Only a week after the Belgian Road Rage, it was Latvia’s turn to host the next event. This was to take place in the picturesque town of Sigulda about an hour east of Riga on the edge of the Gauja National Park. The venue was to be the national luge and bob sleigh track, with the service road being used as the race track.
70 riders turned up to try their luck on this technical, narrow and twisty yet short track. At only 700m, it was the shortest Road Rage to date. The road surface was less than ideal, with many dangerous imperfections, including cracks, developing holes, uneven drain covers, ripples and gravel in some corners. The track had obviously not been cleaned, even swept as a thin film of sand-dust was also present, which could be seen from the tell-tale signs picked up on the tyres. This did not bode well at all.
A briefing was held, followed by a controlled pace safety reconnaissance run. Next up was practice, with gate starts in the 4cross format. A couple of these were accorded all competitors and was enough to alert me to the inherent unsuitability of this dangerous track. Grip was at times nearly non existent as the thin film of sand-dust which covered the unswept track acted like micro ball bearings beneath the rubber. Qualifying was next and held in the traditional time trial style. I settled for a rather safe than sorry approach, clocking in a solid equal 6th place. Times were very tight and less than a second separated the top 7 fastest riders.
After a short break, it was time for the real racing to begin. I ran out a comfortable heat winner in my 1/16 final heat to progress to the next round. The round caused little difficulty, as I clocked the fastest time of the 1/8 final heats, a time which was not bettered again until the 1/2 finals. Things were looking promising, yet the course was beginning to notch up the crash victim count rapidly, mainly on the first tight right-hand bend where a huge crowd had assembled at this stage. With little room to manoeuvre, in terms of line and time, it was essential to get a good start. I did just that in the 1/4 final, getting my best start of the race so far. Down the first straight and around the first left-hand bend, where I suddenly lost the front end as the tarmac transitioned from smooth asphalt to a cracked uneven patchwork. I went down heavily, with the rider behind me ploughing straight into the back of me, unable to avoid me in the surprise developments. The other two riders also scattered left and right in a desperate attempt to avoid us. I jumped back up, but my front tyre and blown when it got ripped open, the handle bar was twisted around and the brake levers were broken off. I knew my race was over, as I picked up what remained of my bike and started to walk back up to the start. My worst fears had been realised in relation to the atrocious state of the track and it was absolutely no surprise to see only mountain bikes present from the semi-finals onwards, for the first time in Road Rage history.
A hotly contested all Latvian final played out under the afternoon sun with John Balēvičs running out as the eventual men’s winner and Ivita Krumins taking top spot in the women’s final.