04 June 2010

Bahnhof Zoo / mein Zug fährt ein / ich steig' aus / gut wieder da zu sein : VELOTHON BERLIN 2010

There are two major races in Germany for non-professinals, the Vattenfall Classics in Hamburg and the Velothon in Berlin. Thousands of would-be racers gather each year to finish or to crash.

By introduction of Fab, the newest addition to the Positivo Espresso Euro Klub (PEEK), I came to Berlin to attend the Velothon 120 km race. He also allowed me to stay in his flat and took me to the Saturday afternoon school party at the local Waldorf School which is run by the hotel group of the same name. David M from RGT Enterprises, Japanese Importer of Assos, AX Lightness and other bike porn visited a Waldorf School in Switzerland as well in his youth, so it cannot possibly be a bad place. Although I need to remark that artists, psychologists, lawyers and teachers do not necessarily qualify to operate a sausage grill. Unless one compares it to the effectiveness of Japanese road works.

Berlin was quiet the afternoon when we prepared our bikes and made a training ride to the Wannsee lake. Little did we know that the same evening Germany would become the new pop music capital of the world when Lena won the European Song Contest in Oslo with her song "Satellite":


My fellow countrymen and women may have learned how to write pop songs but the level of English is still on par with Gestapo officers in early 40ties Hollywood movies.
And even less did we know that only one day later our country would be without head of state, all this happening in the town where I was just racing. OK, something similar happened in Japan this week as well, when Prime Minister Hatoyama stepped down for taking the blame of choosing the wrong shirt for an appearance at his garden cocktail party. Rumour has it, that this was a preliminary design for the next edition of the Tokyo Cycling Club team jersey.

So while major events around the world were causing dramatic changes, I was drinking some red wine in the garden of an old school friend from Moenchengladbach in preparation of the race the next day.

When I was waking up the next morning and looked out of the window, it was raining. Heavy rainfall was forecasted for all of the day with 96% probability. So I did what every decent optimist would do in such situation. I checked other weather forecasts on the web for more optimistic information, unfortunately to no avail. As I have told Fab many stories about my bad weather cycling adventures in Japan (Sado Long Run 210 in 2008, Yokohama Bike Navi Enurance in 2008 and 2009), perhaps slightly exaggerating one or the other detail, I was in no position to bail out. Luckily the rain stopped and we collected our third team member, Tibor S , Herr Professor; as these days I tend to prefer to be surrounded by men of equal or higher academic credentials.

So we drove into the city , just in front of the Brandenburg Gate where the race starts. Fab and Tibor lined up for the 60 km race which had an earlier start and almost the same finishing time as the 120 km race 1.5 hours later. These guys were pretty relaxed and after hearing the German National Anthem, they started to roll out in start block D. The road was pretty crowded whereas almost no spectators were watching. So I manged to get on my bike, sprint to the Brandenburg Gate and shout some encouragements when Fab and Tibor were finally coming in.


Finally Fabian hang on to one promising looking wheel which turned out to be a huge blunder.

I then went to drop my bag at the official bag dropping station, repaired my flat tyre (yes, that happened as well) and prepared myself mentally for the race. I desperately hoped that it would not rain but the probability of staying dry was low.

At 9 AM I was in starting block D (just as my JCRC classification) which turned out to be a mistake. The starting blocks are organized by indicated average speed. Quite modestly I noted 36 km/hr on my race application, not knowing that speed of sound minus 12.5 km/hr would be about the average velocity entered by all 120 km riders. Quite some hobby riders around me, not even sporting racing bikes.
OK; there was also start block E and F, but this was where apparently three years old with supporting wheels and people who have lost their bike on the way to the race were standing. So when the race started I tried to move up the front as soon as possible. The C block has started 5 minutes before us so I might have a chance to close in on them. Wide streets filled with many slow riders hampered my efforts first, but once the general speed picked-up I was surprised that only after a few kms the first groups formed and that already the first gaps between the groups were opening. I jumped from one group to the next, sometimes trailing a group of riders behind me, but after a while I had the feeling that I was perhaps with one of the first D block groups and there was no other group in sight in front of us, so I stayed with them.

As it is in such races, it turned out that basically I stayed with some of these guys for the rest of the race. There were four riders from SPARKASSE ERZGEBIRGE (Savings Bank Ore Mountains) who were leading the pack and a tall guy with a Caisse d'Espargne jersey who standed out so I used them as my orientation points. Erzgebirge is the part of Germany where people are so bored in the evening, that they produce the famous nutcrackers, even when under socialist rule.

I was close to ask the nutcrackers if I could ride with them in one group, also promising that I would stand in the wind from time to time, when the first hills of the Gruenewald, the major mountain ridge of Berlin appeared just in front of us. So instead of asking, I thought I might convince them by riding to the front and leading them up the mountain. Which I did and I did a really good job of climbing up this steep mountain (I guess Jerome's hill is more demanding) and when on the top I looked back and the peloton was way behind me. So instead of presenting myself as a good team player that could ask for post-merger integration, I showed up as the ultimate idiot who squanders his powers senselessly within the first 20 km of the race. A photograph, waiting to capture the amount of sufferings on top of the hill took this photo precisely in the right moment.I took it easy on the descent down and was overtaken again by some of the other riders in my group. Two of them decided that it might be a splendid idea to crash just in front of me at a speed of over 40 km/hr and gently slide into my line. Luckily I didn't brake but managed to overtake the pile-up on the left side.

Even on the climb we were overtaking the first groups from the C starting block and now it became difficult: I had to be very focused and concentrated to ride in the peloton, but also not to land in one of the slower C groups we were overtaking. Quite some times I found myself in the middle of one of the slow C groups, while there was already a gap to my original D group opening. So I was forced to sprint back to my group which I luckily managed every time.

In hindsight, that was he best part of the race: Seeing the gap, getting into sprint mode and making an all out effort at 45 - 50 km/hr to establish contact to the group in front. Then hang on and recover.

The speed was quite fast, constantly in the 40 to 45 km/hr range at this point of the race. Then it started to rain and I prepared myself for getting wet. But miracle, oh mircale, it stopped raining after only 15 minutes or so. And then we were on the highway back to Berlin, a long flat and straight wide road where I had the chance to eat some powerbars and get new energy. Also the speed had dropped quite substantially and it was now very easy to stay with the field, even while eating and drinking.

And then we came back into Berlin city, as more traffic islands popped up everywhere and one has to ride really, really, concentrated in order not to crash. Also the speed wasn't that fast any longer. I was just happy that I didn't crashed and that the weather stayed dry. There were also more spectators watching now and with just three kms to go I made myself ready to ride to the front of our group and start the sprint. We made a left turn into the street of June 17th which is leading to the Brandenburg Gate and for the first time after the start I had the feeling that I was racing in Berlin. My eyes were glued to the rider in front of me almost all of the time and now suddenly I could look up and realize where I was.

I positioned myself well, but there was no sprint. Later I learned that it is expressively not allowed to sprint at the event (except when the first riders from the A block move in). I was happy to finish in 899th position (out of more than 4.000 riders) with an average speed of more than 39 km/hr (the actual distance was less than 116 km) and in 2:57:41 hr.

Done. I went to the bag drop station where two bored girls waited to pick up my things.

"Can I get my bag please?" "Oh great, your the first guy to show up here to pick up his bag. Wonderful. Do you like some cookies?"I got some more stufff. Please note the standard size safety pins and the "Hey, my body is full with pills" type peppermint box.

Seems I was first in something. Then I took the subway to Fabs house, now it was raining. Fab and Tibor did well in the 60 km considering their lack of training (Fab did two weeks) and coaching (one day). So we decided to set up a training camp in Mallorca for next year.

And then I returned to Bremen which was not as easy as I thought. Jumping out of the train there it was raining. Of course

PS Later I learned that the complete PEEK was assembled in Berlin during this weekend. Juliane and David were travelling to MELT at Ferropolis and stayed in Berlin for one or two nights. Time to gown a moustache and make the trip to London.


David Litt said...


Thank you for the report and congratulations on the top 900 finish! Next year you can start with the B or C block and hope to move up a few hundred positions ... just as long as you promise not to crash, since it will only be 3-4 weeks before Transalp.

Mallorca Camp -- mid-February? (Maybe we should bring "training bikes" since according to the press just about everyone in Spain is now unemployed and large numbers are probably turning to bicycle thievery out of desperation.)

I will need to try to study some German, as part of my training for Transalp 2011, and if I am ever to hope to visit Ferropolis or MELT ...

Best, David L.

P.S. Nussknacker -- a good name for a very hard core team, I would think!

P.P.S. Waldorf Schools -- there was one of these in our neighborhood in the DC suburbs before we moved to Japan. I only heard rumors that the kids cannot watch TV, they must play only with wooden toys, they must wear 100% cotton clothing (exceptions are made for burlap sacks), and for lunch they must eat whole apples, organic carrots, yogurt with "live" cultures, no sugar permitted, and whole grain bread. Of course, no video games!! My kids would always stay far away.

Dominic H said...

A Waldorf school sounds like a holiday camp compared to English prep schools in the 1970s! Apples, carrots, yoghurt??? All fresh stuff. Unheard of.

mob said...

I updated the photos from Berlin.

The Waldorf school didn't looked so strict too me. Until I asked my neighbor at the table if it would be possible to get a beer. But otherwise it seems quite normal, no burlap sacks. Perhaps David M may comment.

Summer has finally arrived in the city of Bremen. I woke up at noon with headaches after a night of serious drinking and heavy smoking. But never mind, there are still 10 hours until sundown, time wnough for a ride.

Manfred von Holstein said...

Nutrition at the Waldorf school sounds like paradise to me...

Quite in contrast to German "convenience stores", i.e. petrol station shops. Just like MOB says, I'm always disgusted to see so much sugar and so little nutrition. This adds an extra challenge to cycling in Germany (and maybe most countries other than Japan?).

A belated congratulations on finishing the first race in Germany. I'm sure next year, you'll be in one of the top groups. Looks like there was a large group doing 43km/h together - would think you could hang on to them next time. That would put you into the top 50.