Call me a Romantic: A rookies’ memoir of the National Championship

So that was it, by mid summer you should have been ready. The National Championship was happening and this year was gonna take place in Athens, in the massive mountain of Parnitha, our own playground. I have come to know my body after countless hours of training and I know what I am capable of. At the same time I am an athlete in transformation, my physical limits are not set yet and the psychological limits are prone to be shaped via my results. Like today’s results. So today is important.

These Nationals can be described as a race of two worlds. The first leg was around the plains of Avlonas and then the race was taking you up the steep climb of Merkourio, then whilst at the peak of the mountain the field would be transformed into a little circuit-type race with steep hill climbs and even steeper descents.

There was nothing in the atmosphere that would give away the importance of the day at the startline. The usual team cars and their crew were gearing up while athletes from all over the country were warming up on rollers, getting numbered up and chatting with each other mostly about their forthcoming summer holiday plans after todays showdown.

Then they called us.

So I am standing there at the startline next to my teammates, my brother in training Xaris Razis next to me and we are aimlessly looking around us, heartbeat is pumping and my head is restless, the whole thing around me like a haze. Then there you have it: the most difficult and uncomfortable moment – the commissar of the race is coming forward and we take a minute of silence for the fatal road accident of 2 co-athletes that happened few days ago in Ptolemaida. A careless car driver took their life. We all had goosebumps and I personally felt so emotional but also scared of the fact that something like that could have happened to anyone of us that was standing right there. Just because we are doing this sport that we love so much.

And then the coutndown started and BOOM we are off and no more hearbeat – no more haziness as the adrenaline hits my body and I get into the racezone. The race however is slow now and somewhat indolent. There are no attacks and noone is taking any risks so far most probably since we are in the flat and there is a huge mountain in front of us. Only highlight was Stelios Farantakis’ fake sprint that made everyone worried and eager to respond (Farantakis being a top contender for the podium) although he was only making space for a pee brake (lol).

So everything rolls at tempo up until Merkourio and then BOOM the peloton explodes and there are all sort of things going on. I stay packed with Xaris, we are like ying and yang, as this drag race is happening around us and we are part of it. The climbers are getting hot and slamming it to get ahead – every single team now is unfolding their strategy and we are trying to read it. Its like Eurosport all over, all teams are fighting for the head of the peloton with everything they got.

Take a breath – make decissions – dont loose grip.

Now even if you ask me I can’t tell you how the climb went on for the head of the race. My 80 kilo body pulled me back somewhere in the middle of the filed. Im down for that, I told you that I know what my body is capable of and this is not a race made for me. So after 17 minutes of utter pain we reach the circuit of the peak at Ippokratios Politeia and then WOW a new world unfolds in front of us. The place is packed with people, tifosi from all sides and suddenly my friends are shouting my name while flaresmoke gets in my face. The tifosi were making noise regardless of whether you were first or last, known or unkown, their friend or not. A spectacular atmosphere that is really such a pay back for these countless hours of training and missing out on so many fun things that someone my age can have like eating, drinking and partying.

So it went then on for me – I kept pushing and pulling as hard as I could through the rest of the race and Im happy with my result. I know Im no slouch and I see a future ahead. If you work hard you have a space at this peloton but most of all Im happy that I experienced this atmosphere in my first ever Nationals no matter what the result. Call me a romantic, for me this is what counts. Im here for the feelings not the numbers and thats what I take home with me.

Here is to the future. Never loose the stoke!

Apostolis Papadopoulos, Alfa Cycling Team

Photography by Petros Gkotsis.