La vie est grande! Its 8am… I’ve been on the road for 2.5 hrs already. I’m sitting in the BMC Truck with the mechanic Sylvain listening to some Arcade Fire. The plain that Milan sits in, really isn’t glamorous at all. I think coming from America, we have this grand vision of what Milano is, probably from wafer, chocolate cookies and fashion magazines. I can tell you that it is in reality pretty unspectacular. There is a lot of corn, overhead power wires and dirty Italian industry. I’ve never been to Cleveland, but I imagine it is a lot like this.
It’s ok though… because over the past week, I have seen nothing but astonishing beauty. It turns out that the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia) is phenomenal. It’s a lot like the rest of Europe at first glance… green, and rolling countrysides, a lot of little roads, cows and small villages. But when one looks deeper, unique details appear. The country has found a weird middle ground between the generic western European atmosphere it strives for, and its recent communist background. It’s as if one tried to hurriedly paint a black wall white… you can still see what was there. Nove Mesto na Morave, the city where the World Cup took place, has all the right small houses, pastures and fountains, you would find in any city of 10,000 around Europe.
But it also has ten story housing Projects… with the wires, antenne, rusted mental and pigeon stains that are so strongly associated with the former Communist Block. The Projects have just been painted pink and yellow and sky blue, tricking the residents and visitors that things have changed. There are still old wheat and potato farmers, walking with canes through furrowed fields wearing old leather boots and woolen caps and felt hats… just as I am sure their fathers did before them, under Stalin and Kremlin Rule. These old-timers tractors are of the same vintage as the Model-T, and represent perfectly the dichotomy between new and old Czech when they are seen working the fields with their grandsons in new GPS navigated combines.
It turns out they know how to put on a bike race in Czech too… we raced at a famous Nordic area… I believe the biathalon Word Cup has recently visited Nove Mesto na Morave. There were 25,000 people out for the Men’s Elite race and maybe 10,000 for our U23 race. It was pretty spectacular. The course was riddled with roots, and folded back upon itself over and over again. It was technical enough to be fun, but not so much that it was a battle just to stay on your bike, as it usually is in Mont-Ste-Anne, Quebec. I had a blast racing. It was a brutally hard start, and I had a tough time staying inside the top 15, but by the time we can through after the start lap I was 11th. From there I just moved up… the next few laps I gained two or three positions each time, and then going into lap 4 of 6, I was riding strongly in the race for 5th. There were some groups along the way, but mostly I was alone or riding with just one other racer. It was a brutally hard race… not only was it fast, but the hills were steep, and we all kept it pinned to stay away from one another. With 2 laps to go, a group of 4 or 5 came within about 10 seconds of me and and ISD guy I was racing with pretty much up until then. I didn’t want to race for 9th, so I went for it before they caught us. Got that was a hard lap. I moved into 4th… and just kept the gas on. Sebastian, the Belgian Champion was coming though. He was putting about 5-10 second into my lead every lap. And although I managed to hold him off until the final km I messed up. Crossing a bridge with 500m to go, I dropped my concentration and rode off the bridge. I flatted. He caught me and went around after I finished a rock garden on a nearly empty tire. Shit. So I went from 4th to 5th… and another Belgian was charging hard. I had to negotiate some high speed gravel corners with no air in the front tire. IT made steering impossible, and I crossed over the huge flyover and down a few small drops with 300m to go still only onto 5th by only 5 seconds. But I had one more big corner and a long finish straight to go on a flat tire. I held it together though… the Belgian caught me, and I’m sure was preparing to go around me for the sprint, but maybe I had been able to get a little rest with that flat tire and accelerated away from him… not easily, but handedly… my front tire going brap brap brap brap as I sprinted in my new Stars and Stripes Jersey toward the finish line. God that was stressful and stupid. I’m never looking over my shoulder with 1m to go again. From here on out my eyes are only looking forward. Now forward to this weekend in Val di Sole, Italy.