Prague Grand Prix bike race ends in fiasco as stars pull out

Photo: CTK

It was billed as a cycling extravaganza, but it ended in fiasco. The stars of the Tour de France were supposed to be pedalling their way up and down Prague's Wenceslas Square on Wednesday, but dozens of them pulled out after an argument with the organisers over money.

Jan Ullrich (left) and George Hincapie, photo: CTK
Prague had been hoping to recreate the atmosphere of the Tour de France on Wednesday, with a race called the Prague Grand Prix. Four dozen Czech and foreign cyclists - including Germany's Jan Ullrich, who came third in the Tour - were supposed to line up on Wenceslas Square. But when Prague's deputy mayor fired the starting pistol, only half of them were there to hear it. Tomas Nohejl covered the event for the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes.

"A lot of people were waiting for the riders because nobody knew what was happening. A lot of people came because last year was a great show, with Lance Armstrong, and 80,000 people wanted to see the same thing again. But in the few minutes before the start, the moderator said we have some technical problems."

Photo: CTK
The technical problems were in fact an argument over money. The organisers wanted to pay the riders by cheque, many of the cyclists wanted cash. In the end just 24 of the 44 riders turned up for the race, the others - including Jan Ullrich and American George Hincapie - stayed in their hotel rooms or went to the pub. The crowd was bitterly disappointed, and thousands of fans drifted away. The race was shortened to 55 minutes, and Czech TV pulled the plug on its live coverage of the event after just two minutes. Tomas Nohejl agrees the race was a fiasco, but says unfortunately from time to time, such things happen.

"In the world of sport business it sometimes happens. This year, for example, there was a problem in Prague when the Evgenij Pluschenko skating show was cancelled in the Sazka Arena. Last year, the triathlon world cup was cancelled in Karlovy Vary. Sometimes it happens. It's a question of money, it's like in business. Some firms have problems, some firms grow up. It's normal I think."

So a sad day for Czech cycling, and something of a wasted day for the thousands who'd waited in the tropical heat to catch a glimpse of some of cycling's best-known stars. Both riders and organisers are convinced they were in the right, and the matter will now be settled in court.