Saturday, December 22, 2012

World Cups

The season has started races have been raced and results have been posted. The first weekend of December saw many of Canada’s top skiers arrive in Canmore for the seasons first set of NorAm races. These races were of a special importance given that they were being used as qualifying races for domestic spots at the Canadian world cups. It is fairly unusual for the first races of the year to be so important so the nerves were extra high going into these first big tests of the season.

Racing got underway with a skate sprint on December 1st. I had a subpar qualifier, but still made it into the heats (my qualifiers in skate sprints seem to still need some work).  My quarterfinal however went much better. I skied a good tactical race and crossed the line second managing to beat one of the Swiss National Sprint team skiers who were using the race as a tune up for the Quebec world cups. Despite my best efforts I was unable to repeat this in my semifinal and ended up in the B-final where I used what energy I had left to finish 3rd putting me in ninth on the day and as fifth Canadian. This was good enough to guarantee me starts in all the sprint races in the Canadian world cups. However with the next days 15km individual classic race there was no time to let the prospect of starting my first world cup sink in.

Sprint days are perhaps the most tiring races there are in skiing after Saturdays race my body felt like a wreck. My legs and lungs were sore I had a headache. Four times sprinting around Canmore’s relatively short but difficult sprint course had really taken a lot out of me.  As a result the next morning it was difficult to get my head in the right place before going out and racing four times around Canmore’s notoriously difficult 3.75km course (which is actually just over 4km long). After testing skis and attempting to gain some focus by doing more intensity than normal during my warm up I was off.

I started steady focusing on skiing well and being efficient. I was surprised how good I felt and lap after lap I tried to lift my pace. On the last lap I got a split telling me I was in 10th place and skiing to a possible distance world cup start. Over the final few kilometers I gave it everything I had. I finished in 10th securing the last domestic spot for the distance races at the Canadian world cups!
Skiing into the top ten for the second day in a row in Canmore.
Photo courtesy of Stoneham Ski Apparel

With this result however came a difficult decision. With the prospect of doing all three world Cup races in Canmore something had to give. Although it would have been tremendous to race my first world cup on the streets of downtown Quebec I had to be honest with myself. If I was going to race all three races in Canmore I was going to need to come into those races as well prepared and rested as possible. Flying across the country for a four day period where I would have to train on foot and deal with time change did not fit into my plans. So as the entire ski community turned its attention on Quebec City I was off to Silver Star BC to train and race in perfect conditions at the second set of NorAm’s.

After qualifying for the Canadian World Cups I quickly came to the realization that racing them is a rather intimidating prospect. Going into the 15km classic mass start at Sovereign Lakes I had no lack of motivation since I wanted to prove (mostly to myself) that I deserved my starts in the distance world cups.
The pack after two laps during the 15km classic in Sovereign Lakes (I'm Number 20)
Photo Credit: Angus Cockney
After a bad start that saw me get tangled up a couple of times I was well back heading up the first climb. I worked hard to get myself through the field. By half way through the first lap I was at the front of the pack. I stayed there and was surprised that as the pack got whittled down I was able to stay with the front. At the start of the third lap, Jens Eriksson, one of the Swedish skiers using the NorAm as a tune up race for the World Cups, made his move. I tried to respond but soon I was all out and losing more time to him. Eventually four of us formed a chase group and it came down to a sprint finish for second where I was able to beat my teammates to the line. I was super happy. One of my goals for this season had been to podium on the NorAm circuit, but I have to admit I did not see it happening in Silver Star, or in a distance race at all for that matter. 
Sprinting to my first NorAm podium in Sovereign Lakes
Photo courtesy of Cross Country Canada

So with that done, it was on to the world cups. With my Second place in Sovereign Lakes My confidence was high and I couldn’t wait to race my first World Cups

The day of the first world cup in Canmore I woke up to blue sky’s and perfect skiing conditions. I felt good and much less nervous than I thought I was going to be. The race started off well climbing the wall (Canmore’s biggest and most intimidating hill) for the first time the pack was tightly bunched and the pace seemed reasonable. That’s the thing about racing in Canmore the courses are so hard that you don’t need to go fast for you to be working hard you just sort of ski at a certain speed and the courses are so hilly and so steep that before you know it you are working right at your max. This is what happened to me. Before I knew it I was getting distanced by skiers. I felt like I had no energy and couldn’t hold my technique together or kick my skis properly. I went through the race attempting to stay focused and stay with any skier who was passing me. I crossed the line exhausted in 58th position. I didn't have any expectations heading into the race , yet I was disappointed nonetheless. After my race in Silver Star my first World Cup was something of a reality check

On to Saturday’s skate sprint. Skate sprint qualifiers have been something of a weak point for me the past couple of years. I can never seem to find that perfect balance between being powerful and fast. My first world cup was no different though I was skiing well on the gradual climbing parts of the course I was in full “egg beater mode” (lots of movement not a whole lot of speed) on the steeper climbs. I ended up 58th again. I took some consolation in the fact that it was a better qualifier than the NorAm cup two weeks earlier.Though my day of racing was done after less than three minutes this wasn't the case for two of my teammates. I have to say it was pretty inspiring to see Phil Widmer and Jesse Cockney Both ski into the top 15. I train with these guys every day and it was pretty exciting to see their hard work pay off.
Jesse Cockney showing everyone how its done. He turned heads in the skiing world with his  9th place  during the Canmore World Cups

World Cup Sprint 
Photo courtesy of Stoneham Ski Apparel

With the sprint done I immediately turned my focus to preparing for the next days 30km pursuit. Unfortunately however it was not to be. I woke up with a headache and sore throat. I did my normal pre race routine hoping I would feel better but when I got to the race site and talked with my coach’s we decided that with U23 trials so close It wouldn't be a good idea to dig myself into too deep of a hole. Though I did not race I was again inspired to see another great performance from one of my teammates Graham Nishikawa who finished 15th in the pursuit. He has been knocking on the door for a great World Cup result for a few seasons and it was great to see him do so well at the highest level.
The pursuit in Canmore concluded the pre-Christmas races for this season. I have to say overall I have to be happy with how things went. I qualified for and raced my first World Cups and got my first NorAm podium. Even though I didn't get any great results from my first set of World Cup races it was still a great experience. I was great to see Canada put on such an awesome show for the world. I have to thank all the volunteers in Canmore and Quebec for making it possible. 

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