Cycling has always been and remains everything to Čestmir Kalas. At the beginning of the 1990s, when the Tábor cycling team lacked financial support, he made a risky decision. Without any previous experience, he set up a factory to produce cycling clothing, from which some profits ensured the survival of the team. This year marks 30 years since Čestmír Kalaš began to build a company that has now over 200 employees and sells to more than 50 countries. We bring you a unique story to follow up on how one determined cyclist embarked on an uncertain business and managed to build his production into world-class cycling apparel that is recognized at the very top of the world peloton.
Racer and trainer
Čestmír Kalaš was born in České Budějovice Czechoslovakia in 1943 and first fell under the spell of cycling at the age of 15. As a youth he represented the Slavoj České Budějovice club. After graduating from high school, he chose not to go to college because he wanted to devote himself to cycling. At that time individual study plans for top athletes were not as common as they are today, so, he trained as an auto electrician. He then did his military service and represented the army club Dukla Český Krumlov, where he first wore the national jersey at races in Montenegro. After his military service he married and moved to Tábor. However, he still worked as an auto electrician in České Budějovice, over 50 km away. He commuted to the South Bohemian city for work by bicycle all year round, in all weathers, until he found another job in Tábor.
In the service of Dukla Český Krumlov on the Jindřichův Hradec circuit in 1964.
On the Tábor circuits for the Budvar team in 1965.
At that time there were two strong clubs in Tábor, with several promising young talents in their ranks. Kalaš noticed this and began to advise the younger athletes on how to train. Thus, he smoothly transitioned into the role of a coach and ended his active racing career at the age of 29. It didn't take long before he passed his coaching exams in Prague with another important coach Pavel Vršecký. Even though he quit racing and started coaching during his job, he certainly didn't hang up the bike. He joined the Masters movement that was founded at that time and went to the starts of the veterans' world cups.
"When I started racing at the Masters’ World Cups, I was only finishing around the top ten. But even for that I had to be pretty damn pumped up!"
Kalaš (far left) was the first of the bunch to have a driver's license and drove his friends to the races in a borrowed Tatra truck.
Three friends from adolescence to retirement. The week before they entered basic military service in 1963. From left: Pavel Pavlicek, Čestmír Kalaš and Josef Novotný.
During his racing and coaching years, he was employed by the transport company ČSAD Tábor, which supported the local club ČSAD Tábor and provided them with a decommissioned bus for races. With his ambition, Kalaš gradually worked his way up to the Finance Department. Sometimes he worked late into the night to get his work done in time to pursue his passion of cycling.
"At work during the day, training in the afternoon, shower, dinner and then straight back to work. I had to work hard to get everything done."
The Tábor rookies that Kalaš led soon began to bring notable successes from foreign races, and the management of the transport company ČSAD Tábor decided that Kalaš should devote himself even more actively to coaching. So, they appointed him a full-time coach.
Kalaš with his young riders at the races in Upper Austria in the 1980s. From left: Ladislav Paleček, Jan Hájek, Pavel Kubec, Jaroslav Morava, Jan Kanov, Čestmír Kalaš, Jaroslav Pohan.
At that time, however, the team did not function as a top club and did not have sufficient financial resources for its operation. However, Kalaš was not going to accept the idea of the team disappearing and came up with the idea of everyone taking on temporary jobs. He called the riders together and in their spare time they took up a pick or shovel and earned the necessary money with their own labour. This was mostly demolition work in the centre of Tábor.
"We picked up tools and went to work to earn money for rims, tyres and other parts. The guys appreciated the components a lot more after they earned them themselves."
Demolition work ended after 1989 and the Tábor team once again found itself without the necessary support. At that time, Kalaš also became a national cyclo-cross coach thanks to his rich experience and was therefore able to travel with his charges to races abroad.
Popular Prague cyclocross races from Višňovka. Čestmír Kalaš in the role of a coach encouraging his ward Jiří Sosnovec.
It was in the autumn of 1990, when the Czechoslovak representatives, led by Kalaš, went to Switzerland to compete. There he was approached by Toni Maier whose father was a prominent promoter of Swiss cyclo-cross and therefore had ties to Czech cyclo-cross, and thus Kalaš. Toni invited Čestmír to lunch, during which he raised a question that was to set a completely new direction for Kalaš in cycling. Toni asked Čestmír if he would be able to arrange the production of cycling clothing for his brand in Czechoslovakia. Toni was looking for cheaper labour in post-communist Central Europe. With no previous business experience and no knowledge of textile clothing production, Kalaš accepted the offer. This leap into the unknown offered a glimmer of hope for the future of the Tábor club, where he served as coach and chairman. This opportunity could deliver the financial means with which to provide support for his athletes. He was 47 years old.
"Without knowing what it all meant and how much work it would entail, I told Toni: Kein Problem! [No problem!.]"
To be continued...
You'll find out how Čestmír Kalaš launched himself into a business where he had no experience in the next chapter, which we'll publish on January 11, 2022.