How Big is a Skoda? – By Matt Bigos

This is part 2 of my “round the world in 30 or so days”.  After finishing up racing in Africa last week, I flew with a teammate from the States to Frankfurt for a smaller UCI race in Cologne.  Something I’ve found far different over the years of racing in the States and racing in Europe, is how you get around.  In the States plenty of us never bat an eye at driving 4 or 5, heck even 15 hours to do a race!  But in Europe, things are a bit different.  Lots of people will either fly or take the train places.  The transfer from Frankfurt to Cologne was easy enough, we had planned to take the train.  But after rethinking how much stuff we had (2 bikes for me, 2 sets of wheels, rollers, big wheelie bag and backpack. Trike, 2 sets of wheels, rollers, bigger bag etc for teammate Steve), we figured hiring a van service would be easier.  The van service went off without a hitch and we were in Cologne and checked in with no issues.  The next few days we spent wandering around getting in some training miles on the north side of Cologne.  Flat, lots of trees, bike lanes, more flat, cool old buildings and some wind, that pretty much describes riding in Cologne.

The weekend came fast enough and racing started Saturday for the Time Trial.  The TT looked super straight forward on paper and the fact we didn’t have a car or a way to get to the venue before race day, we weren’t too worried about seeing it.  Well, that turned out to be a bit of a mistake, more later.  The warm up and everything went along just fine and I was ready to roll!  We headed off to the start line and right as I was getting ready to head into the start line queue, I heard that terrible horrifying sound!  I’d picked up something in my rear wheel and it just fell out and with it all the air!  No spare wheels with me, no team staff, nothing.  WTF do I do now?!  I had a moment of panic and started to think what were my options?  Luckily I looked up and saw the Canadian team close by warming up for later starts, roll over to them and begged for a spare wheel.  Luckily they were nice enough to loan me a spare wheel and I just barely made my start in time!  “Full disaster” avoided!  Off I went.  But anyone that’s every done a TT knows that little things like that tend to screw with your head and part of doing this all the time is learning how to manage stress when this stuff happens. I was able to settle into a pretty good rhythm early on and felt pretty good, not great, not bad.  The course that looked to have one 90 degree turn and a 180 degree turn around turned out to have way more turns!  Nothing that wasn’t manageable, but not really what I was expecting.  On the return leg my legs still felt good, but something felt off and with some kicking wind I ended up backing it down a touch on the way in as I’d already been blown off the road once.  Not really how I wanted the day to go, but it happens some times.

Sunday was a bit more relaxed day with the road race.  The hotel we stayed at was about 300 meters from the start line which meant I’d ridden it a few times and knew what to expect.  The race started pretty hard and we did the up an down thing the entire race, either eye ball bleeding hard, or coffee pace at times.  The group split by the end of lap 2 or 3 I think and a small group of about 8 of us spent the rest of the race as the front group for the next 18 or so laps.  Lots of attacks by riders and lots of chasing pretty much summed up the rest of the race.  On the final lap there was a big dig on the front and a few guys clipped off the front and my legs really just didn’t have it to get across to them.  I ended up finishing in third. I wouldn’t say I was really happy with it, but not too upset either as my legs all weekend were never that great.

The race in Cologne was not just a Para race, but they had a handful of able bodied races as well over the weekend.  Me thinking it would be a good idea to get another race in on Monday after my racing was done, jumped into an able bodied race on the same course.  I would guess the race worked out to be about on par with a USAC 1/2 field.  Except this one had 200+ people on the start line and the course was right at 2k, but way narrower than the roads we race crits on in the States on!  I am not even going to lie and say I wasn’t in way over my head!  But I’ve always been a big fan of punching above my weight!  Well, that’s a great idea and mindset most of the time, but I lasted literally 1 lap!  And out the back I went!  It was so fast and dodgy that I wasn’t bothered by it, I just laughed and rolled off the course.

By now you might be wondering, what does a Skoda and its size have to do with anything?  Well back to that traveling across Europe thing without the team.  The original plan was to do the race in Cologne, then head to Ostend Belgium by train and meet up with the US National Team for round 2 of the World Cup series.  After realizing the train was a bit much with all our stuff and no help, we decided to rent a car and just drive, it’s about a 3 hour drive.  The big issue we ran into was finding a car big enough to get all our stuff in!  I make the joke about my feet being along for the ride and not doing much, so driving a stick isn’t my ideal thing and having never driven in Europe, I decided I had to have an automatic.  Finding a van that is an automatic, and a one way rental to a different country is basically nonexistent in Europe.  Add in the fact that Monday, the day we wanted to pick the car up, was a bank holiday and it turns out pretty much EVERYTHING shuts down, things started getting a little stressful.  We finally decided our only option was to rent the biggest wagon we could get and try to beg, borrow, pay anything it took to get a few other countries to take a few bits and pieces to Belgium for us.  After figuring out that the Mercedes looked to be the biggest we booked that and thought everything was good to go, not so much.  Tuesday morning I rode over to the car rental to pick it up and the woman working the counter looked at me and said “You are Mr Bigos yes?”.  Sure am, this can’t be good.  “The car you booked, we do not have it.”  Hmmm, slight panic attack!  “We have a Skoda at a near by location we can get, but that is it”.  Well how big is it?  “It is a Skoda”.  Sometimes things get lost in translation and I was out of options.  It turned that is was big enough and after some serious playing tetris to load it all in, off we went to Belgium!

Luckily the drive over was smooth and nothing too wild happened and it’s been a good few days relaxing and training in Belgium getting ready for round 2 of the World Cup series!  I am hoping to get a write up done Monday when I fly back to the States for Road Nationals from this weekends racing!

Thanks again to everyone that follows along and helps make this all happen for me!

– Matt Bigos

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