Words by Kolja, photos by Grevet Cycling
This year’s Supergrevet long-distance race from Vienna to Berlin was a grueling test of will and endurance, retracing the historical path of the original 1893 race. The unpredictable weather, just like in the past, played a pivotal role in this journey, challenging us in ways we could hardly have imagined.
In 1893, the Distanzradfahrt Wien-Berlin covered 582.5 kilometers, making it a landmark event in German and Austrian road racing before World War I. This race was born in response to the 1892 long-distance horse ride from Berlin to Vienna. After intense competition and challenging weather conditions, the race culminated in Berlin, where the winner, Josef Fischer, received a hero’s welcome. The race had a profound impact on promoting cycling as a mode of transportation. It inspired significant growth in bicycle production, marked the breakthrough of the pneumatic tire, and paved the way for road cycling in the German-speaking countries.
After a welcoming pre-ride to Kahlenberg hosted by Wiener Schotteria the day before, more than 50 of us enthusiastic cyclists gathered at the starting line in Vienna amid the atmosphere of anticipatory excitement, all eager to embark on an adventure that would transport us through the pages of history. Setting off on our journey, the initial excitement caused a tumble of bananas and water bottles, swiftly collected from the ground. An elderly Austrian cyclist on a racing bike, heading in the opposite direction, cheerfully referred to our group as Brunzer (pissers). Riding through picturesque vineyards and pumpkin fields, our group naturally segmented into smaller clusters that would eventually reunite at the first checkpoint.
After 180 kilometers, and as the sun dipped below the horizon, we reached the top of an observation tower, our third checkpoint. From there, we saw an impending thunderstorm on the horizon. Realizing the approaching tempest was too dangerous to ride through, we sought refuge at a nearby campsite. With no other option, we decided to sleep on the veranda of the main house, grateful for shelter.
The second day unfolded as a mystical journey through the Czech woods. Under brooding clouds and amid rain-soaked trees, shrouded in thick fog, we navigated muddy dirt roads. With a good rhythm and only stopping for a checkpoint at a supposed healing-water well (which turned out to be dry) and to enjoy falafel sandwiches paired with a local watermelon-flavored energy drink named “Tiger,” our spirits remained optimistic despite the increasingly challenging conditions.
It seemed like even the weather was determined to test our limits. Amid the downpour, some highlights like the Bezděz Castle, the charming city of Görlitz, and the delectable Polish cuisine offered brief respites. However, the relentless cold sapped our energy. I vacillated between the excitement of this grand adventure and the longing for dry clothes and warm respite, particularly as we crossed the mountains before the Polish border.
As translated from German in Allgemeine Sport Zeitung 48, July 9, 1893, Page 733: “Those caught by the storm described its effect as dreadful. Some found makeshift shelter, while others remained in the open, enduring everything that the elements hurled at them. They huddled in roadside ditches and endured as the pouring rain raised the water level to their necks, only to recede again. Their only illumination came from lightning. Their unwavering will drove them forward. And then came the challenge of riding on the sodden, flood-ravaged roads. Their wheels slid continuously, but these courageous fighters, who followed the motto ‘Forward!’, were undeterred. Some covered substantial distances despite the pouring rain that raised the water level to their necks, only for it to recede again. Lightning was their sole guide.”
After navigating a long climbing section where I lost an overshoe, Simon from Vienna joined our journey. We replenished our energy with Polish pierogi, soup, and tea at a quaint restaurant. Strengthened, we embarked on the final 40 kilometers through the woods to reach the German border. Riding into the night, we soon found ourselves battling forest paths that had transformed into flowing rivers. With barely any visibility and water up to the hub of our wheels, we reached the next village and found shelter in a guesthouse, still in Poland.
As we embarked on this incredible journey, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the remarkable stories of my fellow riders, even those I hadn’t met on the course. One such story was that of Christoph. His journey was probably the most turbulent of all, as he found himself scratching on the very first day of the race. However, he made a remarkable comeback. After an insect bite, he had an allergic reaction, and the ambulance was called. Christoph spent a night in the hospital, but miraculously, he felt good again the next day. He discharged himself from the hospital and bravely continued his race, making his way up from the back of the field. Despite the early setback, Christoph displayed immense determination and resilience, eventually finishing among the first riders.
The fourth day proved to be a true test of endurance. As the temperature dropped again, we lost valuable time replacing brake pads, sipping coffee, buying dry socks and new rain jackets, and replacing more bike components. With a daunting 190 kilometers still ahead, we booked the most modest flat we could find, indifferent to the dubious “erotic massage salon” one floor above. At least there was a pizza joint across the street.
But then came the final day, a reward for our struggles. The rain subsided, we cycled in dry shoes, and the track becoming more pleasant. We maintained a steady pace, stopping only once for food. Passing through mining districts and the hauntingly beautiful lakes that were once thriving cities, we reached the Berlin border and finally, the former Tempelhof airport field, bathed in sunlight, which was previously designated as the endpoint during the 1893 race.
Finishing close to the top 10 riders, we celebrated with a cognac and beer, just as they did in 1893, toasting to our victory and sharing stories with fellow riders who had persevered through the myriad challenges of this epic journey. We gathered with fellow riders at the finish line, reuniting after our journey, eager to share tales. Among them was Robert, who, still adorned with bandages, recounted a dramatic incident where he was attacked by dogs during his ride.
This incredible experience reminded me that personal growth often emerges from the most challenging moments of our lives. It’s hard to overcome the tiredness, the rain, the cold, and the need just for another coffee in the morning. Events like this Supergrevet allow you to push your limits, knowing that other riders are doing the same. Being on my own, I doubt I would have had the strength to slip into my wet shoes another day, but only the overcoming of misery enables the proud joy of completing the journey.
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