Bieg Piastow 2018, Poland

Poland certainly puts on an extensive array of races at the Jakuszyce cross country trail area including 3 Worldloppet races, being 2 silver and 1 gold as well as some shorter races.  Friday 2nd March was the 30km freestyle (silver), Saturday 3rd March (gold) was the 50km classic and Sunday 4th March (silver) was the 25km classic race.

Our last visit to Jakuszyce, Poland was in 2014 when the snow was extremely marginal causing the Bieg Piastow Worldloppet races to almost be cancelled.  Races were run,  just, but were significantly shortened to just 10km with a lot of unavoidable brown snow and stones in the finish approach area.  This year we were absolutely delighted when we peered out of the train windows as we left the Czech Republic and approached Jakuszyce, Poland to see an awesome snow cover.  We couldn’t wait to get our skis on and explore the well-groomed trail network for several days prior to the races.

Whilst skiing around the tracks we kept meeting up with other Australians who we didn’t know were coming to Poland.  In the end we counted 12 Australians so we all had dinner together one night in one of the many affordable restaurants in Szklarska Poreba.  It was great catching up with Aussie friends and news as we had flown out of Australia on Xmas Day heading to China on our Worldloppet extravaganza.  It was hard to believe there were so many Australians who had come so far to ski the Bieg Piastow.  Between us we were skiing all three Polish Worldloppet races, so we had a good cheer squad as well.

To get to Poland we had flown into Prague, however there is no straight forward route via public transport from there. There are slow trains, often with numerous changes, however we caught an express bus to Liberec then the scenic train to Szklarska Poreba. The journey took about 4.5 hours. However, we learnt that there is now a direct train from Wroclaw Poland to Szklarska Poreba taking just 2.5 hours so that maybe worth investigating.

There are a few hotels at Jakuszyce where the cross country trails are, but we chose to stay in an apartment at Szklarska Poreba to enjoy the atmosphere and facilities of the friendly small tourist town less than 10km from the skiing.  The train departs every hour or two for Jakuszcyce and is very inexpensive, i.e. $3AUS.  On race days regular free buses are provided from Szklarska Poreba (and beyond) to the race start area for skiers and spectators.

At bib pick-up a detailed colour course map for each of the distances was included in the race bag so it was easy to know the exact course before the event and get to know where the tricky downhills and long uphills were situated.

The Polish race organisers invited all Worldloppet Masters to a delicious free dinner on Friday 2nd March at the Bornit Hotel in Szklarska Poreba.  It was great to meet up with skiers from many different countries.  The Polish Worldloppet Masters’ Reception is certainly hard to beat with food and local presents.

The 30km and 25km courses were very similar with the 30km course having a tough extra 5km that wound up and down some hills.  The 50km course went in reverse to the shorter courses and included some extra distance on further out loops.  All of the courses involved quite a few hills with the longest and steepest on the 50km course.  It was an extremely interesting course with a variety of terrain from forested tracks to high points with views across to snow covered peaks. The 50km course seemed to twist and turn, up and down and I felt like we visited every track junction on the trail system and more.

The cold temperatures continued for the first few days with the thermometer hovering between -10 and -15 degrees, however there was little precipitation like in other parts of Europe.  Friday dawned clear and cold with a frosty start for the 500 freestyle racers as they tried to stay warm before the race began.  Classic skiers (approximately 30) appreciated the one classic track being provided despite most skiers being skaters.

On Saturday it was another cold start of around -14 degrees though by the time the 2 000 skiers had skied the first 4kms uphill most people had warmed up.  The bag deposit and change tents were right next to the start area so it was easy to stay inside until a few minutes before the race began.  It was mostly cloudy during the event apparently warming up to -8 degrees though with the cool wind I felt it was much colder in the forest.  Nearing the finish I skied into a sunny patch and instantly warmed, mmmm …nice!.

Sunday’s 25km race had approximately 1200 skiers who thoroughly enjoyed the warmer temperatures of -4 degrees and sunshine, though a cold breeze was blowing during the afternoon. There was a significant number of slower skiers requiring faster skiers to regularly change lanes. Race organisers could encourage slower skiers to stay right unless overtaking by displaying a few signs with arrows indicating this, as the Vasaloppet does.

The races started in waves of approximately 250 skiers with 2 minute intervals. This was just enough time to spread much of the congestion, though the tracks were busy for much of the race in the classic events.  For instance, the 25km race was very congested until the Orle drink and food station, about half way into the course.

There were regular drink and food stops attended by friendly volunteers.  It was great to have a variety of food available at refreshment stops such as banana, chocolate pieces, orange segments, muesli bars and biscuits.  A suggestion for organisers is to place rubbish bins or rubbish collection structures 20 metres along the track after the station so skiers can throw their rubbish in bins rather than creating a mass of cups and a hazard all over the tracks as well as being a big mess to be cleaned up afterwards.

Whilst the races were in progress the cross-country ski tracks were officially closed to other skiers. This meant there were few non-racers on the tracks but also meant there were very few spectators along the race course except at the start and finish. Due to heavy security that wouldn’t allow you on the tracks even an hour before the races began, it was extremely difficult to have a ski and cheer for our Aussie team mates when we weren’t racing as we would usually do.

As I skied the 50km race I ticked off drink stations from last week’s Oppet Spar and found the course to be so short and easy compared to 90km of less than a week ago.  It was great to reach the finish stretch with energy and mindfulness to sprint double pole the last 3 kilometres to beat another skier who had been on my tail for kilometres. There were masses of people lining the finish shute, cheering as I crossed the finish line.  It was a great feeling to have notched up another gold Worldloppet race.

I highly recommend the Bieg Piastow to other Worldloppet skiers because of the interesting varied course (no boring repetitive loops), great organisation and the warm welcome that Worldloppet skiers receive.

By Marg Hayes


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