Thursday, February 7, 2013

Thunder Bay, Austria, Czech Republic and Nakkertok

The last month has been busy. Just over a month ago I was in Thunder Bay getting ready to race trials for the under 23 world championships. Since then I have qualified for the trip been to Europe trained in Austria Raced in the Czech Republic Travelled back to Canada and raced Eastern Canadian Championships at my home club before coming back to Canmore where I am now writing this.
Thunder Bay

Trials for me got off to a rough start. With the lack of snow in Thunder Bay the courses were modified. The classic course which lacked significant climbs meant that a large pack stayed together until the exchange. I was lacking something on the day and finished a disappointing 20th.   
30km Pursuit
Photo: Martin Kaiser

The sprint day was much better. Classic sprints are my best event and after a disappointing pursuit this was by far my best chance of making it to Worlds. I had a decent qualifier and made it without a problem into the final where I skied to second. This was only my second Nor Am podium and being the top U23 on the day meant that I had guaranteed myself a spot at the Under 23 world championships in Liberec.
Photo: Martin Kaiser
Second Nor Am podium of the season (and my life) and a ticket to the Czech  Republic
Photo: Martin Kaiser

The day after the sprint was the 15km skate. This is generally my least favorite event, but even so I was disappointed with the result. I started much to slow and although I felt better than in the pursuit I finished the day a disappointing 29th.
Starting the 15km skate as you can tell by the way Colin is warped up it was pretty cold with the temperature only just above the legal racing limit.
Photo: Martin Kaiser

With the last of the trial races completed I was off to Canmore for a few days of training before heading to Austria for the pre worlds training camp. I was confident before heading over to the Czech Republic. Although my distance racing in Thunder Bay was not great I felt I could achieve a good result in the sprint in Liberec.

Our pre worlds training camp was in Ramsau, a town which hosted the World senior Championships in 1999 and is famous for the Dachstein glacier where many of the best skiers in the world put in hours on snow during the summer.  I had actually been to Ramsau before having been there for a training camp with the Quebec ski team two years ago.
This is actually from the Czech Republic. The courses were closed one day so we went skiing in the mountains around the city. We weren't the only ones. As it turns out skiing is pretty big there. Here me and Colin (taking the Picture) tried to escape the crowds by skiing on a smaller trail. 
Photo: Colin Abbott

We didn't have much time to get used to our surroundings in Ramsau since we were only there for a few days before heading to Liberec.

This was my first time in the Czech Republic. Unlike the last two time I had been to Worlds (Juniors) all the teams this time were staying in the same Hotel where everyone was eating the same food from the same cafeteria. The Hotel itself (called hotel Babylon and supposedly themed on the ancient middle eastern city) was pretty unusual. It was in a part of the city, which although wasn't far from downtown, was surrounded by industrial buildings. The Hotel featured an indoor shopping Centre, water park,  mini amusement park with bumper cars and palm trees as part of the décor. All these attractions under one roof made me think of a cruise ship even though I have never been on a cruise ship and this experience made me want even less to ever go on one.
Hotel Babylon décor 

The race venue which was built for the 2009 World Championships  was somewhat anticlimactic. Here is what I mean. When Canada was selected to host the 2010 Olympics the government spent millions building a state of the art facility which includes a new 13km long paved two lane road into the venue a day lodge, recreational trails through Callaghan country as well as the over 10km of race trails which were cut through the forest and were designed to showcase Canada’s wilderness to the world. The Czech’s had a slightly different idea when it came to building their venue for the World Championships. Vesec (the name of the venue) was built in a park on the outskirts of Liberec (for those from near Ottawa think Mooney’s Bay but with bigger hills). The venue has no recreational trails and features only one permanent building (a race office/timing hut). The road in is only 200m long but is single lane and unpaved. The trails essentially snake their way around fielded areas and I would imagine they would not be distinguishable from the surrounding landscape during the summer. When we arrived in Liberec thanks to warm weather before we got there the organizers only had 1.5km of trails open. While we were there they were essentially building the trail system, sometimes only opening a new part of trail the day before we raced.
Russell getting his cheer on during the juniors relay

The sprint was the first race and the one I had been most anticipating. In fact I had been thinking about this race for the better part of two years. Unfortunately when it came to racing the qualifier I was flat. I tried my best but just felt like I couldn't dig deep. I felt like I had nothing to give. I ended up 39th and just like that the race I had been most looking forward to was done. To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. I almost couldn't believe it. Qualifiers are the weaker part of my sprinting, but here I was with a great opportunity to get some international results on what was a perfect course for me and I wasn't able to race the way I felt like I could.
Not the day I was hoping for in the sprint

The next race was no better. In the 15km skate I never found my rhythm and felt totally drained of energy.

All of this meant that I wasn't exactly full of confidence heading into the 30km pursuit (the last of our races). I hadn't had a good distance race since before Christmas and a 30km on what was a very hard course seemed like an unlikely way to turn things around. The pursuit, in the end would prove to be something of a turnaround. In classic I tried to ski efficiently and stay out of trouble and before I knew it I was changing over to skate in a position to fight for a top 30. Unfortunately the skate leg would prove my undoing. I skied as long as I could with the group I had been with in classic but began to suffer in the last 5km. I ended up 47th and although this was not an amazing result it was better than my recent distance races and at the very least was a step in the right direction.    
As you can tell I had lots of support out on course during the pursuit

After our races were done we spent one night in Prague (which is pretty amazing) before travelling back to Canada.
View of Prague during the day

Prague at night

After racing in the Czech coming back to Canada and racing at Nakkertok (my home club) was a welcome change. Its always nice to be able to stay at home for racing in the middle of the season.

The first race (we raced three days in a row in a mini tour format)  was a classic sprint. I had a great qualifier  putting me in second before the rounds. In my quarter-final and semifinal I felt great and made it to the final without any trouble. In the final I pushed hard on the climbs trying gain some sort of advantage before the finish. I came into the final straight in first, but ran out of gas in the last 15 meters and had to settle for second again. Normaly I would be really happy with second and I was but since I felt so good on the day and since it was on my home course I couldn't help but be a little disappointed.
Sprint finish. It was a pretty close race
Photo: Bernard Pigeon

The next two races would prove to be pretty good. Although I have to say I was pretty tired from travelling and racing. I managed to not loose too much time in the 15km skate and skied well in the 30km classic to finish 10th overall in the minitour. 

That's all for now thanks for reading
30km pursuit start at Nakkertok is always a fun race
Photo:Jo-Ann Holden


  1. I like everything about this post! Awesome photos :) Indeed a perfect holidays to Czech Republic! I given a chance to visit this place, I want to stay in Hotel Babylon décor. Very nice blog!

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