Rapha Prestige Bohemia
Words by Chloe Lasserson
Photos by Lars Schneider
For the last seven years I’ve lived in New York. Friends, running team, and cycling crew, check, check and check. In swoops this amazing job opportunity that I can’t refuse, but it’s Germany. Cue up the freak out, stress, and chaos and then the slow descent to reality. I knew moving to Berlin would push me outside of my comfort zones, well outside. I had never been to Germany before, don’t speak the language, and barely knew anyone who lived there. What I didn’t expect was for it to push me outside of my comfort zone in something I thought was universal, sport, more specifically cycling.
Back in New York I had a core group of cycling friends and our typical routes and it was easy to ride at a fun, relaxed pace, stop for donuts, and avoid challenging myself. Since I didn’t really know anyone in Berlin, let alone cyclists, I rode with a lot of random new people- something I rarely did when I lived in New York. Without a core group or a real sense of the geography for riding in Berlin, I often found myself solo riding around a completely foreign country or with people a lot stronger than me. It was hard, but as I did more and more of it I also realized that I was becoming a much stronger cyclist, both mentally and physically.
The Rapha Prestige is described as an “unsupported, unsanctioned, and un-marshalled ride across stunning terrain.” Team members must start, ride and finish together. This was something that I have wanted to do for years, but it just never worked out. So when Becky Kirsch, a woman I follow on Instagram, posted that her team was looking for another member I jumped at the chance. Ride 190km with three women I have never met? Sounds great! Bring it on!
Becky is an ambassador for Canyon Bikes, and they were nice enough to loan us really awesome bikes for the Prestige. All of the other logistics, hotel, etc., were taken care of and all I had to do was get to the start in Schmilka. Schmilka is a tiny, German village that borders the Czech Republic and just a bus, train and ferry ride from Berlin. I met Becky for dinner the night before the race, waited for the rest of the Canyon team to arrive, and prepped for the next morning. Our bikes had arrived at midnight the night before and with the race going off at 7:30 am the next morning, so we didn’t have much time for test riding or adjustments.
Race day morning, we hopped on our bikes, I was on Canyon’s new Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 with Ulegtra D2i, a dreamboat of a bike, and made our way to the start. Rapha has a funny sense of humor, having the first stretch take us up a very steep cobbled hill. About halfway up this climb I realized I didn’t know how to use electronic shifting and had to big ring it all the way up. Not ideal. After I finally got up there I had to hustle to check-in and once that was done there wasn’t much time before the start. I literally got on my bike five seconds before the start, oh yah, and I still didn’t know how to shift AND wasn’t fully clipped in … perfect.
About 10 minutes into the race, and finally fully clipped in, I realized I was completely over-thinking the electronic shifting and it’s actually super easy and 40-kilometers later I was in love with it.
The 2nd challenge of the day came in the form of descents. I’ve never been great at descending. Honestly, it scares the crap out of me and I often imagine flying off my bike and landing on my face. Pretty early on in the race we came upon a super steep descent on a road that was the complete opposite of smooth. My first instinct was to get off my bike and walk down, but I didn't want to disappoint these 3 strangers who were now my teammates so I woman-ed up and rode down. I took my time while my teammates whizzed down, but once it leveled off at the bottom I was able to catch up. Rather than be embarrassed about how slowly I rode down, I was proud I faced my fears and didn’t get off the bike, but that wasn’t the final hurdle by any stretch.
Then came the gravel.Not the nice small gravel that I was used to, but the BIG gravel kind that, in my opinion, should be called rocks, and with it came the first of six flats.
One of Becky’s tires had a cut in it and, despite our efforts to patch it up with a power bar wrapper, we were no match for the roads in the Czech Republic. After losing a lot of time changing and re-changing tubes (and finally the tire) we found ourselves at the bottom of Ještěd, a 10km long climb with 1,012m of elevation gain, and then descent along the same route.
As we made our way up we saw all the other teams coming down, cheering for each other along the way. Just to make things even more interesting, it also started raining and with about 3km to go until the summit. Thunder and lightning forced us to stop and seek shelter. Soaking wet and freezing we huddled under a wooden shack and waited for the storm to pass.
After about 15 minutes we finally made our way to the top, just as the Mobile Cycle Club (the checkpoint for the ride) was packing up. The view from the top was incredible and I again felt proud of what I had accomplished. The snack shop on the mountain only had goulash, and I have no idea what was in it, but it was warm and the first real thing I had eaten since breakfast so it was welcome.
As we all know, what comes up must go down, so on with the descent. This road was a lot smoother and not as steep as the previous descent, but there were quite a few turns, which were now all wet. I got myself comfortable in the drops (something I had really only learned 6 months prior) and hoped my hands wouldn't go numb from the cold. I took the descent at a pace that I felt mildly comfortable and tried to stay as relaxed as possible. At one point a car coming up the road skidded pretty badly around a turn, but I was able to stay calm and actually enjoy myself.
Unfortunately, even though it was July, the cold rain never really stopped. The wonderful single track course had turned into a mud pit, filled with all of us looking like we had just finished a cyclocross race. At approximately 7:00 pm, 11.5 hours after we started, we were cold, wet, lost and still had about 45 km left to go. A decision had to be made. We all really wanted to finish, but we also knew that it didn’t make sense. It would be dark soon, we didn’t have lights, hadn’t eaten a real meal all day, and our spirits were a bit low. Yes, we could continue and finish, but would we enjoy it? We made the hard decision to call the Canyon van and get a ride back. At first I was disappointed in myself. I pretty much always finish what I start, but as I sat in the warm van eating cookies looking back on the day that disappointment went away.
I had made three new friends, ridden through amazing countryside, pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and done things I normally would have been too scared to do. Not to mention the fact that we had the worst luck with all the flats, but fixed them ourselves and stayed positive the whole time. It was a great day, we all learned a lot, and I’m a more confident cyclist for it. Isn’t that what the spirit of a Prestige is?