This past weekend Caitlin and I took a whirlwind trip through Moravia, the eastern side of the Czech Republic. We wrapped up by dropping into Olomouc on Sunday morning just to walk around, maybe see the cathedral, and get lunch. From the train we started walking through a lovely park, and then cut over into the main town square. There…
Hmmm, that's funny, down the end of the alley looks like a...
... team car.
And another one...
And another one?!
No, you have got to be kidding me!
The Czech Cycling Tour
Sure enough, for the third straight weekend we had randomly stumbled into a huge bike race of one kind or another, this time the Czech Cycling Tour. Fortunately a cafe parked right on the finish line (those are its umbrellas above) had free WiFi so this time we were able to figure out roughly what was going on: We’d arrived in Olomouc just in time to catch the conclusion of the fourth and final stage of what’s seemingly the Czech Republic’s biggest road race, part of the UCI’s European continental domestic pro circuit.
The timing crew starts getting set up for the finish.
While volunteers get all the signage out on the hard fencing.
And a UCI official talks with some of the course marshals.
The all-important bouncy castle was of course established first thing in the morning.
Caitlin enjoys some pickled cheese (!), pizza, and a mojito---conveniently enough the only drink she's found that reliably includes ice cubes...
Earlier that morning the race had left Olomouc, done a long loop, and as we arrived was just about to begin smaller loops around town for a full 180km race. It was very hot this and the preceding few days, which must have taken a large toll on the field. The number of finishers did not seem to nearly approach the 148 riders that had started the tour three days previous.
Map of the stage (from czechcyclingtour.cz).
The lead cars arrive!
The breakaway leader comes by, several minutes up.
Coming into the main square.
Note that the entire old town section is on cobbles...
The peloton rushes by.
The extensive caravan, supporting 23 teams, starts going past.
DNF'd riders and their team vans drifted in throughout the day. These guys are notable because I'd coincidentally seen their van broken down on a roadside south of Prague while out on a ride earlier in the week.
Heading back to the showers...
So, we’re sitting there in the conveniently placed cafe and I’m cruising the web to find out more about the race. I start looking through the earlier stage results to see if we can spot any big international pro names. We don’t recognize any, but then I realize “Hey, I have seen some of these names before…”
A start list that organizers were handing out to the crowd as the finish approached.
The Strava leaderboard for a longish climb out of Řevnice, a town a bit south of Prague.
The leaderboard for another climb on the way back toward Prague.
One of the many issues coming to Prague was what bike to bring, or even to bring one at all. A six week trip is right on the upper edge of where I could skip the hassle and be reasonably happy and fit with just running. Ultimately I brought my road bike, well aware that skinny tires could be pretty challenging in the inner core of Prague, what with the beefy cobblestones, trolleys, traffic, tourists, and more cobblestones. A big part of the decision was that I’d been talking a lot of smack about a few stage races in August and September, particularly Green Mountain. I didn’t want to go into that having been off my road bike all of June and July.
What really sold it though was that I did a couple quick searches on Strava for the area and found this one long ride by a guy named František Paďour. It hit a whole bunch of good climbs, was a nice roaming route, had great mileage, and wasn’t far out of Prague. I was sold. The very first thing I did on my bike in Prague was head straight (well, as straight as I could navigate) to the main climb on that route.
The ride in question.
That first ride I spun up the hill, came back, uploaded my data, and was a couple minutes off the leader. I figured: No problem, if I go kill it up the hill, I could challenge that KOM. … Since then I’ve been unable to make any real dent on the leaderboard (it’s the first one above). I felt a lot better about that knowing that the leader was out doing pro races.
The Neon Yellow Jersey
Then came the end of the race. It was pretty exciting, but we had no idea what was going on. They didn’t start doing English announcements until the awards ceremony, we couldn’t tell any riders apart, it was a short sprint, and so on.
Waiting for the finish.
Second and third.
Part of the field. Note that the sprint is short, curving, and cobbled.
Then I see rider #3 roll into the little staging tent next to the podium. I do a quick double take on the start list, confirm that it’s František, and start telling Caitlin “Hey, I think that dude I was talking about on Strava might have won something…?” Next thing we know…
Paďour wins the top Czech rider jersey!
“Wait, I think he might have won a lot…”
Whirlpool-Author takes the team GC!
Paďour wins the neon yellow jersey as overall winner of the Czech Cycling Tour general classification!
As far as we can piece together from results and horribly mangled translations of Czech cycling news sites, Whirlpool-Author won the opening team time trial, stage two, and stage four. Paďour hovered in the top ten on several stages, and aided by the TTT took the overall win by 2 seconds. The key move was making it into a ten man split from the field going into the stage four finish we saw while his rivals did not. Notably, earlier in the day we’d actually seen the rider who’d started the day as leader trailing far behind but we had not realized the significance of his jersey. Apparently he had multiple mechanicals and could not recover.
A teammate brings the last-day GC leader home.
Whirlpool-Author sets up the train to reel in the solo breakaway going into the closing laps.
Ironically, just that previous Thursday and Friday I had spent considerable time while riding trying to figure out how these guys, whom I had assumed all along were quick but still comparable locals, could be going up that one climb in particular so much faster. Suddenly it was much more clear.
So that is the full story of how František Paďour and Whirlpool-Author became Joe Kopena’s official favorite European continental pros.
Trying to congratulate František and thank him for posting all of his immensely helpful routes.
There are a bunch more pictures in the Flickr gallery.