Back in the saddle
Before heading over to EPT Barcelona in August, I went on holiday, and in fact I tried something different this time. For the first time ever I took part in a cycling race.
I love all sports. I have a very competitive nature, which helps me a lot in poker, and I always love finding new sports to play as another way to enjoy competition.
When I was young I was a professional alpine skier, and I tend to gravitate toward other individual sports, too, like tennis and auto racing. Those are the sports I most like both to participate in and to watch on television, and they probably relate the best to poker, too, thanks to the individual aspect of the games.
One sport I have always liked watching has been cycling, in part because of the strategy involved. I always enjoy following the Tour de France, and this year after a 21-year drought a Polish cycler won a stage -- Rafal Majka. In fact, Majka won two stages in France, including one of the mountain stages, which was very exciting to see.
I remember watching Zenon Jaskula win a stage for Poland way back in 1993, so it was very exciting to see Majka finally win another one for the country. We also have another talented young rider named Michal Kwiatkowski, so it's a good time for cycling in Poland. I'm not the only one getting excited by the sport.
But before this summer I had never really tried cycling myself other than just doing some mountain biking in the mountains in Zakopane which is my hometown. But after Majka won his stage, I decided to take part in a big race for amateurs in Zakopane, one that runs parallel to the Tour de Pologne, the biggest cycling race for professionals.
There were 150 professionals racing, while I was one of 1,500 amateurs taking part. We had to travel over a course that went up and down, up and down, and up once more, with the uphill gradient being 22% (which is pretty steep). We started in a valley, would go up a total of 300 meters, then down, then up, and so on. There were 38 kilometers of riding total. The pros traveled the same course, but had to travel it four times while we amateurs only went through it once.
The race was on a Friday, and it wasn't until Wednesday that I ever even tried cycling on the course, and that wasn't even on a proper bike. On Thursday I bought the right kind of bicycle, a good light one that is only 8.5 kilos. But the weather wasn't good and so I couldn't practice. That meant I was essentially riding in the competition without having truly prepared for it at all.
As expected, going uphill was especially hard going. But downhill no one could overtake me -- I was passing everyone! That was where my training as a professional skier was useful, which of course was all downhill.
I used a special watch during the race, one that was connected to my chest and showed me my heart rate throughout. It helped me pace myself, knowing when to go harder and when to ease up. It also helped keep me from going too hard at the beginning of the race, which made it easier at the end.
I did have one moment going downhill when I slid off the road a little bit. But I managed to get back onto the tarmac and avoid falling down, and I made it through the race tired but in good shape.
I think I finished in about 900th position out of the 1,500, which I was pleased with because of my lack of training. The winner finished in 56 minutes. When I had tried the course on my mountain bike two days before I completed it in a little over two hours. But in the race itself I was able to complete it in one hour and 32 minutes, so I was happy with my time.
Also making the experience memorable was the fact that Rafal Majka was one of those riding in the Tour de Pologne. He won two stages, and also won what they call the general classification -- that is, he had the best time overall. I was one of the thousands on hand to support Majka after I had finished my race -- what a memorable day!
Next year the race will be in the same place, and I plan to try again and be better prepared. It will be a fun challenge to see how much I can improve.
Marcin Horecki is a member of Team PokerStars Pro.