Stage 5 – Walim to Kudowa-Zdroj: 80 kilometres
After a whole day of rain yesterday, a bit more overnight, and a cloudy, foggy morning, riders could have been forgiven for wishing that organisers would take pity on them and shorten the 80km Queen Stage of Sudety MTB Challenge 2014 just a little. Yesterday’s 44km stage had taken our team nearly four hours, after all, and there were mutters that we’d need enough food to last us eight if the conditions didn’t improve.
But the race’s tagline ‘no bullshit, no compromise’, held true as ever, and at 10am sharp we started up a long climb on bitumen and gravel towards a ruined castle, then descended through forest trails, only to climb again. Today’s stage provided us with our most epic mud experience yet, with a long hike-a-bike (or more appropriately, slide-a-bike) through a quagmire that seemed to go on for ever. Over at last, we had a welcome reprieve – the first significant section of bitumen of the race so far, undulating on roads for about 15 kilometres, before a final, technical climb on an ancient forest pathway, some of it cobbled, some of it just covered in roots and rocks. The stage profile looked as if the final eight kilometres or so would be a sweet descent into town, so most riders were caught off guard by further technical undulations, sharp climbs, and grassy grinds before finally, finally freewheeling down a tree-canopied road finishing in the stunning central park of the spa town of Kudowa-Zdroj.
Finishing and celebrating with our new and old friends! Team Subaru-MarathonMTB.com went out especially hard today and climbed with some of the top mixed and women’s riders, before slowing to our more steady pace to finish the race in third, and third overall. One of the toughest, most adventurous events I’ve ever done, it was made even more special by the personal care of the organisers, the really positive vibe among the support team of mechanics, masseurs, drivers, first aid, cooks, and then of course the riders. One of the great things about mountain biking is that it takes you places you’d never otherwise have reason to visit. I’ll always remember historic monuments and magical views we’ve passed on our journey through this quietly beautiful country.
In particular, our finishing town, Kudowa-Zdroj. Looking around at the grand old buildings, the statues, parkland, ancient trees and monuments reinforces the sad fact that so many others have been destroyed through Poland’s history.
It was a real shame that Mike missed presentations today because he got caught up fetching our hire car from its secure park at Stronie Slaskie. I was a little sad to stand alone on the podium after we worked so hard together.
The internet says
“Kudowa-Zdrój is one of the oldest spa resorts in Poland and Europe, where heart and circulation system diseases were cured. In the downtown area, there is a park, styled on 17th century revival, with exotic plants and a mineral water pump room. Due to its location, the town is a used as a place for tourism, walking, biking, and as the departure point for trips.”
On a personal note
Although we had a great, fast start today, when we came to the ‘epic quagmire’ in the middle of the race, kilometres of mud, some of it unrideable, I lost my composure a bit, having made the beginner’s mistake of thinking that I was the only one suffering and overwhelmed, when of course the conditions were bedlam for everyone. I felt great on the climbs, but with fatigue and stress started descending like an amateur and generally being very uncool. Mike was a rock today, and helped me through, but I made him work hard. Our relationship seems to have survived our first stage race as a couple.
Then there’s the mud. Lots of mud means lots of washing, and, after spending over an hour yesterday crouched over a luxury bathtub rinsing and pounding our kit, we were pretty dismayed to pull it on this morning and find it was still a bit gritty! We decided early in this race to try to re-wear (and re-wash) just one set, rather than ruin all the gear we’ve brought to Europe. Today’s washing took another hour, and our stuff is still filthy… We could have dumped it in the car dirty and waited until we came across a laundromat, but Poland has been through so much land-grabbing already, it seemed wrong to take half of it across the border to Austria with us tomorrow.
This is the sad part of a stage race, where everyone breaks up and heads off in their own direction, and the little group and culture you’ve developed over the week evaporates.
Tomorrow we motor off to Austria for a break, before some more racing in the next month. Stay tuned for our Sudety MTB Challenge 2014 wrap up in a few days’ time – that should be long enough for us to be able to talk about it rationally again!