To race in a so called “Promised Land” is always something exceptional. We did just this in the 2nd edition of the Horal Tour had us hit the illusive trails of Slovak Paradise National Park, next to the Tatra highlands. That creates a hard-to-resist desire to plunge into the world of evergreen surroundings. Three days in this area isn’t enough to appreciate the wildlife, so we had to make it as intense as doable.
The event is still in its infancy as it doesn’t enjoy a high level of awareness among the racing community. Hopefully that changes in the years to come, as those folks having finished the 2nd edition agree that it deserves to be on par with established events around Europe.
The first leg leads up to the highest point, at virtually 2000m above sea level. The downhill is a high-speed enterprise, whereby only a couple of hills are to be negotiated before the finish line is hit.
The 2nd stage tracks the same classic route of the Horal marathon, covering 106km in the process. The conclusive ‘etap’ is a traditional XC track boasting a 6.6km loop.
The whole event was dominated by none other than the Crocodile Trophy winner, who just happened to win the Salzkammergut Trophy 211km as well as the recent edition if the 7 stage Ironbike. Ondrej Fojtik was the man all racers with high ambitions had a tough time of it with. His relentless manner of riding didn’t give a slight margin of hope to aim higher than 2nd place. His achievements are all the more remarkable as he didn’t leave anything to chance, thus fought hard to create a tremendous time gap to seal every day stage as solidly as possible.
Marton Blazso, the 2nd place Hungarian Marathon champ aimed high as well, had to surrender after 2nd stage though, acknowledging that Fojtik is just having his year, and there is no cure to steal the highest podium place from him.
Adam Pilcik [Ghost Bikes] , another Czech marathon personality had to sing small too, most of all due to Fojtik’s ability to deal with the elements much better the others. And those elements just gave a hard time to everybody. The 2nd stage reminded us of the hallmark of the Horal: harsh weather. It would be unfair to associate Horal with ruthless whether, though. It is just that, if it turns worse than comfortable, a high weather proof racer-attitude is needed. And given the parcours character, a good technique is ‘mandatory’. The route shows his unpredictable face then, and the perfectly ride-able hardpacks turn into a capricious maneuvering. Sadly, rarely rugged alpine vistas are to be had on those moments, just gloomy fog and mist all around. For the most, this day called for reframing from fighting into a survival mode, and just to make it somehow to the finish. Mostly, the battle and hope to get through is based on the concerns whether or not the material is able to keep up with the adversities. Worn down brake pads is the main apprehension, followed by annoying chain sucks for vanishing chain lube.
Astonishingly tough, the DNF rate wasn’t that high, and given the option to choose from 3 different distances on the 2nd stage, it was much more viable.
By then, the GC was pretty much cemented. For the final stage there was barely any room to make up lost ground. The final XC stage was a playground for explosive type of riders; however the rather short distance didn’t provide this hope of move up in the GC.
Still, it become a selective final battle as the 2 previous days left little in the storage, let alone fresh legs.
Fojtik showed his true character by expanding his margin even more. As he revealed to me after nailing down the whole victory: “I didn’t pay too much attention to others. It’s mainly me and the race; just want to deliver my utter most”
Me, I meant to aim for personal contentment and achievement; as high in the GC as possible. I got humbled by seeing the list of contenders prior to the race; it didn’t derail me from my plan, however. My tank is emptying itself after 30 races, though my spirits are so high that it just drives me on and on.
Already at the first stage the good notion, to do reasonable well in the days coming up, was in place. And knowing that it would mainly be about a race of attrition, due to the rough nature of the race, I saw my odds to do top ten, which I more than achieved with 9th. I had to play again those cards of an intelligent racing: not to get carried away by facts that are beyond my control-zone. Rather what I could control [pacing, etc.] I did nearly 100%. And that paid off big time. I banked on my experience and calmness and not get distracted by constant comparisons with others. Those that attacked me over the course of all three days had been reeled in just before the finish, yet worse they paid dearly for their hot-blooded surges.
Due to the race modality of point system, it has been anything but easy to calculate the standings. This system was established as on 2nd stage there were 3 different distances to be opted for. I rode the longest of 106km, thus automatically gained the highest points factored by time, obviously.
The Horal Tour did its homework next to perfection. Their immense advantage is evidently the countryside the race leads through. It touches alpine character as well as moderate geography, i.e. temperate undulating course. This mixture is accomplished with its likable route character that contains the usual ingredients plus some surprise add-ons along the way.
What stood out, however, is the sound standard of the organization. The event enjoys a huge participant part from the neighboring Czech Republic. It has been only due to the lacking awareness of the prospects from other countries. I sense, this fact will take a very positive turn in the next future. The basic element for an established event are done, and given the high ambitions of the organizers, there is more in the ‘pipeline’ remains to be presented soon for the next editions.