The first thing I should do is apologise for the title of the blog, but I’m not going to. It’s time for this pun to have its time in the sun, even though the country in questions seems completely bereft of sunshine.
The following morning after arriving back from my last lot of races in Lackenhof (Lower Austria), I headed off with Aimee Watson to Nové Město na Moravě, which translates to ‘New Town in Moravia’, for one of the races of the Czech Republic National Championships. Moravia is basically the eastern third of Czech Republic, with the rest of the country being Bohemia (think Prague and most of the tourist spots) and Czech Silesia. We were both there to chase FIS points and qualify for World Championships in Sweden, hence the short period between races and the somewhat abrupt decision to travel 500km in either direction to do only a single race, a 15km individual start skate.
The 15km skate was held at the Nové Město biathlon centre, which has a large permanent grandstand, some temporary ones, a whole village of wax cabins, a multi-storey official centre that includes a room for press conferences and apartments for race officials, plus a hell of a lot of snowmaking, which was necessary as there was only 5cm of natural snow. Fortunately they’d been able to make a 3.75km loop to ski on, with a snow depth of between 50cm and 1m, then a drop-off to the grass on either side.
I was ranked mid-way through the field, had fast skis thanks to the wax testing we’d done the day before, (thanks Aimee for sharing knowledge), and was feeling good for the race. I skied a fast but controlled first lap, quickly bringing the previous starter in sight and closing the gap to him. The second lap I was able to put a bit of time onto him, perhaps another 5 seconds or so, and my lap time was only 16 seconds slower than my first lap, which is about what I wanted. The third lap I was really concentrating on skiing efficiently and powerfully, saving some energy for the final lap, where I would really make sure I’d left nothing out on the track.
Unfortunately half way through the third lap the improbable happened: I put my pole into the snow, and instead of going through the layer of sugary snow on top then gripping on the icier snow underneath, the pole sank in another 30cm or so, just breaking the ice. As I was still moving forward but the bottom part of my pole was held firm in the ice, the pole snapped, which really doesn’t help when you’re trying to ski in soft snow where you can’t use your legs as much. I have never had this happen to me before, nor have I heard of anyone else having it happen, since normally a pole that sinks in can be pulled out easily as the snow is normally soft all the way through. I let out a cry of anguish and frustration, slowing down for a little as I desperately asked each person I skied past for a spare pole to use. I struggled up the next hill with one pole about 40cm shorter and without a basket, then about 1.2km after breaking it, and on another uphill, I eventually saw a Czech coach standing further up the hill with some spare poles, and I waved my broken pole at him and shouted very loudly. I then remembered close to the only word of Czech I know: ‘prosim’ which means ‘please’, and I repeated this several times. I took my broken pole off and took the new one, relieved that my race was back on track, but having lost a fair bit of time, and having been passed by the guy I’d already overtaken, plus a few others who had been skiing near me.
I was then able to get my focus back onto the race, but it’s always hard knowing that you’ve lost all that time already, especially when you have a certain time you need to achieve to qualify. My problem was compounded by an injury I’d done the day before while checking out the track: I had fallen in deep slush on a downhill and injured my thumb, and with the strap on the new pole quite a bit of pain was going through my thumb, which mean I couldn’t push quite as hard or freely as I would have liked. As it turned out my time on the last lap was 1 second quicker than my time on the second lap, however my third lap was 35 seconds slower.
My FIS points were 155, which is 15 above what I needed, and if I’d been 40 seconds quicker I would have picked up a qualifying time. The guy I’d caught before breaking the pole ended up beating my by 5 seconds, which means he must have put 40 seconds on me between me breaking my pole and the finish. This pretty much means that I probably would have skied fast enough otherwise. Cross-country skiing is a tough sport, especially when bad luck strikes. I still hold out some hope of qualifying for Falun, but I will have to ski extremely well at the World U23 Championships in Kazakhstan at the beginning of February.
Sorry I can’t produce any photos of the snow or the race, I was only in town for a day and a half and didn’t have any spare time for photos. As such I have outsourced the visual component of the blog to Google Maps. First, here is our hotel:
It was next to the railway station, cost the equivalent of $A21 or €14.50 per person per night, and was next to a timber processing yard, which started up at 6am with chainsaws. This was only slightly more expensive than the wax cabin, which was only 25% cheaper, but lacked heating, running water or beds. There was also no breakfast available at a reasonable hour, so we went the supermarket and each bought something that could serve as a bowl. I bought a rather disgusting pudding, ate it for breakfast, then refilled it with muesli and yoghurt. Much better!
It was also my first experience for this trip of being completely foreign and not speaking any of the local language, which required us to type things into Google Translate then show it to people, or try to mime out what we wanted. Somehow I wasn’t able to mime out ‘we’d like to look at the room first before paying’, despite pointing to my eyes and miming ‘looking’ at something. We managed to get the key before paying, say ‘5 minutes’, then run up and make sure the room wasn’t grotty. It was surprising how little German or English was spoken, especially considering how close we were to Austria. I guess there aren’t too many tourists in that part of Czech…
Finally, if you’re ever considering driving on the freeways in and around Vienna, be prepared. You will often find three different options at the one point, and signs which have six different countries written on them (apart from Austria), e.g. SLO, I, H, D, CZ, SK. I didn’t get a photo of the best sign because I was too busy trying to navigate for Aimee and ensure we didn’t end up in Hungary, but I did get this photo of a slightly less impressive sign.
I am back in beautiful and sunny Ramsau, where I will stay for another week. Three of the athletes have left for Uni Games, and next week I will start travelling to Kazakhstan for more skiing adventures. If I don’t qualify for World Championships I will head back to Germany for more training and racing, and might even get to see my Chief Sponsors in person!