The now-legendary Prague – Carlsbad – Prague bicycle race was run for the first time on August 21, 1921. The oldest and longest one-day classic held in our country had survived a world war and several changes of regime to be finally discontinued in 2010 due to a loss of elite categorization and a lack of funding and cooperation from the local authorities along its 260 kilometer route.
The difficulty of the race is best illustrated by a story from 1946 as recounted in the Czech publication Zlatá kniha cyklistiky (The Golden Book of Cycling). Two of France's best amateurs of the time, Baltin and Bergamasci, entered the race expecting it to be a leisurely ride to victory. The former abandoned shortly after the turnaround while the latter threw his bike down 50 clicks from home screaming it was a crazy race not fit for amateurs. Eventually, he came 15th over three-quarters of an hour after the winner. When he spoke to the press back home, journalists didn't believe him there could be a 260 km race for non-professionals.
Carlsbad is the Czech Republic's best-known spa town, renowned not only for the healing powers of the local mineral waters but also for the ornate facades of the houses lining its parks and promenades. Another one of the town's claims to fame is the hosting of the International Film Festival, now in its 55th year. To celebrate the festival's first post-Velvet Revolution edition as well as the cycling tradition linked with it due to the race, two famous guests rode their bikes to its opening in 1990: the director Miloš Forman and the costume designer Theodor Pištěk, both Academy Award winners for the 1984 hit movie Amadeus. Riding road bikes for weeks around the French countryside was Forman and Pištěk's favourite holiday activity at the time. The former rode to Carlsbad all the way from Paris, while the latter joined him at Verdun.
That's certainly enough tradition to build on, we thought, when, in 2016, we decided to organize a Prague - Carlsbad group ride on the day of the film festival's opening. It was conceived as a race of teams of three and it took place on July 9. Good fun was had all around and it was clear it wasn't a one-off. To our amazement, we soon found out that there was another group of cycling/film enthusiasts, composed mostly of journalists and people from the media, who got the same idea. The two groups ran parallel in 2016 and 2017 before merging into one for the following edition, commemorated by specially designed jerseys in honour of Miloš Forman. And it was in the 2019 edition two years later that the participants wore jerseys designed in honour of Forman's co-rider, Theodor Pištěk.
We managed to organize the ride even in the restrictions stricken in 2020 so this year's edition will be the sixth. Since we are nearing the end of the year-long celebrations of Festka's 10th birthday, we will all wear caps (under our helmets, of course) commemorating this. And with the dates of the festival pushed from its usual early July to late August, we will undertake the ride just one day before the 100th anniversary of the Prague – Carlsbad – Prague race's premiere. One might say we couldn't ask for more!
written by Janek Jaros
photos: Festka's archive