Those crazy cats at Gracia - Part 1

The road trip continues. After the Swiss world cup round we got straight in the car and started...

Czech Republic, May 4, 2006

The road trip continues. After the Swiss world cup round we got straight in the car and started driving towards the Czech Republic. The navigation system in our team car is great…it makes everything so easy and you don’t even need a map; that is until you get into Poland apparently. Poland doesn’t even exist yet in the GPS.

Monday around noon we hit the Czech border and this time we made sure the team car crossed WITH the truck so we could hopefully avoid any problems. The guard stopped us and Andrzej handed him our four passports. He looked at us, looked at the team car, and then said, “Autograph cards?” Andrzej immediately got this huge smile on his face, started talking to him in a mix of Czech and Polish, and we pulled over so we could sign some cards for him and the other guards. The guard asked us where we were going to race and where we’d been. Unfortunately, he hadn’t even heard of Orlova, the town where we were headed...I think it’s kind of small.

The Czech countryside is really very beautiful. It was very green with lush rolling hills everywhere. Which makes for some tough racing! Every so often in the distance, we’d see a huge beautiful castle. Andrzej told us that historically Czechoslovakia always had a very weak army and other countries would laugh at them. But that way, whenever they were invaded, the army would surrender straight away and nothing was destroyed, including the castles - not such a bad idea.

The race was headquartered in the town of Orlova. It was Kim’s third time racing here, my second and Amy’s first. But Judith has us all beat. She told us at dinner one night that it was about her 10th time. I had no idea the race had even been going on that long. Amy, Kim, and I were sharing a room in the Sport Hotel and it's really spacious. We had a TV with lots of stations but almost everything was dubbed in Czech; obviously that’s big business here. We got lucky our first night and found the movie The Notebook and it was subtitled, not dubbed, so we could actually watch it.

I’ve got to admit the food was pretty good at the Sport Hotel. The menu was huge and the prices were so incredibly cheap. We took one of the menus back to our room to study - that's what we did for entertainment! I ordered a glass of wine at dinner and it was really good - when I went to pay for it, I found it cost less than a euro. That’s better than any happy hour I’ve ever been to! When the USA National team arrived on Wednesday, we asked the girls if anyone had DVDs we could borrow, and of course they did. So we spent Wednesday evening watching Hitch.

We had two days of riding in Czech before the start of the race and it was beautiful…again. Lots of sun, birds singing, and great roads. We’re really close to the Polish border so Amy and I rode to the border on Wednesday and took pictures. I know it’s no big deal to the people who live here, but to us North Americans, it just feels like we’re so far away from home and it’s so foreign to us.

The first stage of the race was 103km, conveniently starting at the nuclear power plant 5km away from the hotel. We were warned prior to the start that the roads were in bad condition. Holy s***, they weren't kidding. These weren’t just potholes we were trying to avoid…they were craters. Holes the size of Texas. They looked so big that if someone fell in, they may just come out on the other side of the world. Kim was trying to describe the condition of the roads to her boyfriend and she likened it to trying to ride on Swiss cheese. That’s about the closest comparison we could come up with.

The race was really active and a lot of fun. It was sunny and warm, and any time the sun shines now, I am in a great mood. Since Judith has been riding so well, with a second place at Fleche Wallone and her JUST missing the podium at the Swiss World Cup, we were riding in full support of her. Kim was riding in full force, back from her collar bone injury. She so impressed me with her strength and her courage because I know it’s not completely healed yet and it still hurts her.

I was worried for her with all the potholes but she managed to not fall into any. That’s not to say we didn’t hit some pretty hard. That was inevitable. In the beginning of the race, my legs were feeling great and I was so excited. But midway through the race, I started to feel like I was riding through mud. Is my endurance that poor that I can’t even make it 50km? But then I looked down and noticed that both brakes were now rubbing thanks to the bouncing through some rather large divots in the road. I opened up both brakes and felt much better, although I had to be a bit cautious on the descents after that!

As if the potholes weren’t enough, about half way through the race, Judith spotted this crazy cat running around in the field next to the road. Next thing we knew, the cat decided to run straight into the middle of our peloton. Talk about deer in headlights…this was a crazy cat in headlights! He started swerving, riders started swerving, and then I couldn’t look anymore just as he went into Nicole Brandli’s wheel. I honestly don’t know if she actually ran OVER him or if he went INTO her wheel. Either way, it was a really odd scene and a bit scary. But no one crashed, so all was good.

Just after the crazy cat scene, Judith hit a pothole and puctured. Amy and Christina were called back to bring her back up to the field. But then poor Amy punctured just as she was reaching the field. She had a tough go of it for a bit, but came back eventually.

It was a whittled down field as we headed towards the town of Stramberk and the final 1km uphill cobbled finish. Kim, Amy, and I did our best to lead out Judith and I think she went flying by me with about a kilometre to go. We did our best to make it up the cobbles and when I neared the finish line, I kept hearing them say Judith’s name. Finally Andrzej came over the radio and said in his deep voice, “Congratulations Judith.” Cool, she did it! We had the leader’s jersey!

With four stages and three days to go, we had our work cut out for us. But that’s how we like it. Look out for the rest of my Gracia report in the coming days on Cyclingnews.

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