2021 Bohemian Border Bash Race Recap: Tales from Two Riders
New for 2021, the Bohemian Border Bash Race is a 1,300-kilometer ultra-endurance cycling competition that circumnavigates the ancient borders of Bohemia. We reached out to two of this year’s participants to hear their stories, paired with a fantastic gallery of photos by Nils Laengner. Find it all here…
Ever ridden your bike in Czech Republic? I hadn’t either, despite it being about eight hours by car from where I live near Amsterdam. So, when Ondrej announced that he was going to add a full-blown unsupported race to the already existing Bohemian Border Bash Festival, my interest was piqued. And apparently not only mine, as more than 100 people signed up for the inaugural Bohemian Border Bash Race.
Ancient Czech consisted of two provinces: Bohemia and Moravia. This race does a loop around the first one. The statistics gave the impression that this terrain would be pretty tough. There’s not a lot of races that can claim an impressive 22,000 meters of elevation in 1,300 kilometers. But statistics only mean so much when you have to look them in the face on the actual race course. The Czech Republic is hilly and mountainous but lacks true alpine-style big mountains. As it turned out on course, the 22,000 meters were spread out over a relentless amount of undulations. I reached out to Max Riese who had pre-ridden most of the route, and he confirmed this was going to be gravel bike territory. With a properly grippy and solid tire, mind you. Despite quite some asphalt stretches, parts of the route were thoroughly rugged and required lots of grip.
A few kilometers into the race, the first short but steep climbs set the tone for what we’d be riding over the next few days. The usual shuffling between participants started happening. There was a fast first group of Alexander, Stefan, and Manu that were pushing hard. A little too hard for me. We were following the German-Czech border to the south, crisscrossing a zillion times. This border was part of the former Iron Curtain and people lost their lives here trying to flee to freedom; the bittersweet irony of us going back and forth wasn’t lost on anyone. The forests were deep and lonely. Every now and then there were sections of the route that I started calling “Ondrej’s Easter Eggs.” Your GPS would show a hard turn, and all of a sudden you’d wind up on a super chunky stretch of farm road, singletrack better suited to a mountain bike, or a hike-a-bike from hell up through a forest. BBBR kept up our your toes at all times.
As happens with these races, stories started travelling up and down through the grape vine. Alexander was on a relentless pace up front, chased by some hungry runners-up. Jon had barely slept in the first 36 hours. Almost the entire group of women participants had run into each other at a gas station, not because they chose to, but because the rhythm of the race happened to bring them together. People had to tip-toe across a beaver dam with their bike shouldered to prevent having to wade waist-deep through the pond it caused. Max H. from one of the Focus teams had to carry on solo and found wings in his solitude. As it turned out, shops close early in Czech, five or six in the afternoon, and you were done. Gas stations are few and far between. Evening meals and supplies for the night had to be stocked up on early in the afternoon or you were toast. I ran into a colourful character with a metal detector who was fascinated by what we were doing and handed me two Cokes.
From the southernmost part of the race on the Austrian-Czech border, we would make a dash across the country to the mountain ranges in the north. CP6 at 900 kilometers in had indoor sleeping, a shower, and a place to charge electronics. It became a point in the horizon for some big pushes and a springboard for some breakaways. Max R. had a run-in with a car that had a strong mental effect on him, and he was understandably struggling to find the motivation to carry on. Ondrej had been jokingly calling the last stretch – because that’s what it felt like – the Hell of the North. I don’t think anyone had taken him seriously enough. Steep, steep climbs and deserted stretches along the Polish-Czech border. But also posh ski resorts in summer mode with breakfast buffets, filled with people. This is also where the mountains are the highest. I was around 10th place, leap-frogging spots with Hagen, Sebastian, and Michel. All of them were riding their first ultra, and it was amazing to see how well they were coping and fighting their way through.
At CP10, I dared to start dreaming that I had a shot at reaching the end without staying another night out in the forest. At CP11, there were only 55 more kilometers to the end, and my fatigued brain figured it should be possible to do those in about three hours. It took me four and half. In those hours, my mind wandered. Should I just crash another night in the forest? I was tempted, but I was lucky that I could convince myself that pushing on and wrapping up the BBBR that same night would be more enticing! AT 3:30 a.m., I rolled into camp and the finish line. Chiara had set her alarm clock and was there to welcome me back in. I had made it around Bohemia!
Words by Jon Woodroof (@jonwoodroof)
The 2021 Bohemian Border Bash Race was a fixed route, unsupported, single-stage ultra-endurance, mixed-terrain cycling competition organized by my friend Vendelín Ondřej Veselý (@chimpbars). I was honored to be one of the 55 starters of this inaugural edition!
The route was an incredible 1,300 kilometers (808 miles) circumnavigating the region of Bohemia. Racers crossed back and forth along national borders, riding through Germany, Austria, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
Considering the history of the region—and recent pandemic border enforcement—perpetually cycling across borders during the race was a poignant experience for me. So many people have lost their lives trying to cross these same lines. These national borders have seen so many more struggles more arduous than a week-long bike race, which contributed to this being a calmingly beautiful, sometimes eerie, and thoroughly unique place for a race.
The starting line seemed to have more first-time racers than seasoned veterans such as Stefan Haehnel, Bas Rotgans, and Max Riese. I think we can all agree that more rookies going the distance is very cool!
The start was at 6 a.m. on Sept 4th with a group rollout. Faster riders and those keen to push their pace out the gate crept ahead. I settled into my rhythm. Ultimately, in the first 25 hours, I reached the first two checkpoints in 389 kilometers and climbed 8,139 meters (just 700 meters shy of Everesting, lol).
This cost me a night of sleep, which meant I dragged on day two, but slept six hours that night and reached the third CP a day later on Sept 6 at 8:43 a.m.
I reached CP4 (in the beautiful town of Cesky Krumlov – look it up, it’s incredible!) the same day at 6:45 p.m., 619 kilometers into the race and still feeling quite competitive. I caught Max from Focus Bikes, and my friend Bas sleeping in the night, so we arrived at CP5 around the same time. We had a legendary breakfast together at a cafe called Gino’s Company in Nova Bystrice. What a rad spot!
I let Max and Bas get away as the sleep deprivation approach was slowing me down again. I pushed as far as I could that night and ended up passing out by the river near my friend Marec Lehmannsky and his teammate. I cameo’d in their Focus Bikes filmmaking efforts the next morning, but a sharp rock took out my front tire so swiftly that I lost my tubeless seal.
My fourth day of racing, September 8th,, was marred by inner tube drama. My Tubolitos tube didn’t initially inflate, the regular tube I brought already had snakebites, and once I tried to patch it, it was covered in tubeless sealant. At one point I was convinced my Wahoo wasn’t charging, I lost my first of two teeth on my chainring, and reconnecting my dynamo was difficult due to creeping finger numbness.
After a bike shop stop, I arrived at CP6 around three hours later than I’d hoped to. It was a small delay in the grand scheme of the race, but it put a dent in my thirst to contend with the faster mid-pack riders.
I climbed toward CP7 and met Nis Broder up there. I chose to snooze for another six hours, and when I woke, Daniela Kirchner was passing me. Ultimately, we joined forces for breakfast at the bottom of the mountain in Poland at a very fancy cafe.
Then began a new rivalry between Killian, Daniella, and me. They both beat me to CP8 but we all charged ahead. I chose to eat and recharge my electronics in a small village in Poland. I was convinced I’d catch them both on the climb to CP9 along the main ridge of Krkonose to the highest peak, Sněžka/Schneekoppe, the tallest mountain of the Czech Republic (1,603 metres) and I did! What a brutal climb!
The route to CP10 started with a cozy breakfast with Killian and Daniella. After, we separated while climbing. I didn’t see Killian again, but Daniella showed up intermittently. Once I’d reached CP10, heading to CP11 felt like a home stretch.
It was! Even with a flowy singletrack trail. It felt sublime. Upon reaching CP11, I opted not to do the river crossing to save a whopping 20 minutes by skipping a ride further down the river and back for a bridge. I did, however, have the itch to sprint the final 55 kilometers. I was determined to get back to camp before nightfall. That, I learned, would not be possible.
The race had one final gnarly hike-a-bike and a million meandering paths and trails packed into that final 55-kilometer stretch. This took me around five hours, and I arrived at the finish at 11 p.m. on day six, 161 hours and 38 minutes after starting, to a roaring reception of friends and fellow racers. I”ll never forget that moment. Thank you to all who waited up for me!
My experience competing in the Bohemian Border Bash Race embodied what always keeps me coming back to events like this: The solitary “what is life?” moments, the magic memories with locals, making many new friends, and stronger bonds with old ones. These extended days on the bike strip everything down mentally. I not only contemplated my life, but like last year’s Atlas Mountain Race experience, I again landed in an attitude of gratitude.
I’m grateful for this scene of riders who I’m fortunate to call friends and our cherished moments of shared wide-eyed optimism, existential struggle, and utter joy. I also feel fortunate for the experience of cycling through so many cultures and countries in one go. I’m still reminiscing about the twilight solo zoned-out moments between zen meditation and sleep deprivation, the lost hours between night and day, and the vast 1,300-kilometer expanse bridging the journey and the destination, and that blurry thin line between overwhelming and fine. Weeks on, it still feels like a fresh slate.
Thank you to my colleague Kike for holding down Twotone Amsterdam HQ and Workspace 6 in my absence! And extra special thanks to my love Kristy for her enduring support of these bizarre endeavors. I love how she also knows and has befriended so many in this special circle of extreme cycling and that she understands what keeps drawing me back.
Finally, thank you Ondrej for creating such a masterpiece of a route in your backyard! Unlike anything on the ultra-distance calendar, the BBB Race represents a corner of Europe that’s typically unknown to many riders. So remote yet somehow familiar. The challenging terrain and storied environment create a magical backdrop to the comradery experienced by everyone who attempts this very special race.
See you next year BBB Camp (the weekend gravel event option), and hopefully many of the faces beaming in these images too! Though podium glory may have been, for some of us, one of our goals, the warm nostalgia seen here is thanks to these wonderful souls.
2021 Bohemian Border Bash Results
- Manuel Truccolo (105 hours and 40 minutes, first overall)
- Stefan Haehnel (106 hours and 2 minutes, second overall)
- Sebastian Sarx (114 hours and 22 minutes, third overall)
- Daniela Kirchner (165 hours and 36 minutes, first woman)
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