It is with mixed feelings I think back to this event. On the one hand, the disappointment in how things evolved and on the other the important lessons I took from it. They say it is often the most painful lessons and experiences that teach us the most and I can definitely slot this one into that category. It all started in a very upbeat fashion with the long awaited and overdue news, that 2011 would indeed again see a Road Rage event organised. I had given up hope of anything materialising when the Red Bull Poland put out the announcement in early September of their scheduled race for 1 October 2011. A place on the start line was secured soon after, flight tickets, a rental car and accommodation were booked and I was set to go. My form could not have been better after a tough season of track racing benefiting my fitness enormously. A week before the event I had taken a Leinster Senior elite sprint title and rounded off the podium in the Scratch race. Confidence was brimming and I was eager to compete in the sole Road Rage event of the season.
The venue was in, for me, the unpronounceable southern Polish town of Międzybrodzie Żywiecki in the province of Katowice. The course descended 4km down Góra Żar with long straights and sweeping hairpin bends and a couple of faster more open bends completing the challenge. I arrived in the host town a couple of days preceding the event, a small village set in a beautiful valley surrounded by forested mountains. After unpacking and putting the bike together, it was out onto the road for the first reconnaissance run. A quick cycle up to the top and a first run down. That evening I studied the video clip I had filmed of my descent, before switching off the lights. The following day involved numerous ascents via the funicular railway to the top followed by an equal amount of descents on the road to familiarise myself as best could be with the race course. I was joined by other racers who were doing likewise including a close rival and friend who I had made raced previously in Belgium, namely ex professional and World Champion Christian Lademann as well as his very likeable former team mate Marko Thoss. Eventually we all called it a day and turned in to rest up before the big day.
D-day delivered a crisp sunny autumn morning. Initially a thick mist hung in the bottom of the valley, just below the finish point, cloaking all below in a blanket of soft fluff, but as the morning evolved the clouds dissipated to clear the stunning views over the fields and lake below. Sign-on went smoothly and then it was up to the top for some official practice runs, this time on a fully closed road. I settled for a single run before it was time to wait for the qualifying session. With number 68, I had over an hour to wait until my start time, during which I relaxed in the deck chairs provided in the racers area at the start. 20 minutes before my scheduled start time, I started warming up properly. With 3 minutes to go I went to wait in line, only to be told (via translation as none of the officiating staff spoke a word of English), that there was an issue and there would be a delay of about 5 extra minutes. So I went for one last spin back along the top road. I came back a few minutes later only to hear my name being called out over the sound system and someone came running towards me telling me I only had 30 seconds to get in the start gate. With no gloves on, my helmet strap unfastened and my skin suit open (it was quite hot at this stage, especially with all the protective body armour), I was suddenly under an immense amount of time pressure.
I got in the gate and was still pulling my gloves on when the gate dropped. A few seconds later I tore off, only to realise that the front zip on my skin suit was open. While still pedalling, I fumble the zip up with my big leather gloves. Finally set, I turned on the power and started to descend like my life depended on it. Full tilt around the first wide sweeping hairpin on a super tight line and out into the long straight that followed. A short sharp engagement of the brakes before entering the next hairpin, again taking a super tight inside line. As I came around the bend, a photographer was down on his hunkers along the road side in the grass verge and I was going straight for him! I believe he was even more surprised to see me coming straight at him with my left shoulder, knee to the ground, than I seeing him in my racing line. He threw himself backwards into the hedge and I twisted my head and upper body up and a collision was avoided. I proceeded unabated and into the next hairpin, again at full speed, continuing to take as tight as possible a line on the inside to catapult out into the next straight. A slight right hand bend followed before the steepest section of road at 14% gradient. At this point I was clocking well over 85km/h. A tricky sweeping left hander ensued. A slight checking of the brakes and it was safely negotiated. One last straight before the last hairpin.
Swooping down into the left hand hairpin I again went for a very tight line. As I exited, I began to pedal out of the corner and suddenly heard a loud bang as I managed to roll my rear tyre off the rim and the tube exploded. Beyond belief, I somehow managed to stay upright on the bike and bring it to a halt. I had barely 500m metres to go , but had to run them in my cleats carrying my bike as I went. I crossed the line and then spent a tense half hour waiting to see if I made the cut for the top 32 qualifiers. Alas it didn’t happen although I wasn’t the slowest rider either! I was gutted that my race had to end in such a fashion, as I don’t think I had ever had the level of fitness I carried into this event. I watch from the sidelines for the first time as the rounds progressed. The final saw plenty of suspense and action as local country rider Piotr Szafraniec upset the odds to take the win in a last effort burst over the final 200m, with Christian the rider who was edged out for second after having led the final for a significant portion. Another local country rider, Marcin Motyka, rounded off the podium where the traditional celebrations of spraying the bubbly ensued.