Well, you’ve guessed it. I’ve been super lazy with the blogs and don’t really have a great excuse, apart from “I’ve been too busy having fun!”
So winding the clocks back four weeks you would have found me training in Davos, Switzerland with the whole Aus team. Davos was a great chance for me to chill out and recharge the batteries, before gearing up for the Swiss champs and selection races for the Davos World Cup.
The Davos 15km Skate was my second chance to race a World Cup, but with three men qualified and only one spot open, it was always going to be a tough challenge. Since flying to Europe, I haven’t been in amazing form. I’d say one race was decent (the 30km in Liberec). But apart from that, I’ve been as a whole, disappointed.
So with the hope of turning my European season around, I went into the 15km Skate at Swiss champs with high hopes.
Possibly with all the pressure I put on myself, I completely choked and skied a shocking race. The next day was a 15km Classic, which in the past has been my favorite event. Knowing I had no chance of starting the 15km skate in Davos, I relaxed a lot more and found my groove, skiing a respectable race, moving up in the weekend standings a lot.
Back in Davos, my focus turned from the Davos World Cup to the World Champs in Val De Fiemme Italy, in 10 days time. For me, Davos turned into a great little training block and with full coaching staff, along with the addition of team physio Andi Stoffel joining our ranks, it felt like I got the most out of that week.
We headed down to Italy the day after the distance World Cup race in Davos and found our hotel in a fairytale village, just 15 minutes from the stadium, in a town called Milina.
The next day we headed to the trails and checked out the venue and Phil, Vandy and myself all prepared for the 10km preselection race the next day. Since the 2009 World Champs, to qualify for the 15km Individual race you have to either have your FIS points under a certain mark or come top ten in the race.
This year, perhaps due to the up-coming Olympics or just a greater interest in cross-country skiing, the start list had doubled in size and around 75 men lined up to try and steal one of the ten spots. Historically Australians have gone really well in this race and so I was really keen to crack the top 10.
I was ranked roughly in the top 20, so I knew I had to have a great ski to hit the mark. Again, like the Swiss Champs, I skied a very average 10k. I actually haven’t done that short a distance in over a year. So perhaps I just forgot how short it was and didn’t go all out to empty the tank properly.
After talking with the Boss (Coach August), it was decided I would skip the Sprint and focus on the 30km Skiathlon, giving myself a full rest day, then a prep day to really get going! Mass start races are always carnage and the start at of the 30k was no exception! There were 96 starters and clearly a lot of eager athletes because as soon as the gun went, people were going all over the place trying to overtake, creating chaos as broken poles went everywhere and people ran into the back of each other.
Out of the start, I wasn’t feeling that fired and it wasn’t until around the 7km mark that I started to really ski into the race and feel good. As each lap went by, I felt much more energized and really tried to make up on the lost time I’d let slip by in the first few laps. However by this stage, I’d lost a lot of time to the leading pack and was on the verge of getting lapped out. I came in and changed onto the skate skis and again our Wax Crew had nailed the wax and I was on rockets! A lot of teams struggled for the whole week finding the right wax – teams with ridiculously huge budgets, so for our tiny team to hit the wax, day after day, with quite a few athletes in each race, is a huge credit to them and great for the team!
Climbing up out of the stadium, the Boss was on the hill and knowing the position of the leaders, all he said to me was “you’ve gotta go PK, ya gotta go!” This little bit of not too cryptic code meant the leaders were close and I had to drop the hammer and just go all out until I blew, or got lapped out. On the start of my second lap it came to an end, when I was lapped out. But frustratingly I still had quite a bit of time before the lead pack came through, so perhaps I could have notched up one more lap, who knows.
The plan originally was to have a Mens relay team. But sadly Vandy started to get a cold, so that idea was quickly scrapped and I just focused on the last and most exciting race for the championships – the 50km Classic. Just like in cycling, the hill climbs are broken up into categories and Val De Fiemme produced one of the hardest courses I have ever seen with 3 “A” category climbs, not to mention a handful of smaller climbs in an 8.3 km lap, with the only rest coming from two gnarly down hills. To make things more interesting, it was like spring skiing in Australia, with the temperature for race day expected to be 16 degrees C. So dehydration and cramps were going to be even more of an issue than usual.
I had never done a 50km race before, so I was super excited to give it a crack and make sure I went out of my first championships with a bang! Again lapping was a concern. Philpot and I made a bet that if I made it past 4.3 laps, he had to keep his moustache which he has been sporting for the last two weeks until the end of the trip when he gets back to Aus.
The day dawned with perfect skies and just as hot as predicted. Cal and I both raced in running T-shirts. It was so hot that athletes were sticking snow down their lycra to try and keep their core temperatures down.
The field size was a little more modest with only 72 athletes starting. The start was a lot cleaner, with skiers knowing they had 50km to make a move. However almost instantly, the Swiss team made a strategic move against the Norwegians and sent an athlete off the front, attacking only after a kilometer or so. This meant the pack instantly increased its pace trying to hunt down the breakaway. I was feeling great (thanks to the last few days preparation with the Boss) and I comfortably skied with the pack for most of the first lap. Eventually the field broke up and a bunch of smaller chasing packs formed. I got in one towards the back and felt strong skiing at the front. Since the 2010 Olympics a new rule has been brought in letting athletes change their skis 3 times during the race. Because the race lasts for over 2 hours the conditions can change dramatically and this is to try and help account for that. My skis were skiing a little slippery, so I decided to come in on the first lap and switch. With added grip the skis were offering I was still feeling great and I set a hard pace in the pack. And if any one is wondering yes Phil will be sporting a mustache for another 6 week.
Now never let anyone say that cross-country is a soft sport! On one of the gnarly downhills, it was so fast that over the rise you got airborne. As Cal landed and came around the next corner, his skis slipped out from under him and he whipped down hard on the snow, where a Ukrainian skier collided with his spine. Cal had to pull out after another lap with terrible back pain. It was later discovered he had slightly impinged one of his discs in the collision. But after Andi worked on him for a while, he was pain free.
A massive “Thank you” needs to be sent out to all of our waxing and management staff along with coaches and physios. All week we had amazing skis and everything organized perfectly for us not to mention being super relaxed and ready to race so thanks to everyone involved!
I have now flown back to America and the final chapter of my trip. 6 weeks here in the states before finally arriving on Aus soil on the 22nd of April! Tahoe really does feel like coming home and being back in the States is awesome. I’m on a week of unstructured training, which is great. This if for me just to recover from jet lag but more importantly to get me recharged and ready to train hard again. As seems with tradition, when I arrived in Tahoe it snowed the next day and its been pumping down which is great! We have one last set of races here in Tahoe called the Spring Series, which should be a lot of fun.
Train hard. Rest Easy, Live for the moment.