I flew over from Ireland a couple of days before with time to check out the course, acclimatise to a new country and adapt to the incomprehensible language and strange money.
Set in a forested area of pretty rolling hills, the race was based around a biathlon stadium which created a great arena and starting area. The course was very similar to racing in Ireland, lots of natural forest singletrack with plenty of roots, twisty corners, kickers and a couple of rocky technical features to keep the cameras happy.
It was a lot of fun and real mountain biking so I was looking forward to racing. There did seem to be more climbing than anything else though with a lot of it up very steep rooty trails which kept things interesting but also made it a really tough course.
The Czechs know how to put on a show and the crowds were out if force on race day with over 20,000 spectators and an electric atmosphere. It was into the increasingly familiar routine of riding round in circles around a tiny start area waiting to be called up, pedalling backwards in the pens to keep the legs moving, onto the grid heart starting to thump, 15 seconds to go-focused, bang we’re off.
We had a 10 minute start loop straight into 2 long steep climbs which I was hoping might split things up and avoid the usual first lap queues in the singletrack for those starting at the back of the grid, but it didn’t work and we were all together at the top.
I spent a frustrating amount of time stuck behind slow people on the descents but as we went into the 1st full lap I’d managed to move up into the 50s riding in a group with a lot of riders I was targeting.
The killer climbs were made easier by the noise of the enthusiastic crowds, with the deafening noise helping to ignore the pain and push hard. As things began to string out there was more chance to ride hard on the singletrack but just as I was starting to really enjoy myself disaster struck.
I took an awkward line trying to overtake someone over a rocky section and caught my wheel on a sharp rock. Bang, psssstttt…! Slashed the tyre and it wouldn’t seal with a CO2. I started to run but realised I was miles from the feed zone and didn’t have spare wheels there anyway. Panic.
There was nothing for it but to pull out. I stood at the edge of the course for ages trying to put off the inevitable. Stepping under the tape was the worst feeling ever, a walk of shame feeling all the spectators watching me, looking from the side of the track as the race went on without me.
It was the first time I’ve ever not finished a race and not something I ever was to experience again. The organisation, course and atmosphere were impressive, probably the best I’ve been to so far and I’m already looking forward to going back next year to do it justice.