So for a change I actually have quite a lot to write about, and as usual I have to wind the clocks back a little to Wednesday 22nd of August.
So I logged onto my email Wednesday morning and I had the Willi Wonker’s golden ticket equivalent- an invitation to the Hoppet Night Sprints. The night sprints are an ‘invite-only’, dash for cash race. Only 16 invitations are sent out and with such a high number of internationals here in Australia, invites were scarce. So I was pretty luck to get one.
On Thursday Callum and I waxed skis, custom-cut and fitted a set of roof racks to his car and then tested out our quality craftsmanship as we drove up to Falls. 6:00 pm came around and we headed out for a warm up and to check out the course (it should be noted that the roof racks were still in one piece!). The Sprint used a novel start, where athletes start on the side of a hill and on the gun, drop down onto the course. The course was just a massive shaped banana going out to a right hand bend, which after a short decent, climbed back up till it did a quick turn and came back to the start following the banana shape.
Because I haven’t done any proper sprint racing this year I was ranked poorly in 13th (out of 16), and worst in my heat, which meant I had last lane choice (the lane furthest from the turn and at the greatest disadvantage). So the gun went off and we all dropped in, I was in fourth but around the wide sweeping part of the banana, I managed to slot into third just behind the Estonian and Russian. Around the end of the banana, the front two managed to open a slight gap on me and I knew if I wanted to be in the top two and qualify for semi-finals I’d need to hammer the last section home. At the hill to the finish, I tried to bridge the gap and throw down the power, but as I started to accelerate I managed to pole myself in the foot and turn from a skier to a penguin doing a spectacular nose dive into the hard-packed snow with my arms flopping by my sides. Needless to say I didn’t qualify for the next round of heats. On the up side my back was still ok and I hadn’t broken any gear (quite a few poles got snapped).
Friday was meant to be an on-snow day but I’d been feeling a bit run down so it was a day of bed, rest and waxing skis for me.
Saturday rolled around and it was into the cars and up to Falls Creek for the 22nd annual Hoppet. By this stage a few errors in our roof-rack building craftsmanship was starting to show and I think the structure could have been described as loose and fluid. So we crammed the skis in the car and drove up.
Phyios and coaches had advised I was not allowed to do the full Hoppet, but to do the middle distance. Due to the weather the race had also been shortened from 21km to around 17km and all the major climbs had been taken out. This new short course didn’t suit me much, not to mention Saturday was super windy and when you have a big frame like mine, it makes skiing even harder.
So the gun went and the madness started, there were roughly 300 skiers in the race. I went out pretty hard and was sitting in third. We headed out in the first few kilometers three Aus boys and myself formed a small train with a lead off the main field. The train set a solid, but not exhaustive speed as we did the first 7km of the race. No one wanted to lead the pack, and the lead changed a few times but mainly Mark Pollock drove the speed, but set it conservatively as he was trying not to use too much energy early on. Just before we turned for home and the final 6 km, Mark and I tried to open up a gap, using the wind to our benefit. But the other two Aus boys were quickly onto us and we were back to four.
In the last few kilometers from home, there was really only one climb and one little pinch. It was pretty obvious the race was going to be decided on these climbs. Over the pinch nothing happen, the pace quickened slightly. As we approached the last climb, things began to heat up as the four of us tried to get a good position on the front of the train. I slipped back to fourth as the attacks happened. There were also a lot of Hoppet skiers on the hill, so it was fairly clogged and slow, making attacks even more interesting and tactical. A third of the way up the climb, one of the Aus boys attacked from the side but as he did so managed to cause a clash of skis and he and one other went down. I managed to avoid the carnage of poles and skis and jumped into first. As soon as I was clear, I put the foot down and gave it everything for the remainder of the climb. The climb has a dip in it before it finally crests and on the descent I had one last skier sticking on. Over the top of the hill, I surged. With a massive headwind, a gap finally opened up and I could break free. Over the last kilometer I skied out in front slowly opening the gap wider till the finish line, where I crossed the line in first – 15 seconds in front.
Already for me it’s back to; Train hard. Rest easy. Live for the moment. As we look to the Northern hemisphere season.