World Championships 2004 - 15.07. 2004

Day 1
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.

Day 2
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!).

Day 3
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


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