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What Is It Like to Take Part in a Mass Downhill Snow Race with 300 Other Riders?

By Adam Marsal

Have you ever ridden a mountain bike down a snowy slope? Now imagine racing it down at 70 km/h together with three hundred others. This is what the Chinese Downhill, a mass mountain bike race in the winter sports resort of Spindleruv Mlyn in the Czech Republic, looks like. The ninth edition of the popular event was organised by legendary biker and multiple Red Bull Rampage participant Michal Maroši.

“The ski slope in Svatý Petr has the parameters for hosting World Cups in skiing. It features ideal steepness so that you can ride down it on a bike without braking. Riders get everything they need to enjoy a mass descent by bike,” says Michal Maroši about the largest ski resort in the Krkonoše Mountains on the Czech-Polish border, around two hours’ drive from the Czech capital of Prague. The highest point of the ski area is at an altitude of just over 1,000 metres above sea level but still offers skiers a comfortable experience.

“As always, it’s going to be a massacre,” says Michal Maroši, an extreme athlete and one of the participants who has a lot of experience with riding on snow and ice. In the past, he has taken part in mountain bike races on the Olympic bobsleigh track in Cortina d’Ampezzo or at the Winter X Games in Vermont, USA. The American film Hot Dog the Movie from 1983 inspired him to organise a mass mountain bike race on snow. The plot revolves around a race called Chinese Downhill, which is a money bet on who will be the fastest skier on the slopes.

Michal Maroši
The ninth edition of the popular event was organised by legendary biker and multiple Red Bull Rampage participant Michal Maroši.

Michal Maroši was joined at the start by Tomáš Slavík, a four-time world champion in mountain bike four-cross and the star of the world series of urban downhill races in Europe and Latin America. Michal Kosík, who has not given up extreme sports even after a spinal injury, was another legend in the group following bikers on his special four-wheeled “handbike”.

The rules of the race seem simple and understandable: the aim is to get to the bottom as quickly as possible. Full-face helmets are mandatory while tyres with metal spikes are prohibited for safety reasons. The organisers recommend protectors and classic shoes instead of SPD shoes, which are easier to run in and also safer if you crash. And there are plenty of crashes on the Chinese Downhill.

The weather is always a major factor, which is a big unknown every year. Whether the riders will ride down a treacherous icy surface or slushy snow full of fences and bumps mainly depends on the temperatures. While in previous editions, the bikers stormed down at over 100 km/h and the fastest took around two minutes to reach the finish, the slushy snow slowed the descent down considerably this year. The front wheels got stuck in the deep snow and almost every biker was slowed down by a crash. Top speeds only hesitantly reached 70 km/h, and the entire route could not be completed in under four minutes. “This year’s conditions made it a survival race but it was fun,” commented Tomáš Slavík.

The race was started in three groups of one hundred people each, with the fifty fastest from each heat advancing to the final heat with 150 participants. After the starting gun, the bikers sprinted to their bikes, which were lined up on the slope, and after a mad scramble, jumped on their bikes and headed down. Winner Michal Maroši tried not to overheat the start in the final run as he had done in the qualifying round. “In the wet snow, it was no problem to sprint from the start line to the laps and get to 200 rotations per minute. In such conditions, there is a risk of losing concentration quickly,” said organiser Michal Maroši who won the qualifying round and went into the final with a new tactic. While he controlled the top ten riders, he focused on finding the ideal route in the snow.

“I have already gained some experience so I can read the course like a map. I looked far ahead and chose places without bumps and deep ruts. I searched for ice slabs because I knew that’s where you accelerate the most,” said winner Maroši after crossing the finish line, adding that he tried to navigate through the deep snow as if he were navigating through waves in a rough sea. He only took the lead in the last bend of the slope where he took a risk and, knowing that in the worst-case scenario, he would plunge into the soft snow, let go of the brakes and overtook Tomáš Slavík.

Due to the conditions, participants had to get off their bikes and run to cross the finish line but nobody let this spoil their great cycling experience. “All three hundred registered participants finished the race,” says Michal Maroši whose victory in Svatý Petr was celebrated by the whole family. And what will it be like next year? “As this will be our tenth edition, I will come up with a few surprises for the anniversary,” promised the organiser.