Published 10 June 2004
First Scooter World Championship
4.-6.6.2004, Karlovy Vary and Plsen, Czech Republic
On last Thursday more than a few folk in Prague on their daily bus
and metro commutes may have noticed an unusual number of foreigners
wearing big smiles and travelling with strangely shaped bags. Questioning
looks were easily answered: “it is my kolobezkach!” From Finland
alone travelled six, from Italy six, from Holland a van full, from
Germany four and from the US one guy with the biggest bag of all.
We met the US representative, a gadget-loving New Yorker named Alex
Bekkerman, that evening in Jan Vlasek’s apartment where Jan generously
invited many of us for the night. The
gadget man had us spellbound with an array of heartbeat counting,
altitude tracking, voice recording little machines, as well as a
sexy Kickbike tricked out with the lightest nipples and a radically
angled stem. The next day we all headed east
to Karlovy Vary, site of the first race. Jan Elmgren and I chauffeured
Hannu Vierikko, already in disinformation mode with his “You know,
I haven’t been training much really” routine, and Markus Porthin
from the airport in the morning. The conversation
along the way naturally fell to who among the Czechs might surprise,
as usual we have heard Ladislav Provod has been training up to 12
times a day and mean enough to crack pavement with his kick (just
kidding, Ladi is obviously a gentle giant).
Well no big surprises in Karlovy Vary, where the podium was filled
up with the usual suspects: Vierikko, Kuusisto, and Provod. The
race was held on an interesting 2.4 kilometer loop in the center,
with only a few small hills that would pose little challenge to
the strongest kickers and an interesting downhill through a tunnel--this
is the same course as two years ago for the Euro Championships.
Hannu Vierikko answered any questions that he may not be in shape—his
own question as I mentioned before—as he took the lead from the
start, along with sprinter Jan Vlasek who wanted to at least challenge
for the lead for the first minute of the race. This is a race that
demands a good start or you quickly find yourself separated from
the leaders. Hannu effortlessly managed the race until the end overtaking
Alpo K. on the last straight away shouting “Com’n on your left!!”
Jan Elmgren escaped a fast closing bunch for a respectable fourth.
The rest of us fought for our rankings with two newcomers in the
mix, each with justifiable expectations for good finishes based
on athletic pedigrees—Erwin Borremans and Ondrej Vodrazka. The latter
is a world cup ski orienteerer and a very likely Czech man for the
podium once he refines his skills on the scooter.
First, excuse my chauvinism for not mentioning the women’s criterium
on Day 1, which was dominated by the Czech women and won in fine
style by Anezka Zijkova representing her Prague club.
It is not always easy to say when one scooter day ends and another
begins in the Czech scooter world since the boundaries between days
are inevitably blurred by the parties. Once again we celebrated
together with participants of the White water kayaking World Cup
at a beautiful outdoor celebration including all you can eat, drink,
and sing. While I won’t comment on the quality of the singing, Markus
Porthin was heard to remark 28 times: “I really like this Czech
beer.” I think he spoke for all of us.
Saturdays competition was undoubtably the most suspense filled of
the weekend. Not only was the weather unpredictable with fits of
hard rain but the results of the qualifying time trial left a few
of us scratching our heads. Only the top 16, after an approximately
1 kilometre time trial, would proceed to the sprints. Many of the
favourites found themselves just squeaking in, with Hannu Vierikko
15th and Jan Elmgren shockingly just beyond the cut-off at 17th.
The fastest times were posted by Provod, P. Pesta, and Van Camp
(don’t ask me how).
In the afternoon the real action started, with both the men’s and
women’s quarters, semis, and finals providing down-to-the-wire excitement.
The course involved two hairpin turns on wet pavement, offering
those inclined to recline on their scooters the opportunity to do
so (I was one of these, although it would have mattered little as
I was in the “group of death” for my quarter final). The most exciting
semi, was a preview of the final with Vierikko and 200m kicksled
world champion Borremans going head-to-head. Both eased off at the
end but it was clear believed they could win. In the other semi,
two Czechs looked ominously strong, again Ladi and newcomer Ondrej.
The women’s race provided two strong contenders for the final, Lucie
Gazarovka, a young Czech with scootering in her genes (her father
is a Czech scooter party legend) and Hermien Koers, also from a
scooter family with her brother being one of last year’s European
Champions. The two battled it out in the final, a contrast in styles,
Lucie with quick, choppy kicks and Hermin with long, powerful kicks.
Hermien to a commanding lead, but it was slowly wittled away by
a tough Lucie who eventually overtook her tiring rival for the win.
The men’s final was probably the most exciting sprint race in scooter
history. Before the race each man was wrapped in concentration and
uncharacteristically quiet. Even Borremans, who will go down in
history as the biggest back-slapper and hand-shaker in scooter history,
looked…well a little pissed off!? At the gun it was full out for
the first corner with Borremans just edging Provod and Vierikko
tucked in behind. Borremans and Provod went at each other with teeth
gritted and chests puffing. The lead changing several times but
with neither clearly stronger. Vierikko, the most experienced of
the group, sat behind the too locomotives with Ondrej Vodrajka right
there two. In the end, Vierikko showed again that there is no one
who can accelerate more quickly at high speed, winning the lead
at the last corner and coasting in with Provod in a hard earned
second. Wow. Almost as amazing as the race itself was the world’s
first demonstration of scooter aerobics by the best looking scooter
club in the Czech Rep, it was even sexier than Alex’s scooter.
How did day 2 conclude? Hey this is the Czech Republic stupid! We
had another party. We drank, we danced, and meaningfully we all
toasted our fallen friend, Ville Vickholm. There was also a short
scooter jumping competition, which ended tragically in the destruction
of one Kolobezka (sorry Gazarek!).
There are probably not many World Championships in which the athletes
are able to perform at the limits of physical endurance in spite
of the accumulation of multiple hangovers over several nights. But
it all comes down to hard training! But in all seriousness the importance
of Sunday’s race was exemplified by the moderation shown by the
racers the night before at the party with free drinks. We had fun
of course but the big race was still to come...
The favourite for this race was clear: not only does Alpo Kuusisto
own this course, he owns most every long distance scooter record
there is. So to beat Alpo would have taken something extra special.
Enter Ladislav Provod, a big strong contender with an unorthodox
straight-legged style capable of accelerating hard up big hills
and with dogged determination. Ladislav was certainly the number
one contender before the race, despite his Achille’s heel of lacking
speed on downhills. But once again we learned not to discount the
wily veteran with many nicknames: Hannu, Mr. Kickbike, the guru,
and many other names which cannot be printed here. In characteristic
fashion Hannu was the last out of bed in the morning before the
race and with a new piece of equipment on display, wearing a very
stifling looking aerodynamic helmet, his little “head sauna” as
he called it.
The main pack of eight held together for less than two laps when
a gap started to open behind the three aforementioned contenders.
The winning move would happen on the third lap when Alpo, so far
looking relaxed and nonchalant on his scooter, made a hard move
up the main climb with Ladislav in tow. Somehow Hannu, using superior
descending skills and his ability to put in a hard burst when necessary
kept within range. At the end Alpo proved unbeatable, winning as
expected and a surprising Vierikko was able to overtake Ladislav,
putting Ladislav again in the now familiar 3rd position. Jan Elmgren
was clearly the next best and some of us smiled to see him awarded
for best master racer, since we know Hannu is also in the master’s
faze of life and only one man in his twenties was fast enough to
beat those two.
The women’s race saw its third winner in three days, with Karlovy
Vary scooterist Alena Kupilikova taking the win over her Czech team
mate. The Championships concluded with the relays. Here Team Kickbike
International lived up to its name with Vierikko, Van Camp, and
Borremans representing three different countries (although all now
call Finland home). This team easily won the relay with the Czech
team coming second but winning the Championship because they were
the first national team. The Finnish team would have surely provided
a strong challenge for the title but unfortunately the aforementioned
“master” got a late start due to a misunderstanding about where
the start line was. In the women’s relay it was Czechs filling up
the whole podium.
Let me conclude by thanking, on behalf of all the scooterists from
Finland, the Czech scooterists for their great warm hearted hospitality
and their love of scooter sport. These are people who will give
it all in a race and then take the train home so you can ride in
a car. Particularly I would like to thank Jan Vlasek and his family
for giving up their apartment to a group of scooter freaks, Karel
Cvalin and Jaroslav Tlapa for all their help and their garlic drinking
game, the Pesta brothers for making the whole thing happen and again
Gazarek for his Kolobezka.
Richard Van Camp
all WC distances in Excell