30. 5. – 2. 6. 2024 UCI Europe Tour

Tour de France of the East: How the Peace Race Became a Legend

For decades, the Tour de France wasn't the only prestigious cycling race captivating hearts. In the Eastern Bloc, the Peace Race (Závod míru in Czech) rose to legendary status, earning the nickname "Tour de France of the East." This gruelling competition, spanning from 1948 became a symbol of international sporting camaraderie during the Cold War. In its modern history dating back to 2013, the Peace Race has become an event for cycling hopefuls that is regularly conquered by future GrandTour winners, including Tadej Pogačar.

Born from the Ashes of War

The Peace Race emerged from the devastation of World War II. Inspired by the Tour de France, organisers envisioned a race promoting peace and friendship between nations. The inaugural event in 1948 saw cyclists from 10 countries tackle a route stretching from Warsaw, Poland, to Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Remarkable Riders and Gruelling Routes

The Peace Race became a proving ground for cycling legends, but there are only two men who managed to dominate the race four times - Pole Ryszard Szurkowski and Uwe Ampler from the former East Germany. Ampler's compatriot, Olaf Ludwig, has "only" two overall victories, but in total he has won an incredible 38 stages.

The race organisers have always had a flair for route selection, some of which also have become legends. This was the case, for example, of the time trial in 1988 on the 40th anniversary edition in the Czech mountain resort of Harrachov where riders faced an ascent profile of up to 33.9%.

Beyond the Finish Line

But the Peace Race wasn't just about competition. It was a cultural exchange. Cyclists from different backgrounds and political systems came together, forging friendships that transcended borders. The race traversed breathtaking landscapes, showcasing the beauty of Eastern Europe to the world.

The Peace Race mirrored the political climate of its time. The Cold War rivalry often manifested in fierce competition between teams from the East and West. However, the race also provided a rare opportunity for dialogue and cooperation between nations.

The End of an Era

Dissolution of the Eastern Bloc, represented by the fall of Berlin Wall in Germany and Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in the late 80s, brought fundamental changes to the former socialist countries, especially to the economy, which was no longer centrally controlled by the state. In this new era, the Peace Race faced financial difficulties and its fame gradually faded. The final edition rolled out in 2006, marking the end of the cycling legend.

The Legacy and a New Dawn

The Peace Race, however, survived its clinical death and in 2013 it was reintroduced as an U23 national team race. The level of the race grew rapidly, and since 2015 it has been part of the UCI Nations' Cup U23 series, with Tadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard, Julian Alaphilippe and Marc Hirschi having tried the demanding courses in the Jeseníky and Beskydy mountains in past editions.

And that’s the true legacy of the Peace Race. The gruelling routes, remarkable riders and enduring spirit which is inspiring future generations of cyclists.

Foto: Jan Brychta, ČTK

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