale before withdrawing.

Jonathan and Andy explain the benefits of starting further up the grid to us (higher = better apparently?) and so we try it, getting in line early. We lose each other in the ensuing melee and negate any advantage. The start is fast and flat and the pack is close together. Most stages have had hills early on to spread the field, but 30km in we're still nose-to-tail.

We walk/ride (it's a massive traffic jam) an amazing trail along the Polish/Czech border. A ribbon of singletrack up a hill and along a ridge, with an amazing rock formation and cliff off to one side. This would be well worth coming back to ride with just a few friends. The trail dips downhill and we get stuck behind some mincing europops... a few crazy, irresponsible, dangerous overtaking manoeuvres get us by though and we enjoy the swoopy, rocky stuff.

Soon the gradient gets proper steep. Most people are walking, but we're made of sterner stuff than that! Back brake locked, front full on, we slide downhill, only just in control. Bob starts to lose it and begins a long, utterly predictable slide into a bush... but there's nothing you can do. Col gets 10 yards on before doing a backflip for the photographer (see photo), earning himself a buckled wheel and a buggered thumb in the process. Col spends the rest of the day shifting with the palm of his hand, watching his front wheel wobble from side to side.

Col performs for the camera.

A few km later we're back up to speed and in a bunch again. Bob crashes in a rut, gets up, rides for 30 seconds, then crashes again. Thankfully today's diet of bananas (why did I not discover these before?!) and gels (a necessary evil) is keeping the energy levels up!

We ride hard all day and notice we're passing riders we don't recognise... this is either a good thing or a bad thing. We hurt lots, and remembering that pain = results, we reckon we're doing ok. Finally, 30 hours and 34 minutes after we started, we finish.


The finish, and some of the scenery...

The End (108th in the General Classification, 30:34:41)

Col later reveals he's been riding the past day and a half with incredible achillies pain while thinking he's broken his thumb. Respect.

The next day his granny ring falls off, his rear hub sounds like a big wooden italian pepper grinder, and his heels lock at 90 degrees. Bob feels fine! Unfortunately we're 19km and a great big hill away from where we want to be. Cue the hardest part of the race (for half of the team at least) as we ride back to Duszniki from Kudowa. It's not often that Col accepts a push up a hill!

We then spent a few days waiting for our flight back home. What luxury to have a real bed and not to have to do anything! We while away the hours playing giant chess (1 -1 for the record), reading, eating and sleeping...

With special thanks to...

The Hotel Fryderyk in Duszniki Zdoj.

As well as secure bike and bag storage indoors, he refused to let us clean up our own muddy mess ("We are professionals!"), gave us complimentary beers to go with the great food, got up at 5.30am to see us off and gave us a cappuccino and a packed breakfast (in a cute little gift bag) to set us on our way!