The Mountain Bike
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
MTB Challenge – Race Report
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
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
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
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
The view at 6am, Col on the
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?"
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
Selected other quotes from the day:
Tom to a hard looking Estonian: "Where's your
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:
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
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
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
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
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
The End (108th in the General
Col later reveals he's been riding the past day
and a half with incredible achillies pain while thinking he's broken his thumb.
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...
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!