Saturday, January 30, 2010

Racing Day 1

Tabor Day 3

Race Day 1

TABOR, Czech Republic (Jan. 30,2010) - To date my experience in the Czech Republic had been beneath slate gray skies, witnessing a population that had surrendered to their surroundings. For days they had chipped and brushed and shoveled at the snow with about as much resolve as one could muster for factory work.
For Saturday's racing, however, blue skies blessed this stark place. The race venue, seemingly touched by overnight elves, has become a tiny Mardi Gras amid this Soviet Bloc Lego-esque architecture. Inflatable arches, banners, and most imporantly fantastic people dressed far more wildly than any NFL fans I had seen to date.
The tramped into the venue in pods of four to 20 members, all dressed in costume with bells, flags, horns, and face paint.
The Belgians opened the beer tent at 8 a.m.
I had some work left to do, so I cracked into the tasque. Final research and study on the riders. The juniors are always the hardest because every year we get a new crate of puppies with very little history. These guys do not have websites or fan clubs or Wikipedia entries yet. The pre race favorite was the World cup winner David Van Der Poel, son of Adri the Great. The orange crush, the Dutch had a powerful squad with three riders on the front row.
With the start at 11, we started to announce at 10. Jindrich just wound up like Czech Diesel and started talking. He's quite fabulous. I had no idea just what he was saying, but he would go on for three minutes and then throw it to me. Once I just said "Yeah, what he said." And shut off the microphone and winked at him. The Americans in the stands laughed.
I liked seeing David Miller and Andy Taos in the stands having so much fun.
I had worked really hard on the music and had it going. Frank had a tough job. Before Jindrich would talk he would turn to Frank and say (and this my guess) "OK I'm about to talk, turn the music off."
These guys have no music going when they announce.

So I had to really push to keep it on.
But when it came time for call-up, the deal was that I would be the only voice. So I prepared Frank well. There would be the trademark hard call to staging and then boom. Loud music. I walked down the finish stretch the start stage. And despite all the horns and costumes and the bells, this crowd proved to be really tame compared to the "Chips and Dips" of New Jersey or the Hot Tubbers of Portland. I actually had to demonstrate how to bang on the fence panels.
The call-up is super technical with every rider having his bike checked, tires measured, and number (buried beneath a coat) verified. I could not go slow enough. I suppose it did not help that only one of the five officials had a start list.

In this time I hope have the music just pounding but Frank, like a nervous teen-ager with his dad's Corvette, simply would not step on it.
The race finally got off (on time for the television guys, mind you) and then I just parked in the booth and worked with Jindrich. He's quite good. We sat in a small, metal hut at the finish line and just watched television. I suppose it's OK. But if I get the nod to do it in Louisville (I'll write on that later), I'll be watching live and leaving another fellow in the TV booth.
The juniors race proved fantastic with Tomas Paprstka (try saying that three-times fast) pounding away from the Dutchies and Belgians. Only Julian Alaphilippe of France - in his rookie season of racing 'cross - could claw his way to the leader on the final lap. Just about everybody had hit the deck on the ice and the snow. The crashes were either ridiculous Chevy Chase scenes or fantastically fast wipe outs. In a sprint finish, the Czech kid took it by a wheel and the place exploded.
After the first race and ceremony the entire crowd just pounded down to the beer tents where they had this fantastic Beatles tribute band. Just solid good fun with all the Czech's dancing and celebrating.
I returned up top, fixed an electrical problem, prepared for the Under 23 event. For these boys, the sun had shone for a few hours and the course transformed from snow and ice into slush and mud, like fudgecicles on a sunny day.
The undeniable favorite would be Thomas Meeusen of Belgium, winner of the World Cup series and two of those races in the series. He had chosen to compete in the elite division for the Belgian title instead of his own category and scored a stunning third place. Alas, the Belgians are not machines.
A different Belgian, Gianni Vermeersch, opened with a huge blast. But Pawel Sczepaniak (say that one, over and over) charged away with Marek Konwa, both of Poland, surged ahead. Then from the third row came the other Sczepaniak brother, Kacper. It became Polska, Polska and Polska in 1-2-3. Meeusen, who had been billed as the most acrobatic of all the racers we would see that weekend, flopped about a like a trout on the dock. He had a few shining laps but each effort would fade. With four to go I saw his chin on his chest and realized he would not be world champion. Konwa faded, the Sczepaniaks surged to finish 1-2, the first time in 'cross worlds history that brothers finished together. An amazing effort by French rider Arnaud Jouffroy, who pounded from sixth to third in the final two laps, rounded out the podium. Of note, no Belgians had touched the podium after two races. And the Americans had dissolved entirely, not getting even close to the top 10 in either race.
Afterwards I milled about, watcing the Poles dancing and drinking. I had a beer with the Keoughs, truly one of the nicest people in all of 'cross, and then returned to the office. Dinner again with Simon and Dan at the same restaurant. And then bed. Dullsville, eh?
But I did make plans for Prague the following night.

Tomorrow the elite and Prague.

Of note is how excited people are to learn that Worlds will be in Kentucky in 2013. I have enormous respect and affection for Bruce Fina and Joan Hanscom and will do all I can for them. I will blog on that in the coming days.

Thanks for reading.

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