Relax, it isn’t the name of my debut rap album, although if I had one I would definitely call it that. It describes rather the Jizerská padesátka (the second word means 50) held in the Jizera (pronounced yizaira) mountains. It is normally a 50km classic race, held on a large loop near the town of Bedrichov, in the far north of Czech Republic. Unfortunately, because until about today winter has been almost non-existent in middle Europe, the race had to be held on a 3.4km loop on artificial snow. The race is also part of the Visma Ski Classics series (see my La Sgambeda post), so attracts the best double pole distance skiers in the world. Because of this series the elite category was turned into a 15 lap race (51km) while the tourist/public category was shortened to four laps, and multiple races of 400 people each were held across the long weekend.
With these someone complicated but essential facts out of the way; it is now time to describe the adventure of the weekend. I’m feeling a bit of a themed structure coming on here, so if you don’t like it then you’re welcome to go back to Vox articles or cat videos, or both at once.
The Drive/The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bernhardt
If you have a look at Callum’s blog, you will find him using his car knowledge to pick up great bargains or get away with making extremely cheap cars work. I, on the other hand, possess next to no car knowledge besides that of being able to drive them. It was with a consistent whining noise while turning in one direction that I eventually went to the mechanic, where I was told the Radlager (wheel bearing, I think) needed replacing. I booked it in for the day before the 650km drive to Bedrichov, had a new one put in, which took almost 5 hours because of various problems, then set off the next day for Czech. Unfortunately the car had picked up a new noise, so on my way out of town on Friday I pulled into the mechanic, where they told me the brand new one had broken. It wasn’t dangerous, just loud, they told me. They were correct, but going at 140km/h on an autobahn in the rain with ski bags on the roof picking up more wind and the motor doing 4000rmp AND a broken wheel bearing makes it loud and stressful; 85 DB to be precise, which comes with an exposure limit of 8 hours. Fortunately, the drive time in each direction came in just under that.
On a side note, Czech drivers are amazingly impatient. You can be overtaking a truck and doing 130km/h (the speed limit) and someone will roar up behind you and flash their lights and toot until you move out of the way, so they can continue to do 150+km/h. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen in Germany but I really noticed it on the other side of the border.
Not a spelling error, this refers to the car-pooling site blablacar.com, which allows drivers to post journeys up online and others to ride along while paying a petrol contribution. This weekend was the first time I tried this service, which managed to shave €71 euros of the petrol bill, with only a few short diversions into the outer suburbs of Munich, Regensburg and Prague to pick people up.
My first passenger, Rami, travelled 500km with me from Kempten to Prague, for about €30. He is an Iraqi Christian from Mosul, in the current ISIS territory, who left Iraq in 2010 at age 20 after working as a translator for the US Army and getting death threats from (primarily) Sunni Muslims. Even at school he and his friends received threats from fellow students. The USA offered him asylum there, but he chose to go to Germany because he had family there, then moved to Prague and started a café/bakery. His native language is Assyrian (related to Hebrew), and he speaks Arabic, English, German and Czech. If that’s not a successful example of integration I don’t know what is.
I was travelling with fellow Australian Team member Alasdair Tutt, who is over here to coach but decided to come to this race with me. We were there as representatives of the Kangaroo Hoppet (Australia’s International Ski Marathon, for those who don’t know), and wonderfully looked after by the delightful Jana Valertova, a teacher at the Lycée Français de Prague. This included welcome drinks at the hotel, access to the VIP tent after the race, and a truly stunning meal with other Worldloppet representatives in a hotel on top of a mountain. Tutty and I can’t express enough how wonderful the people we encountered were.
Tutty and I decided we would attempt the elite race, even though we were certain to get lapped by some of these machine-like skiers before the end. The race day was misty and damp, which is unfortunate because the day we arrived was cold and sunny and stunning, with snow all the way down to Prague.
Tutty was lapped after 4 laps and I was lapped after 5, which is less than we’d both hoped for. I was 80th of 85 starters in the elite race, which doesn’t sound great until you remember a few things (and yes this will read as a list of excuses)…
- Looking at my time for the first 4 laps, which pretty much corresponds to the length of the tourist race, I would probably have won out of the 2000 finishers of that course. Yes the tourist lap was slightly longer but even after adjusting for that my 4 lap time would have been enough. So let’s just say I was 80th out of about 2100 people…
- Both Tutty and I knew before the race that our skis wouldn’t be fast, as we had a limited range of wax to choose from and none of them was fast in testing. The professional teams who supply the best athletes also have many thousands of dollars in their wax budgets, and in conditions like we had (man-made and natural, clean and dirty, somewhat damp but fine-grained snow) it is almost impossible to get fast skis without lots of resources. Thanks anyway to Tutty for waxing my skis on a shoestring budget.
This was made even more obvious when the women I’d just beaten up the hill put 50-100m on me on the downhill, despite weighing 20km less and having skis with stick wax, which normally makes your skis slower…
- Only 26 of 85 men actually finished the race.
- The top athletes in this race are stronger at this type of skiing than the world cup skiers. Martin Jonsrud Sundby couldn’t beat this year’s Jizerská winner Petter Eliasson in the Norwegian Birkebeiner. On a side note, Eliasson won by 3:14 on Sunday, with a 51km time of 2:12:35.7, for an incredible average speed of 23km/h.
In any case, the race was extremely well organised, especially considering the challenges posed by the snow conditions.
On the last night, after the race, we went with some Norwegians we’d met to the pub, a charming German building, with about three large tables, 1 Euro beers, and a wood-burning stove for warmth. The second table was occupied by a group of Czechs who come every year from around the country to the race. One of them had a guitar and they had song books, so I went over and joined them for a group singalong of Hotel California. Later in the night we did local Czech shots, and sang Waltzing Matilda together. I’ve never sung that song in an Australian pub, but in a Czech one in the mountains was something to remember.
As I write this I have 18 days left in Europe. Winter has just arrived, and I will probably be racing every weekend until the end. The next blog will come after the next race, a German Cup race in Balderschwang on the weekend.