Todays nostalgia post is from 2008! From the far north of the Czech Republic...
The i4wifi 24hr in Liberec, Czech Republic. 2008.
My first race in Europe.
I honestly can't believe it was 12 years ago.
I'll write a separate post about the journey into cycling and how I got started, so i'll just touch on it briefly...
I moved to The Hague in the Netherlands with my brother Cam who was a professional squash player and we set up base in May 2008; with my bikes, gear and enthusiasm with the aim to make it as a cyclist/mountain biker. I didn't have a team or bike sponsor.
I researched and trawled through websites looking for races and then seeing what races were logistically possible and how I could race them.
Thanks to the great race organisation, I was able to travel to the Czech republic and race "The i4wifi 24hr" - Internet company i4wifi being the major sponsor. They arranged for me to share a pit and pit crew with Zdendek Kriz, who was probably the most dominant endurance rider in the world at the time.
After getting the green light to race, I set about organising travel and logistics. On paper, the city of Liberec was only about 100km away from Prague, so I figure I'd just fly in and jump on a train and be at the race site in no time. Ha! During my early days of racing the travel was often as exhausting as the racing. I flew in Prague, with "Air Europe" I think (An airline that no longer exists), then with printed out info and handwritten notes, went on my way. After battling my way around the train station for a few hours and working out which train to get and where to purchase the ticket from, all the while lugging around my hard case bike box and bag full of kit and gear, I manged to be on my way north. The train was full on, old school communist style. If you're an Aussie, it was like those old red trains in Sydney back in the day.
As we got moving the door was still open and an old lady got up and manually slammed it shut. I stood out a fair bit and smiled to my fellow passengers.
At one stop the carriage behind me was disconnected, so, luckily I wasn't in that one...
After a couple of hours, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere and everyone hopped off. A group of friendly old ladies checked my ticket and told me to also hop off. We then walked about 100 meters and boarded a bus. A group of soldiers saw me struggling and proceeded to carry my gear for me, no english or words spoken between us. Incredibly friendly people. Eventually after about four hours of train/bus/train travel I eventually made it to the small town just outside of Liberec where the race was held. It was a beautiful mountain town and I walked to the nearest "hotel" I could find to get a room for the few nights. Again, zero english spoken by the owners but luckily a local policeman was having a beer mid shift and could speak some english and I was sorted!
The day before the race I did a lap of the course, met the race organisation and my pit crew. We tucked into some roast pork and czech beer, as it seemed to be the standard pre race meal for everyone, and listened a traditional Czech band play into the evening. Race day and I was ready to roll. The course was unreal: Pine forest and quality soil. There was a long climb of a few kilometers which made it hard yet in turn provided a long, fun downhill. I started off ok, but really no idea of how to pace and ride in European races. Such a contrast to Australia. I figured i'd just ride my own race and pace and eventually I'll work it out.
I was buzzing just being there. During the early hours of the morning I thought I was feeling good and was tapping away nicely on the long climb. Next minute Zdendek came past me at twice my speed, dancing on the pedals out of the seat and chatting away to himself.
He called out: "C'mon Auzzzzzzieeee!!!".
I started laughing "yeah bruzzzzza!!".
It was a full moon and the surrounding mountain ranges of Poland and Germany, were silhouetted against the night sky. Something which blew the mind of a lad from Yamba. I would eventually roll in 4th place with Zdendek taking the win. 2nd was a rider from Slovakia and 3rd a Polish rider.
After the race, I washed and dismantled my bike and was lucky to get a lift to Prague with a race sponsor. He dropped me off at a uni/hostel/hotel and told me which tram to get the next day. From memory it cost me maybe the equivalent of $10 AUD for the night. First race in Europe done and dusted. I think I had a smile on my face the entire 5 days there and following weeks after.