Luca Haines is one of our Elite Juniors and has been living in Hungary and racing there and in the surrounding regions for a U17 team since the beginning of this year. Here’s his experience from this past weekend in Slovakia.
Last weekend I raced in Trnava, Slovakia, the hallowed land of our Lord and Savior, Peter Sagan. I raced in the U17 field, equivalent to the Junior 15-16 field in the United States, and the racing was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. My team arrived in the old town of Trnava around 11:30 on Saturday, with about 4 hours to go before the criterium. We finally found a parking space, and just started to get a feel for the course. Even though it was cloudy, it was still 60 degrees. It was this crazy little 1-kilometer loop on pedestrian streets, one-way streets, and a normal road for the final 150 meters. The course had three types of cobbles; The Paris-Roubaix type, big, spaced out cobbles; really small cobbles, that weren’t really much of a problem except for the 10-ish cobbles that were missing or sticking straight up; and lastly, for about 100 meters, big flagstones that were still damp, even though it hadn’t rained in 4 days. All the turns were <90 degrees, and it in a field of around 60 U17s, it was a tour de sketch, to say the least.
A group broke away on the first lap, about 6 guys, 2 of whom rode for the Peter Sagan Academy team. My teammate Bence made the split, and I sat in around the 10th wheel in the chase group of around 20 for the majority of the race. We ended up catching 4 of the 6 in the lead pack, Bence being one of them. On the last lap, I tried to lead out Bence, who sprinted for 5th place, and I somehow managed to hold on for 15th. It was the fastest racing I’ve ever been a part of, and in Slovakia, it’s crazy to see how into the sport a lot of non-racers are. There were people at the race, who had no relation to the racers, old guy sitting at a bar to watch the juniors race. One other thing that’s awesome to see, is the number of female racers in the u15s, u17s, and juniors. The u17 women’s field in Trnava was around 30 people, and the u15s field was around 45 people.
After the race, I ate 2 gyros, two slices of corn, and prosciutto pieces of pizza, all within 30 minutes. Once we left the race, we drove to a little motel about 30 minutes outside Trnava, in this little town called Štefanová. While the coaches all walked down to this little bar, once we were all settled in the hotel, six of us pulled up a rerun of Flanders on EuroSport, while my teammate Zalán got the last 40 kilometers of Itzulia on his computer. There’s nothing better the night between races than watching two bike races at once, one in Slovakian, the other in Basque, in a room filled with Hungarians teenagers.
The next morning, we got a country breakfast from the hotel. Keilbas, ham and eggs, bread with homemade jam, and yogurt from a Tesco. We then hopped in the van, and drove to the start of the road race, in a town called Suchá nad Parnou, and once we signed in, we went and warmed up around the town. The wind was ripping through the fields of central Slovakia, with a consistent wind of 35 kph, and gusts of 55 kph. The race consisted of 3, 23.5 km circuits to the north of Suchá nad Parnou. It was relatively flat, with a few rollers, and the sun was shining on a bright 75 degree April day in Slovakia.
The race started with a tailwind, and immediately, the field started to get sorted out. No attacks stuck on the tailwind section, but once we hit the crosswind section, it was all about the echelons. A break of 7 went clear, but Bence was caught out. Of the four u17s on my team, Zalán had not started due to sickness, Dávid had been caught out of position on the tailwind section. That left only me to try to get Bence in the break. The Peter Sagan Academy was also caught out, so they did most of the chasing, but once the break was in sight, I went to the front and pulled all out for about 30 seconds, and then Bence attacked over my shoulder, and bridged up to the breakaway on the headwind section, and only took one guy with him. As we were into a 35 kph headwind, I was able to sit in without too much effort. Once we took the final corner, and the wind whipped behind us, attacks started to fly. I was eating a wonderful all natural Untapped Maple Syrup (great for a race like this) and didn’t have time to respond. I was hanging on to the back of the pack, with a syrup in my mouth, and only when it calmed down did I finish my syrup. I was still at the back of the pack, and as we turned upwind one last time, I tried to move up in the pack. I sprinted on this little uphill, but my chain jammed in my front derailleur, and I ate it. If it hadn’t been me, it would have been really funny. But it was me, so it wasn’t. I lost contact with the pack and was really shaken up. I hopped into the team car with some road rash and feeling pretty angry, but my race was done. Bence held on for 3rd from the break, so it worked out well in the end. I learned after the race that there had been a huge crash in the pack on the last lap, where 20 people went down, at around 55 kph. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise.
In the end, it was an amazing experience in Slovakia that I’ll surely never forget.