Friday, December 14, 2012
A ski course snaking though a city which is only three hours from my house, familiar faces lining the course, American flags draped over the boards and flying high by eager faces that have climbed onto the fort walls, English cheers, and so much excitement in the air; the Quebec City World Cup last weekend was an unreal experience and possibly the most fun races I have ever skied. The cheering and American support at the races made it truly incredible as a participant. I think there was even a stronger American presence than Canadian, or at least it felt that way as I heard all the voices around the course of friends, family, and teammates from Vermont, New England, and around the US. I constantly ran into one person after the next who I knew as it seemed like every Nordic skiing enthusiast from New England made the trip. It just further demonstrated the momentum and enthusiasm which is driving our ski community.
The racing was fast, technical, and fun! The course started underneath the gate surrounding the walled Old City and then wound through Parliament Park before finishing up the Grand-Alleé of Quebec City. During Thursday’s official training the course was fast and hard but temperatures warmed up for the race days and with all the athletes, coaches, and techs skiing around and around the 800m loop, the conditions quickly deteriorated to shin deep sugary mush. Like most other city sprints, it was a flat course but with a bridge, lots of corners and even a little drop-off jump, it definitely wasn’t boring. The track was also super narrow so a fast start was important as passing was really tricky. The spectators were treated to an exciting display of many crashes and collisions. I set a new personal record of most crashes in one race with an impressive three on the team sprint day but the crowd made it easy to get back up and keep hammering. Then on Saturday I drew bib #1 for the individual sprint and the roar of the crowd chanting my name as I started was indescribable.
As racers we rode the wave of this energy and US support to a lot of great races. Kikkan and Jessie won the first ever relay by a US women’s team. Holly and I also made the team sprint final and were in the mix until my crashes and this was the first time the US had two teams in the final. On Saturday, we got to hear the national anthem for the second time when Kikkan won again. Andy made the final, finishing 5 and Sophie, Becca, Sadie, and Jessie were all in the points! It was exciting and another proud day to be an American!
Thank you so much to all came to Quebec City. It made a huge difference and we really appreciated the cheers!
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
The World Cup season is off and running and the good times are flying. Last weekend the US XC team raced a 3 day mini-tour in Ruka, Finland, a small ski resort town outside of Kuusamo. The courses in Ruka are perhaps my favorite on the World Cup with steep hard climbs and fast downhills. There is one straight downhill where Simi clocked 40mph. That’s pretty exciting mid race with shaky legs and watery eyes! This was my third year racing in Ruka and as they say, “the third time is the charm!”
The tour started with a classic sprint on Friday. It’s a difficult sprint course finishing with a steep uphill into a hard double pole sprint. The past two years I had struggled on this course, fading over the top of the climb and failing to qualify for the heats. Those past attempts only raised my desire to make it in Ruka. Finally this year I must have done something a little differently and was super excited to hear 13th stated after my name as I crossed the line, a new personal best qualifier and into the heats!
In the quarterfinal I skied conservatively and relaxed, waiting until the big hill to make a move and finished 2nd in my heat. On to the semi finals! In the semis I tried the same game plan but was boxed in at the bottom of the hill. I wasted time and energy changing tracks and trying to find a clear lane and ultimately lost a double pole sprint with Kristin Lahtenmaaki from Finland, missing the final by a couple tenths of second. It was hard to be so close to the final but I was thrilled with my first top 10 finish on the World Cup. It was also inspiring to be in the fight. In previous World Cup sprints, I have felt like I was holding on for dear life but during this race I was making moves and belonged there. I missed the final by a tactical error and not because of fitness and strength and that was very exciting for me.
Saturday was a 5km skate and it was another fun distance skate race for me. I struggled again to find efficiency and felt like I was taking a million fast steps on the steep climbs but staying in the same place. So not a stellar race for me but Kikkan was 2nd and the rest of the US ladies finished in the top 20. Noah had a personal best finish as well finishing 19th! It was a freezing cold day with a harsh chilly wind and we were all frozen by the finish. Luckily the athlete tent was serving reindeer soup which really hit the spot!
And luckily I didn’t lose too much time in the skate race and was seeded 14th going into the final day of the mini-tour, a 10km classic pursuit. Last year going into this race I was sitting 51st so this was a huge improvement! It looked like it would be a fun race for our team too as Kikkan was leading the charge in 2nd and the rest of us girls were all starting within 10-15 seconds. The course was 4 laps of a 2.5km course. I had prioritized kick when I was testing skis in the morning and was able to easily kick up the first hill of the course. When I hit the first flat though, I realized my skis were slower than many of the other ladies around me and I was working much harder to stay in the train on the parts of the course which should have been recovery. At first I started to freak but after a lap or two I chilled out and skied my own race, attacking the hills and staying relaxed on the flats. It was a really fun race skiing with lots of people including my teammates Holly, Liz, and Jessie. I crossed the line in 18th after posting the 20th fastest split of the day. It was a very surprising finish for me and left a lasting smile on my face! Thanks to all for the cheers, support, and opportunities to chase dreams! It’s very special to be apart of such a supportive community and I’m looking forward to what the next days and races bring.