Sunday, January 17, 2010

Two weeks to Tábor

In just a couple weeks I'll be at the world champs in Tábor. One of the things I wonder about most often (right after “am I going to freeze to death?”), is what it will be like at the race. Not the race itself, but the scene, the atmosphere, the vibe.

When you arrive at a world championships, you can hear the euro-disco booming out of the beer tents, smell the frites and other goodies frying up. Then there are the fans, supporting their favorite rider, team or country, some just there for the beer, a mishmash of many different languages. An extremely festive atmosphere.

I've been to two previous world championships, one in Belgium (Hooglede-Gits 2007) the other in the Netherlands (Hoogerheide 2009). At those two races, the vibe was pretty similar, but then again, even though the races were in different countries, they weren't all that far apart, only an hour or so from Ghent or Brussels.

Tábor on the other hand is nearly 1000 km away, so I'm thinking, it may be different….

[Really, this is all just an excuse to post some photos I took at the races last year, which I meant to post, but never got around to. So here they are now, and if all goes well, another batch from Tábor in a couple weeks for a compare and contrast. If you click on the photos you'll be taken to the high res versions.]

This is a good photo to start with, lots going on here. The two guys closest to the camera are rooting for Swiss rider Dieter Runkel. He won the world title in 1995 and retired in 1998? or so. I suspect these guys know that, but you never know. Perhaps making an old school fashion statement. Beer tent on the left. Between the two Runkel fans in the black and red jacket is a member of the SUPPORTERSCLUB BART & GEERT WELLENS. Typical burger/hot dog stand straight ahead. A couple Czech flags flying. On the right a Belgian fan draped in a flag. A couple Flanders flags. Flyover in the distance.

Next, some French fans.

Not sure who the musicians are rooting for. Nice glasses dude.

Some of Bart Wellen's fans had a religious theme going.

Here's Bart Wellen's dad being interviewed by Sporza while crazy hair dude looks on.

American fans in the beer tent reading up on the 2010 race in Tábor.

The topmen. "We are the topmen. Okay."

I'll wrap up the fan section with a few shots of the bears. I'm not sure who they were rooting for, or why they thought it was a good idea to show up to a cross race dressed as a sleuth of bears. Here they are arriving at the race, about 10am, each starting in on their own six pack of Jupiler.

Getting ready to watch the first race of the day.

After the first race, all the six packs they brought were gone, so into the beer tent for more. It isn't obvious from the photo (need video), but the bear closest to me has his hand on the back of his head while he swivels his hips and does pelvic thrusts to the beat of the euro disco. Queue up Devo's "Disco Dancer" to set the mood. The big bear appears to have spotted me taking pictures of them, so I go outside and get some frites. Don't need any drunk bears after me.

This is a good lead into drinking period. I believe there are people who come to the world championships not to watch a bike race, but to drink and party. Here's a shot of some tables in the beer tent between races (1pm maybe). As you can see, there is a lot of beer (check out that stack of empty cups, and that cowbell!) I'm still stunned that fights don't break out every 5 minutes or so. The first thing that I thought would get a fight going was that once people got really juiced up, they'd take those cardboard beer carriers and chuck them in the air like you would an LP. If you've ever seen an LP fly through the air, these cardboard carriers travel in a similar manner, somewhat erratically, before zipping back down and whacking someone in the head. Like someone's girlfriend, or a drunk, angry bear. But no fights. Well at least I think no fights. When those cardboard carriers started flying, I went outside for more food. The other time I was sure sure sure there was going to be a brawl was right after the men's race. The Dutch were bumming because they really thought Boom was going to win at home, but he didn't have a good race at all. The Belgians were on top of the world, they won and thoroughly dominated the race. Legions of drunk Belgians were singing at the top of their lungs. I don't speak Flemish, but it was clear that the gist of the song was, Belgians rule, we kicked your ass, Boom sucks and so do you. Still no fights. Those Europeans are a peaceful lot. Nevertheless, I still did my best to look neither Belgian nor Dutch during the singing.

At some point during the weekend, someone in our group wandered up with mass quantities of Smeets jenever. Everyone got one and did pretty much the same thing, inspect, chug. Interesting.

While mass quantities of alcohol didn't seem to cause any fights, it did cloud the judgement of some folks. I staked out my spot for the men's race at the set of stairs, just after the women's race ended. I wanted a front row spot and was willing to stand there for a couple hours to get it. As it got closer to race time, people arrived, decided they didn't want to stand 3 rows back and started climbing up in the trees to get a better view. The climbers were big, the branches they were standing on were small. Bad combo. It was somewhat entertaining for the rest of us. The first guys start climbing.

Be sure to get a beer hand up.

Next set of guys climb up. Note the guy in the paper suit way up high.

Here's another time a video would be better. Note the crowd of people all looking up at the tree. That is because the one guy is falling, snapping little branches off as he goes down. He stopped before he hit the ground, but I can't imagine all those snapping little twigs between his hands and legs felt all that great.

Some other guys decided to stand on the not so sturdy fence. A few fell off.

Once the race got going, it was a pretty good place to spectate. Here's a shot of Belgian dominance. Mid-way through the race, Albert and Stybar were off the front, this was the 3rd-6th group (with a gap to 7th).

The downside of that spot on the course was that you couldn't see a JumboTron from there. They usually have a few JumboTrons at the races, ideally you can pick an interesting spot on the course to watch and then after the leaders go by watch the rest of the lap on the big screen. No such good spots in Hoogerheide, Hooglede-Gits was better.

One thing that they did have in NL (that I didn't see in Belgium) was a Haribo stand where you could get drunk on candy.

Lars Boom is apparently a fan of the Cross Crusade. He put their stickers on his mobile home.

That's enough. Every cross fan should go see a world championships. More fun than you can imagine.

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