Friday, October 05, 2007

A Weekend in Germany!

Last weekend, I watched Max race in the UCI Road World Championships... an amazing opportunity. Once a year, all of the world's best cyclists gather to compete for the world title, and this year it was in Stuttgart, Germany -- conveniently not too far from Lund, Sweden.

So, I flew down to Germany on a Friday afternoon and got ready for an exciting weekend. It was my first trip to Germany, and I would not only be seeing Max, but staying in a hotel with America's top cyclists -- the ones whom I admire and idolize as some of the best in the world. Amazing. (The first time I ran into George Hincapie in the hall, I tried very hard not to squeal loudly/hug him/pass out. I just calmly walked past him -- and, for the record, he didn't even notice me.)

Saturday was the women's elite road race and Max's race: the under 23 category. I took the S-Bahn from my hotel in Möhringen to the start/finish line at Killesberg Messa. I wandered along the course, caught the end of the women's race, and then waited for the U23 race to begin. Here's Max, zipping by on his way to the U.S.A. tent to get ready.

I figured out very quickly that it would have been well worth my money to buy a ticket for the race. The race planners strategically covered all the fences and barriers around the start/finish area with opaque cloth, so enterprising fans wouldn't be able to peer through the chain link and watch the show for free. I was irked. But I didn't have 20 Euros so I settled for walking around the course and finding some good places to watch.

After the start -- blink and you'll miss 'em! -- I surveyed the beginning of the course. The peloton was in for a challenge: 9 laps of a hilly course, adding up to 170 kilometers.

I spent the first several laps taking pictures of all of the people who had gathered to watch the race. Lots of fans had camped out in RVs and had clearly staked out their spot well in advance. This race was my first ever glimpse of REAL cycling fans. Europeans take their cycling (and their soccer) seriously. I hate to say it, but American cycling fans have nothing on the people I saw. Flags, banners, campers, tables and chairs, TVs, satelite dishes, weird hats... a couple of families were even running cafes out of their RVs (cappuccino and a sandwich, anyone?).

It was a windy day and the barricades kept falling over. The fans, while enthusiastic and a bit crazy, were also fierce supporters of their riders, and quickly helped the race organizers right the fences. Luckily, the U23 peloton was nowhere near when this happened, but earlier in the day, the elite women were not so lucky: about 10 girls got taken out by a falling barrier.

The only mystery: the napping man (see picture). Why on earth would you come to the World Cycling Championships and then TAKE A NAP?? Clearly not a true cycling fan.

WHOOSH... after half an hour, the peloton flew past again. I did, rather fortuitously, get a shot of Max (going at least 30 mph).

The countries most well-represented by their fans seemed to be Italy, Norway, and (duh) Germany. Um... sprechen sie schwedisch? It's been a while since I've traveled to a place where my language skills -- Spanish, English, and Swedish -- haven't done me any good. Towards the end of the day, I had an amusing conversation with an old Italian man where I garbled away in a mix of all three of the languages.

Several kilometers into the course was the steepest climb of the race: about 400 meters long and at a 13 percent grade. (Try doing that 9 times...)

There were some beautiful views of Stuttgart, a city built over hills and valleys.

The laps were long, so it was a bit of a wait to see the peloton pass by again. A glimpse of the TV helicopter was a good sign that the riders were on their way.

The whole world was represented: Britian, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, South Africa, Iran, Malaysia, Venezuela, Belarus, Moldova, Austrailia -- and the winner was from Slovakia!

Max finished the race towards the back, but the important thing was that he finished his first race of this scale. About one-third of the racers who started didn't finish at all! It was exciting to see him do so well, and he hopes to be back next year.

That evening, after running around and figuring out schedules for departing the next morning, we decided to go downtown to relax and eat some dinner. We had just left the hotel to walk to the train station when Max realized he had forgotten his wallet. He ran back in while I waited outside. A minute later, Max came outside leaning over and holding his head in his hands. He said he had hit his head... and when he pulled his hand away, it was covered in blood.

Long story short, Max cut his head on a wall (don't ask), but it was very superficial and the team doctor had him fixed up in no time.


Sooooo, let's try that again. Off to dinner!

We got off at the main station, Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof, and I spotted one of those model train displays where I gladly paid 50 euro cents to "drive" the models -- you know how I love trains.

We enjoyed our beer, pizza, and pasta in Schlossplatz at a little outdoor restaurant.

Flying home out of Stuttgart, my flight was canceled! I was really bummed at first, but when I was rebooked on Lufthansa, things got a lot better. Not only did my new flight back to Copenhagen arrive two hours earlier than my previously scheduled flight, but I was upgraded to economy plus! The front of the plane (dedicated to business and economy plus) was very empty: I counted only two other people besides me in the surrounding thirty seats. I had a row to myself and I was served a meal on an hour and half long flight! I was pretty happy.

Auf Wiedersehen!


Sally said...

Wow, 13% grade! I can't get over that. For those of you who haven't been on a bike lately, see if you can find that grade near you and just walk it. I became OBSESSED with road grades when I was training for the MS150.

bbElf (a.k.a. panda) said...

Awesome stuff! That is so cool.

I've always wondered what happened in the frou-frou sections of the plane :).

Carlotosway said...

Cheap thrills, eh? Remember the Seinfeld where Jerry gets to sit in first class? How'd you like Germany? Did you eat a huge pretzel and drink a big liter of bier?

Linnea said...

Panda -- yeah, economy plus was the tops. I was so excited, it was kind of pathetic. One guy, who was a few rows ahead of me, gave me a weird look when I started taking self-portraits and shots of the food... I took that as my cue to put away the camera and enjoy the flight. :-)

Yeah, Carl, SUPER cheap thrills. You know me. And that Seinfeld episode is the BEST. hahaha... No pretzel -- I didn't have time to track down the Stuttgart Beer Festival, but I drank a big ol' mug of beer, just for you.