Greetings from Jelenia Gora, Poland!
Mary and I are in the middle of a six-week block of travel and spring racing across mainland Europe. Happily things have started to fall into a familiar rhythm now that we are back to our RV life-style. Our European plans were thrown out of whack even before they began and continued to be a little off throughout the first back-to-back World Cups in Dalby Forest (Great Britain) and Houffalize (Belgium) due to logistical issues that the Icelandic volcano's ash cloud and fallout caused for us, not to mention the rest of Europe.
Our Dalby World Cup experience is pretty much a shadowy, uncomfortable memory of 30 hours traveling by boat, bus, plane,(six-hour layover), plane and rental car. We arrived into Pickering at 10:00 pm the night before the opening World Cup race of 2010, and I went to work building bikes while Mary prepped dinner, water bottles, foods, etc. for the upcoming race.
The following morning came all too soon with some minor hours of sleep in between. We felt lucky to have the assistance of our friend Michel, who arranged our number pick up and was ready to help us in our tech pit and feed zone. Mary and I scrapped in one pre-riding lap of the course that doubled as our race warm up just before our events.
Considering everything, Mary rode astonishingly well - finishing a solid 14th place and preserving at least some reason for us to have made the trip as well as a decent start position for the next World Cup the following weekend. It was midnight in my head, and I felt like I should be sleeping when the start went off and pretty much rode like I was throughout the race. Once the plane-thickened blood started to circulate out of my ankles, I was able to do some riding but it was an off day for sure. In the end, we were way over budget, felt completely unprepared for an event of this calibre but were still were glad and lucky to have made it to the start. We managed a one-hour spin the following morning before packing up the bikes and heading off, laughing sickly that the three-hour drive to the airport was the most restful part of our journey to Great Britain.
After a couple of horizontal days in the RV outside our friends' place near Munich, Germany, we made the drive to Belgium. We were greeted in Houffalize by a cold front that stayed put for our week in town. Race day came a bit earlier than our time zone adjustment, once again leaving Mary and I to struggle a bit more than we wanted on the new extremely steep "built for spectators rather than riders" style course in Houffalize.
There seems to be something wrong about about starting a mountain bike race on a 19 percent, 1,000m strip of pavement (with 140 women and 240 men) that shuffles into a steep, rain-slickened singletrack and drops you into a fitful jam of riders off their bikes pushing and elbowing their way to get through a silly gauntlet chute of singletrack that most have to run down due to the traffic jam. This left us both a bit off from the start and for the remainder found it difficult to move forward, easy to make errors and common to be caught behind others mistakes.
Mary came off the bike a few times in the critical moments early on when the pack was positioning for the critical singletrack and this left her deep in the mix. A solid ride throughout the day resulted in her finishing what she considered a less than satifying 23rd. I was only able to maintain my mid-pack position somewhere in the 100s frustrated by the descents being jammed with riders throughout the entire race and walking the sections I had hoped to use to my advantage to move forward.
On toward Germany and Poland
Mary and I made our way across Germany as our soreness and bruises faded, taking the time to train as we needed through the rolling hills of Bavaria while enjoying the sights in some ancient historic towns. The RV is the slow boat for sure especially with the option of no speed limit on the autobahn; but on the positive side, we get to see a lot when in the slow lane and can stop for a nap or snack whenever we like.
We spent two nights near Schweinfurt, Germany, visiting friends and doing some blessed laundry as well as stopping through the SRAM HQ to give some feedback on our experiences with the new XX components from SRAM... all tech talk aside we both absolutely love the XX!
Our next planned stop was Jelenia Gora, Poland, where we were greeted by warm spring like weather that defied the background of the looming snow capped peaks that separate the country from the Czech Republic to the south.
We had come to contest the second edition of the Maya Wloszczowska MTB Trophy race in Jelenia Gora, Poland. This year the race had grown to a two-day event in which we competed in a city center sprint race that started the action the night before the main cross country event. The sprint race set the mood for the weekend's tough competition. A timed individual time trial broke the winning 16 into groups of four for double elimination rounds on the 1km circuit which zig zagged through the 900-year-old town center and took advantage of some urban technical sections including the marbled floors and stairs of the town hall.
I made it to the quarter finals before I thought twice about the consequences on one of the blind corners and was eliminated, though happily bowed out unscathed. Mary ended up finishing second in the TT and winning her next two heats, making the final where she narrowly missed a dominant overall win. A bobble in the final corner in close to pitch dark conditions caused her to hit (luckily only) the brakes and finish fourth in the final.
The next day was the main event - a UCI C2 cross country in the town park in that surprised us with some challenging lines, short brutal climbs and stiff eastern European competition. This event was a showcase of the ambitious future of mountain biking in Poland and could lend some insight to the majority of the mountain bike community about how to run a race the right way.
Mary finished a solid third place, and I finished a hotly contested 14th. We both really enjoyed racing our custom Seven 29ers outfitted with Kenda's all purpose 29-inch Karma tires for added traction on the moist dark soil. We really felt the love of the Polish cycling community as the only Americans in attendance and also had plenty of explaining to do being the only riders rolling on big wheels. Although we got a lot of attention, we definitely took a back seat to local legend, Maja Wloszczowska who is the undisputed queen of Polish Mountain biking. Big props to her for stepping up and organizing a world class event like this in her home town. The city's respect for the mountain bike racing and the realization of what cycling in general can do for the local economy was an obvious part in the success of the weekends events.
We really enjoyed our race experience in Poland and were glad to have made the trip for the second consecutive year. It was also pretty awesome to be included in the extensive media coverage that accompanied this race and especially fun to watch the subsequent professionally shot and edited one-hour slot on public TV!
Hope you are getting out and enjoying the outdoors!
All the best,
Mary and Mike