Coming to Prague, I knew it had a pretty strong MTB scene and much less of a road cycling vibe. This has turned out to be ridiculously more true than I expected.
Yesterday I was out riding, on my road bike, when yet another path just turned to dirt. I figured, fine, whatever, I’m tired of this, and just kept climbing up the now-dirt, steep little pitch rather than turning around yet again. Then course tape started appearing, blocking off side trails. Then a steady trickle of mountain bikers, fortunately also going up rather than down, with number plates…
Coming over the top, I found myself in the middle of the biggest mountain bike race I’ve ever seen, right on the outskirts of Prague. The trail I’d come up was the finishing climb of Genesis Bike Prague MTB, though fortunately no racing had begun yet. It dumped into the start/finish chute, where hundreds and hundreds of mountain bikers of all types where milling about in early staging.
(all photos by Genesis Bike Prague, I didn’t have my camera with me)
By the time the race kicked off, I was estimating there had to be 1000 people in there. It seemed like such a high number though that I kept discounting in my head, arbitrarily cutting back down to five, six, seven hundred. Sure enough, the results pages report 1027 starters. To be fair, I have not raced out west where there are some bigger races, but that’s huge, three to five times bigger than almost all MTB races in at least the northeast US, and that’s not even looking at the hundreds of people hanging around on bikes, spectating. I haven’t seen much like it since BikeLine used to put on races at Belmont Plateau in Philly with 600–800+ racers back in the MTB heyday, or the year MTB Single Speed Worlds came to State College and had 600+ racers. The vendor expo area was as big and interesting as that for the Philly pro road race.
The field was a hugely diverse mix, from near-pro looking types, to clearly very recreational riders and bikes. All of these started in a single, ridiculously big wave, caveat the earlier kids’ race. There seemed to be no controls or even self-imposed patterns over staging, though everyone seemed orderly out of the blocks, even working through much slower traffic.
Videos and pictures of the course itself are on the website. From the start, several miles of highway were blocked off for an initial long climb to the other side of the park to spread the massive field out before hitting trails. Once woodside, there were two options, one a 60km (~37mi) circuit. That’s a fairly long race by typical MTB standards, a marathon rather than a straight XC, though from the pictures it looks to be distinctly on the less technical end of the spectrum. The other option was an even less technical 35km (22mi) course on mostly roads and paths, explicitly noted by the website to be for recreational riders out for a fairly casual ride in a race atmosphere. Kind of like an MTB gran fondo, though without the typical cost of a race, let alone the gouging gran fondos—registration was a very low ~$20US. The trails themselves look like fun, though mostly more or less paths and some double track.
All in all, it seemed like a really sweet event. It clearly incorporated aspects of both a race and a huge group fun ride, which I think is cool and an important direction events need to consider in keeping races sustainable. I have to confess that Pavel Gonda, former ECCC superstar (NYU), had mentioned to me a few days ago that there was an MTB race going on nearby this weekend, but I had no idea he meant basically in Prague. It’s somewhat unfortunate I didn’t realize it would be within riding distance and pretty non-technical or I would have thought more about taking him up on looking for a bike to borrow.