Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Blur of the Tour de Ski

As cross country ski racers, we fall into the pattern of racing on the weekend. Sometimes we race twice a weekend, sometimes we only have one race, but we can always count on the weekend meaning race time. We know what day of the week it is based on how recently we just raced or how close we are to the next weekend of racing. Then there's the Tour de Ski where everything just gets messed up. Racing begins on a Friday and in the next ten days there are eight races. None of us know which day of the week it is. We only know that we are most likely racing tomorrow. This year I competed in the first six days of the Tour de Ski, which included five of the races. My teammates who are finishing the Tour just finished their seventh race and will compete in the final race of the series tomorrow, the hill climb.
U.S. girls (minus Caitlin) psyched for the Tour de Ski (DagBladet photo)
The first three stages of the tour were in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The tour commenced with a skate sprint. I love the course in Lenzerheide. It has a lot of flat and gradual up where it is important to carry your speed and a long fast downhill into the finishing stretch. I qualified with the second fasted time in the prelim which is the best I've ever qualified in a sprint before. In my quarter final I got off to a bit of a slow start, but moved on as lucky loser to the semi finals. In my semi final, we had a stacked heat and I ended up third and moved onto the final as lucky loser AGAIN. I really am the luckiest loser in the world. I think I had been lucky loser in five out of the heats I had advanced in at this point. In the final I had a great start and held on as long as I could and finished the day in 4th place, the second best World Cup finish I had ever had! I was really happy with my day personally and it was pretty impressive to have three girls on the USST in the top ten and four in the top twenty. Go team!
Congratulating Maiken on her win in the sprint (Getty Images)
Beautiful Lenzerheide

The following day we had a 15k classic. This was the longest race I had done this year and I was looking forward to getting my striding on. I felt great for the race and settled into a strong pack early on. Unfortunately, on the second lap my pole got kicked and snapped in a less than ideal place, but after some one pole skiing I got another pole and tried to finish strong. I ended up 34th on the day, which was my best distance race of the year, but it was bittersweet to be so close to the points and have a little pole mishap. The following day was a 5k pursuit start race. I was starting in 23rd place and points for the day were rewarded based on your finishing place of the day. My goal was to stay in the top 30 and I knew that in order to do this, I was going to have to hang on for dear life to the pack I was skiing with. We took it out hot and I held on for about three kilometers before beginning to flood big time. With the help of our coaches cheering, I hung on for a 27th place finish and my first distance points of the season!
15k classic (Noah photo)
My headgear sponsor for the day - Happy BDAY Mom! P.S. Still looking for a headgear sponsor!! (Jessie photo)
After three big days of racing, we traveled to Oberstdorf, Germany and had a rest day. I was feeling pretty tired on our rest day, so I decided to take it off rather than going to preview the course. I spent most of the day in my hotel room with Liz and went for a little walk in the snow/rain storm that was taking place outside. My coach, Matt, sent me a text from the course that day saying "Hey - awesome sprint course for you.  You have a shot to win this one, even though it is classic." I smiled, because that was nice of him to say and I was happy it was a good course for me, but like he said, it was a classic sprint and I've always been stronger in skate sprints. The morning of the race we had a small testing window, so after warming up, I skied two laps of the course to test my wax and got ready to race. I qualified third in the prelim, which was miles better than I had ever qualified in a classic sprint before. My skis were great, I loved the grade of the uphills, and really loved the technical downhills.
Sprint qualifier (Marcel Hilger photo)
As I was warming up for my quarter final, Heidi Weng of Norway came up from behind and gave me a huge hug saying "You are skiing so fast! You must win today!" I was caught a little off guard, because Heidi and I are friendly, but I don't know her well at all and was surprised she had this confidence in me. Again, I smiled and thanked her, but like I said before, this was a classic sprint and I've always thought of myself as stronger in skating. I finished in the top two in my heat during the quarter final and for once knew I was going to the semis right away instead of waiting to see if I was the lucky loser! My semi final was another strong heat and I had Ingvild in it who had won the qualifier and is a really impressive all around sprinter. I stuck right behind her on the whole course and came across the line in second. Onto the finals! Between each round, Gus had radioed in to work on my lunges. So Matt stood with me while I was spinning and demonstrated the perfect lunge, over and over. I lunged in my semi and he told me it was okay, but it could be better. Before my final, I had one goal and that was to stick on Ingvild's tails for as long as I could. I can't remember much of my final, but I remember getting in the track behind Ingvild and not letting go. I tried to ski fast and relaxed on the downhills, hold onto her on the uphills, and power over the tops. After the last uphill, I was right on Ingvild's tail in second place and slingshotted by her on the last down hill. All of a sudden I was in first place leading into the final stretch. I focused on getting my hips forward, carrying my speed, and not looking back. I could feel someone coming up next to me and just before the finish line, I focused as hard as I could on having the perfect lunge. Then I WON my first World Cup!
Lunging for the line (Marcel Hilger photo)

Double poling down the finish stretch (Marcel Hilger photo)
I'm still in a bit of shock. Thank you to everyone for all the support. My inbox has been overflowing and I've loved hearing from each one of you. I owe a huge thank you to my team for all of their support. My wax tech, Oleg, and the entire waxing staff gave me amazing skis. My coach, Matt, is one of the hardest workers I know and was there giving me pep talks the whole day and it also meant a lot to me to have my former coach, Gus, there that day. Seeing my teammates' smiling faces after the race and back at the hotel made my smile even bigger and of course talking to my family that day was just the icing on the cake! Then, to top it off, Jessie goes and wins the 5k skate two days later. GO USA!! HERE is the link to my final and HERE is the link to my post race interview. Up next for me is the sprint weekend in Slovenia and here are a bunch of pictures from the day.

Heidi, me, and Ingvild (Marcel Hilger photo)

Post race with Matt (Jessie photo)

Getting a hug from Ides and jess after the race

And one from Matt (Jessie photo)

Thomas Zipfel made me my very own cartoon!

Giving Jessie a hug and nose rub after her 1st place in the 5k skate (Annie Hart photo)


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