Team Giant Report: The Prague Stairs Afterglow Friday, June 27, 2008
Submitted by biker Adam Craig DRHS alumni - It might seem like that after spending the last 1/5 (thanks for the quantification, Carl) of the year in Europe, I would have been on the first flight home after the World Champs on Sunday. But, you see, sometimes after spending that much time in the strange parallel universe of bike racing existence, a person needs a few days to wind down. I was presented with the perfect opportunity to do this a while back. An invitation to an event call The Prague Stairs was passed my way by Jiri, the Giant distributor for the Czech Republic. The promoter was interested in having an American attend the downtown event for the first time, and I, as the current US Champion, was the guy they wanted. As far as I could gather, the race was adjacent to the famous Prague Castle and basically looped down a bunch of stone stairs and back up some narrow cobbled streets and alleys. It was one hour and they were going to pay me to show up, in addition to providing transport and lodging for my "Wife" and I to Prague. I'd always wanted to check out the Capitol of Bohemia so this seemed like the ideal opportunity. It just meant spending three extra days in Europe. No matter…
I remembered that half of the Foster Family, arguably the Funnest Family in Bend, was going to be on a loosely planned European Vacation in June. I dropped them a line to see what they were up to, figuring that Hailey and Judy would make an ideal "Wife" and "Mother-in-law" to get in on a free trip to Prague from Italy and take in some culture… I met up with them at the Worlds and after a very lame attempt at a Super Worlds After Party we set off in a generally Northeast direction… This meant taking the train south out of the mountains to Trento first. I figured we'd take the train to the German Border, hire a car, then tour through the Austrian Alps before heading up to Czech. We got our train tickets and some ice cream to battle the 100-degree heat and loaded the High Speed train to Rosenheim. Or did we? Nope, we didn't, you see, you can't take a bike on the high-speed train. And the greasy Italian train pimp wouldn't budge on the company line. I couldn't put it in the back car (as I've done before) or take the wheels off and stow it above our cabin. Nope, we weren't getting on that train. To get to Germany any other way we would have to take a series of local trains, which are all slow and would take a lot of ice cream and Lemoncello to make the hot transfers tolerable… And would leave us in Germany after Europcar closed… So we just grabbed a car in Trento (for a hefty international drop-off fee) and headed for the Grossglockner. Bingo, immediate Automotive freedom, which I still hold close to heart, even in this day and age…
I've always wanted to drive over the Grossglockner. Constructed by the Austrains before the Wars as a state labor project and with a projected use as an auto-racing course, it's intrigued me ever since Carl and I got turned back by early snow on our bikes about five years ago. A pleasant evening in a small Austrian hotel on the edge of the Dolomites, during which I got to watch both a fantastic lightning storm over the craggy peaks and the Foster Family work through a classic Austrian dish of Weinerschnitzel had us rested up and (at least me) stoked to tackle the Grossglockner in our Fiat Punto… We drove to the Franz Joseph Haus, which overlooks one of the largest Glaciers in the Alps. It used to be a lot bigger. Like ice up to where we were standing just 150 years ago. Impressive receding amidst a still very impressive landscape.
Starting up the pass proper I heard the unmistakable crack and pop of high-RPM V8 Supercar throttle being blipped on a downshift. I looked around the bend in time to see a Ferrari F-430 being driven at full tilt with a Lambroghini Gallardo hot on it's heels. It was an assaulting experience. I immediately started givin' the Punto the Corn… Judy was amused in the back seat and Hailey giggled up front as we did our best to wring the little Punto's neck and get rid of some tire sidewall the rest of the way up the pass… More beautiful vistas and a very entertaining descent into the Zell am See valley hot on the heels of a couple on a Motorcycle. A day of motoring off to a good start. We had a quick, nutritious, delicious lunch in the most beautiful truck stop I've ever been to and continued north toward Czech on the Autobahn.
A few hours and a whole bunch of quaint rolling hills later we were following the river through downtown Prague with a pair of tourist maps looking for our Hotel Questenberk. We got to its address, just up the hill from The Castle, on the first try, but couldn't find the place. It wouldn't have occurred to us to look upstairs at a building that looked like an old church… Which we parked 100 meters from. Eventually a local barman pointed us across the street and we were there… Which happens to be where we already were. Nice place. Nice view. Even nicer at night after a thunderstorm with a rising half moon.
A nice dinner with the race organizer, Robert, and some of the other World Cup riders who were attending and we hit the sack. Long, great, day. Wednesday morning we woke earlyish, as we had an appoinment to meet the Mayor of Prague at the Old Town Hall. Turns out the fellow is a bike rider, and his mom lives in Seattle. We got a tour of the original Town Hall chambers that were used in the 17th through 19th centuries and the Astrological Clock tower. Interesting stuff.
Eventually the six o-clock race rolled around and we moseyed down to the course to check out these stairs. Turns out there are a lot and you can go scarily fast down them. And the climb back up isn't exactly a road climb… All ancient cobbles and STEEP in places, this race would be no hour in the park. Us World Cup guys figured we'd ease into things and let the local boys have a go for the first bit of the race, then set about seeing who the fastest guy up the hill and down the stairs was. Turns out the local guys were making a good case for that title overall… I rode just off the leaders for most of the race, keen too keep it clean (by that I mean I'm scared of riding fast down stairs with a bunch of random dudes). The skies had been threatening rain, but Romans and Robert promised it would hold off. It did. Until about 40 minutes in when all hell broke loose. I haven't seen a cloudburst like that in a while, crazy winds, flooded streets, almost complete darkness. Awesome. Except there are few surfaces slicker than stones worn by hundreds of years of foot traffic. Ice. On Stairs and in Alley. They gave us the "One to Go" sign as soon at the skies opened and we all tiptoed around another circuit. I saw the group sprint it out, someone won, nobody died. Perfect. We all huddled in the VIP tent and imbibed some delicious Czech Pilsner while the rain pounded down. The sun came back out for our walk to dinner, casting a perfect twilight glow over the Golden City. Not a bad end to a sweet afterglow trip…
Time to go home. For real this time, and do some proper resting up for that race in China…