Tuesday, January 22, 2013

La Vie en France

Bonjour!  The XC World Cup moved to France last week so we spent the past week in La Clusaz a small resort town in the French alps.  France was a new country for me to race in.  I also studied abroad in southern France so I was excited to return and parlez francais encore and race in a new location.

Lots of snow!
Our first morning we were greeted with a snowstorm and powdery, fluffy tracks! Most of the trails were out in the open and at times it was near white out conditions with very tricky visibility.
C'est parfait! The next day the sun came out and....WOW!
The view from our wax cabin
We were all a little jealous of the alpine skiers. There were lifts everywhere and fresh tracks hitting the new snow
Holly, Matt, and Liz during a team ski

The race course was a 3.3km clover shape loop which ran up and down through this field. When we showed up it was just a field but they quickly turned it into a World Cup venue. This really shows that it is possible to host a World Cup anywhere!
Going for a walk around town
La Clusaz is a little resort town but like every other French town there was a church in the center of town and lots of boulangeries (bakeries with great French bread), patisseries (pastry shops), and charcuteries (delis selling local cheese and sausage).
Here is one of the main streets in town on a sunny day (Noah Hoffman photo)
Lots of delicious chocolates and other treats including meringue pigs and ducks (Andy Newell photo)
We went out for coffee and crepes one afternoon and Hoff was very excited with his caramel crepe with whipped cream!
The French are very proud of their food and we were served some of the best meals yet this past week. Dinners were a long affair starting with bread and soup, then a salad or some other starter, then a main course with meat or fish, and finally this cheese platter. The last night the hotel staff wanted to serve us a special French meal so we had pate and foie gras to start which was not my favorite but the steak and sauteed mushrooms were incredible. (Liz Stephen photo)
It wasn't just our hotel serving lots of great food. In the athlete tent, you could find these giant cauldrons filled with different french specialties and lots of pitchers of wine (Jason Cork photo)

While the week of great skiing, delicious food, and speaking French was great, I was excited to race. Saturday was a 10km classic race.   I once again started towards the back of the mass start but had moved up to the back of this big pack by about 2km.  All the other US ladies were in the pack and it was exactly where I wanted to be.  Unfortunately as we crested this hill, my skis iced up and I found myself running on stilts as the rest of the pack glided down the gradual downhill in a tuck. I lost contact and spent the rest of the race trying to move up when I could while scraping my skis off at the top of every hill.  It was great practice in regaining focus and not giving up when the race doesn't play out as planned.  I managed to sneak into the points with a 29th place finish.

This picture is taken early on in the race and I'm in black at the back of this pack.  This was the fun part of the race when I was still skiing with lots of people.  The unexpected challenges in every race though are what keeps it interesting and makes you stronger!
Sunday was relay day and Sadie and I were ready to go with star knee socks, glitter, and flag capes since we weren't racing. We were very enthusiastic cheerers and a course official I think mistook me for a drunk spectator who had climbed the fence and tried to kick me off the course but I showed him my athlete bib and got to stay.
It was a tough day for our team but everyone pushed hard, didn't give up, and was still smiling after the race. The hard days make you appreciate how special the good days are!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Home to Italy to Czech

Once the winter gets rolling it often feels non-stop without a break to unpack the suitcase and barely a moment to get clean laundry.  This year, though, I had two and half weeks over the holidays at home to recover, train, spend time with friends and family and recharge the batteries part way through the long season.

Christmas eve bonfire with caroling and gluhwein
It was a winter wonderland at home for most of the break with great skiing at Craftsbury and Mt. Hor.  Whenever I was home last winter there was only manmade skiing so it was nice to be able to ski Sam’s, Ruthies, and everything else at the center.  I jumped in the Mt. Hor hop which was fun to do a race and hammer around the twisty narrow trails of the Willoughby State Forest. 
The family on Christmas morning. It was fun to be home with everyone and the perfect mental break from the intensity of the winter.

It didn’t take long though before I got that racing itch and wanted to get back on the start line.  Just a little time away makes it pretty obvious how much I love what I do!  I flew to Munich and drove to Val di Fiemme, Italy where I met up with teammates who were finishing the last couple stages of the Tour de Ski.  I was very impressed by how much energy and enthusiasm they still showed despite having raced for many days in a row.  I got to watch and cheer for them while they raced in a 10/15km classic mass start and the hill climb up Alpe Cermis.

Looking down the hill climb course. It was a super brutal climb up the alpine mountain. Some sections the skiers skied straight up the face while other times they switchbacked around gates. I was impressed with everyone for making it up the hill at the end of the long tour but huge congratulations to Liz who had the 2nd fastest time of the day! She was hop skating steep sections when she passed me!
Check out this hill! 28%?!?!!
It was sunny and hot at the top which probably wasn’t the best for racing but great for spectating!

Italy was warm, sunny, and beautiful.  It was the perfect place to get used to the time change and train.  With such warm temperatues there wasn’t any natural snow but manmade snow on the Val di Fiemme race courses and snow that was trucked in along the point to point Marcialonga trail.  We stayed in a cute little hotel in the town of Predazzo and there was homemade gelato at the hotel every day so I was in heaven.  

Skiing in the Val di Fiemme stadium

Skiing along the strip of snow which is the Marcialonga race course, a famous 70km marathon hosted in the valley every winter. They were still spreading snow along the course, preparing for the race.
Skiers of all ability levels and ages skied on the Marcialonga trail.  Lots of Italian masters were rocking retro neon one piece suits. 

The evening after the final stage of the Tour de Ski we drove to the town of Feltre, Italy for an exhibition night team sprint.  It was a super fast course and fun to race against other World Cup skiers in an event put on by the owner of the company Sportful.  Jessie and I finished 3rd after leading the whole race and Holly and Liz took the victory with a strong finish.

Great prizes with baskets full of champagne, salami, cheese, jam, and cookies!

Yesterday we left sunny Italy and drove across Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic to Liberec where we will be racing this weekend.  It was an eight hour drive starting in the sunny alps and getting progressively grayer and rainier as we headed east.  While driving through Germany, I was very impressed by the number of solar panels.  Almost every house or building had one side of the roof lined with panels and there were additional panels in the fields along the road.  It’s inspiring to see the initiative which Germany has taken and didn’t look like it would be too difficult to replicate.

We arrived in Liberec last night and there isn’t very much snow here but we are only racing sprints this weekend so only a short loop will be neccessary.  I went for a walk/jog with my camera and checked out the city of Liberec.
I thought this was a church but I went inside and couldn’t find much besides offices and it didn’t look like I was supposed to be there.
An open square in the center of Liberec
Lots of narrow cobblestone streets
An art gallery
An art gallery
Lots of old buildings
We’re staying downtown which makes it easy to see the city. This building is across the street from our hotel and I’m curious as to what it was but the sign on it was all in Czech and nobody around seemed to speak much English either.
The train station which was next to a couple big shopping malls where there was lots of cheap shopping to be found
A church on top of the hill overlooking the city
There is lots of great architecture in the city
And also lots of ugly apartment buildings mixed in throughout the city, highlighted by brightly colored trim
A residential area of the town
Little shops along the streets sell pastries, bread, and beer.
This is our hotel for the weekend. The rooms are nice and the decor features lots of extravagant fake crystal chandeliers. The food has been good so far although vegetables have not yet been included anywhere on the menu.
Need a ride somewhere? BMW is the official transport for the weekend so maybe I’ll take the hotel shuttles to the venue rather than riding in our team rental vans.
The view from my hotel room. I see a little bit of snow out there! Tomorrow we will be able to check out the 800 meter loop which is all the skiing there will be this weekend. Luckily it’s a sprint weekend!

Excited to race this weekend!