OK so this post is going to be pretty hefty, but don’t worry, there are lots of photos to help break it up!
We are now at the halfway mark of the Ski Tour of Canada, and it’s been a crazy week of travelling and racing. We have done two sprints and two distance races in 3 different cities.
So we started in Ottawa for our first race, a skate sprint on the banks of the Ottawa river. The course was really long for a sprint, it seems for all the sprints we will do here the courses are at almost max length of 1.8km, which makes racing really hard. To add some extra spice all four of the first races have been in city parks. It’s super cool but because the courses aren’t specifically designed and the officials are just using what ever natural features that are there it makes them pretty weird. It doesn’t make for the best flowing trails.
But back to the first race. I was obviously super nervous to get racing, I warmed up and headed to the starting area ready to go. As expected the crowd was huge and super cool to race in front of. I raced pretty averagely and wasn’t super stoked with how it went. I skied really we I just didn’t bust a gut and destroy myself in those three and a half minutes. I just didn’t ski with that extra gear and top 5% I needed.
Straight after the race we all headed back to our hotel and showered, ate and then jumped on a bus and drove to the next city, Montreal. The hotel we were in was amazingly nice and I think most of us were pretty bummed we’d only be there for one night.
The next day we awoke to pretty terrible conditions. A snow storm had blown in and it was making life pretty unpleasant and the skiing hard. The new snow was not bonding well with all the old snow so it just created two separate layers in the pack and the racing was brutal. Basically mashed potatoes on an ice plate. I have never seen so many broken skis and poles, epic crashes and the very best men in the world reduced to snowploughs and skidding turns so often. The course was nuts. We were racing a 20km classic mass start but with some very tight corners and extremely steep pinches. Probably great to watch and it looked cool but not great for 85 men in a mass start.
I had a terrible race. There were a few mix ups with my skis pre race, which is never something the team wants to have happen but it did a little and then during the race I was just not again able to truly burry myself as deeply as I wanted to and although I was toast after the race I was still frustrated I couldn’t find that last little spark.
Again after the race we jumped on the bus and began our journey across to Quebec, which takes around 3.5 hours. It was pretty brutal to jump on the bus after racing a 20km classic at 5:30pm. All the teams did it and it wasn’t too bad to chat with some of the other racers and chill out a bit.
We had the next day off to just find our feet a little but for most of us that still means heading out for a ski and to test our race skis for the next days race. We were to do another city sprint and then a 15km distance Pursuit. The sprint course again showed the typical city sprint crazy race features of steep pinches and tight corners. In the men’s first round of heats, there was a crash or incident in all five heats because of the narrow course. Definitely some of the big names that have had bad luck and crashed aren’t at all to pleased with how its been. For me the sprint course suited me a lot more with some much better climbs and sections. I skied a lot better and felt a lot more like my old racing self, which was really good. However the course was really long and I felt I had blown out my legs quite a bit.
The fourth stage of the tour was extremely critical for everyone. It’s a Pursuit start. So for those that don’t quite understand what that means the person with the collective fastest time starts first and then is followed but the second person with their time behind and so on. But to make things interesting the first starter begun 2 minutes in front of just the 4th starter so it was really blown out. After the first 30 started in the above pursuit style they send off a wave at 4:30min of 20 or so guys and then at 5:00min the rest of the men go.
Now the kicker is the course was 4 laps of 3.75km and if the first starter catches you, you’re pulled off the course. Out, lapped, tour over, a brutal ending.
So Ustigov of Russia started and we all just sat waiting. 16 seconds later another, 10 seconds after that another. Ustigov had skied 2km before the 4:30min wave started. We could all see him and how far he had already skied and there was a collective groan of despair seeing him powering along. I was in the 5 min wave along with 30 other guys and once we started it was on. The pace was just nuts know one was pacing the race, it was all about skiing three laps before Ustigov could ski his fourth and lap us. It’s basically a game of cat and mouse. I hung onto the pack for as long as I could but I was having a little trouble with slower skis and I found I was getting dropped on the downhills, which is never a good feeling. To add to it my legs were certainly blown so I settled into a more solo ski and found my own rhythm as the packs quietly exploded in front of me. The amount of pressure and adrenalin that just seemed to be pumping through me was crazy. Going for broke for so long hoping to hold off one of the fastest skiers in the world is nuts and such a mental battle. Each lap on course all the coaches were giving me splits so I knew where I was and how much time I had up on Ustigov. I could hear it getting less and less and I knew I was running out of time!
Luckily the crowd was absolutely amazing, the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of racing in front of and I managed to scrape threw by the slimmest of margins.
Around 16 seconds in fact. Once I skied into that lap lane I was so stoked I didn’t know what to do, laugh, cry, pump the sky or just keep racing. The pressure was so intense. The relief of making it was massive. I skied the last lap as fast as I could, a lot of guys in front had eased off the gas so I decided to try and pick a few off. Crossing that finish line I was so stoked to be finished and moving onto Canmore and the final 4 stages. Possibly the greatest part was everyone else knew what was at stake and so everyone was just so stoked to have survived, there were a lot of high fives and even a few hugs for just surviving. Everyone was so happy I have never had such a stressful, intense race as the 15km skate in Quebec, I’ll remember that race for a long time.
We now have flown across to Canmore, we caught a flight the next morning at 6:00am and got in around 4:00pm. Kindly the organisers planned another full proper day off of racing for us to test skis, stretch legs and just recover. Tomorrow we have a classic sprint and then the next day a 30km Skiathlon.
Four down, Four to go.
Train hard, rest easy, live for the moment.