My travel day (or two) to get to Europe was long. I took the Bolt Bus to Seattle and the next day flew out from SEA to London. London to Helsinki. Helsinki to Vienna. The flight was cheap in Finnair and the check in was thru British Airways. I've had decent luck not getting too gouged on baggage with them. At check in it seemed briefly like I was going to get the full fees as the check in agent had me taking a couple kilos out of the bike case to get it under 32kg to even be allowed on the flight. Then suddenly as she printed my boarding pass, she told me it was my lucky day and not to worry about it. My theory is that she noticed my "VGML" (vegan meal) on the ticket and maybe she was also vegan but who knows. Total score.
After a long day of traveling I arrived in Vienna but I could not say the same for my bikes. Apparently they didn't make the long haul from terminal 5 to terminal 3 at Heathrow in the three hours I was layed over. They were supposed to be delivered before noon the next day but when 1 o'clock rolled around, Viktor, my awesome host, called the airline and arranged to pick them up since they now said they would be deliver until 5pm. Luckily his place is very close to the airport. I then got the bikes built up and Viktor took me for a little ride around the island in the middle of the Danube River that is great for flat easy riding.
The following day I took to exploring some hills near the city. I found the sweetest cobblestone (but fairly smooth) road that was a great rolling terrain for 16km. So fun. That night we went for dinner at a restaurant a ways outside the city to a place that served traditional Austrian style food but all veganized. It was pretty damn good but it was almost too much fake meat for even me to handle. If probably didn't help that I got the sampler dinner platter for two.
In the morning it was time to leave for the track race in Prostejov CZE. I caught a ride with some young Austrian riders leaving at 8am from the velodrome. I jus my had my backpack with everything jammed into it and my track bike. Early in the morning with not enough sleep or coffee in my system I was smart enough to jam a half full container of vegan yogurt in my bag with the flimsy lid on. Upon arriving at the track to leave for CZE I discovered much of the contents on my bag covered in vanilla flavored Alpro yogurt. 10 mins in the bathroom rinsing things off as good as possible and then we were off for two days of racing that, according to the weather forecast, might not even happen. We arrived and I checked into my cool hotel just behind the velodrome. It was a "tennis club" and apparently partly owned by Jaromir Jagr complete with many photos of my childhood hockey hero #68 on the walls.
Surprisingly the weather cooperated for the most part for the two days of racing albeit quite windy and cold. On day one we raced an elimination and a points race. The track is a 300m concrete surface, with some good bumps at the seams but a decent fun shape. We ran the elimination with every other lap pulls and a field of 25. So a pretty long race. The race was fast and quite physical (the Polish riders are usually pretty... aggressive. About halfway thru there was a small crash and at about the same time there was also a light rain starting to pick up so the race was halted. About 10 mins later we restarted with 12 riders. Now with fresher legs, things were even faster and more aggressive. After a few pulls I kept having trouble keeping myself towards the front with out spending lots of energy aka my legs were hurting. So instead of burn too many matches at the front and risk getting swarmed, I decided to play the devil (sit at the back and pick off one rider each time at the line). I don't play the devil often because I am usually trying to win these races and this tactic isn't usually very sustainable but one thing is for sure, the crowd LOVES IT. So what better way to introduce myself to Prostejov than having some fun. I managed to pick off a few riders before my legs started to really feel the repeated accelerations so after the 6th place pull I just went all in and attacked. I got a gap that lasted one more pull until I was caught. I dragged one off the guys off the back with me and we battled for 3rd but I was toasted and had to settle for 4th. The small crowd that was there were so stoked for me tho. They cheered for me like I had won race. Although it would have been nice to at least been third and win some money for dinner. The points race was less exciting. Mostly just hard and controlled by the big teams as well as a long full 40k in the wind and cold. I really hate track racing where teams collude especially when it's a UCI race. Team tactics should stay on the road, if you aren't on the track to win, then don't race. But the flip side is having to combat this tactics as an individual only makes you a stronger and smarter racer. I never seems to find the right moves in the points race and I ended up 10/25 mostly using the race as a way to open the legs up for the next day after t was apparent that I wasn't going to get a lap or place too well.
Then second day or racing started at 14:00 but our scratch race and Madison were an hour or more into the schedule so I was able to sleep in catch the tail end of breakfast get a short warm up in the track and go out for some lunch after. During my morning session, with out any words exchanged, the coach from the Hungarian juniors motioned to me from the infield to ask me to help one of the riders with his madison exchanges. Of course I was more than happy to. My enthusiasm for coaching and helping the juniors must just be that apparent. For lunch I ventured to a vegetarian restaurant that I was surprised to find in Prostejov. It was a lunch spot, buffet style, and in Czech style was crazy affordable. The food was totally amazing and I wished I had another day there just to eat at Koza Zustala Cela again.
The scratch race was my main focus of the race in Prostejov. I knew it would be hard with all the team tactics coming into play and enough people in the field knowing that I am a decent sprinter. I tried my best to observe, be patient and use my efforts wisely. At one point an early move was coming back and I knew there would be a counterattack. I figured everyone was still pretty fresh so the counter might not go anywhere so I prepared for the counter to the counterattack. (Haha) The next move seemed to be being pulled back like I thought it might but then the group stopped chasing and a STRONG group of three rode just slowly snuck away for a lap. The the blocking and marking of moves happened and I never had much of a chance in taking taking mine myself so I was left with a sprint for 4th at best. A few polish guys really hammered the last few laps and I had to come across a cracking bunch and in the end couldn't come around the final Pol in the pole lane and finished a very hard fought 5th. I wanted to win this race but I knew that I rode well and I felt pretty good. The final event was a Madison and I had found a partner in Denis Rugovac, a Czech rider with a lot of experience in the UIV six days. They graciously decided to shorten the race from 50k to 42k. With 11 teams starting, 10 finishing we finished 5th. The sting Polish team dominating and taking a solo lap and we finished on even laps with the three other top teams. It was my first madison since Madison Cup at Ttown in August last year and it left my throwing arm plenty sore. 💪
I returned to Vienna after the races and had a couple nice days exploring the roads and having some good foods with friends. ZakCurry was made at the house on the last night and I just finished off the leftovers at the airport while I wrote this post. Hopefully the plane will arrive soon so I can get to Berlin before the trains stop running.
P.S. I'm sorry Berlin, but I think Vienna might have taken your place as my new favorite city in Europe so far. The riding is great and the city is beautiful. The road riding is really the biggest thing. The lack of hills in Berlin gets old fast. I don't have quite as many friends there yet, but ones I have made are quality.