Yet again I’ve fallen behind on blog posts, so I’ll try to post mostly pictures this time! After the World Cup Period II I flew right back to Vermont and raced at the joint US SuperTour / Canadian NorAm races in Gatineau, Quebec. It was a 3-day mini tour format with a classic sprint, 15km skate individual start race, and 15km pursuit start classic race! I felt surprisingly good for the classic sprint qualifier, finishing 2nd to Canada’s Julien Locke. I think that is one of my best sprint qualifiers ever and maybe the amount of travel and fatigue just let me try to race simply for racing and not overthink anything. The heats did not go as well, unfortunately. I led for the first half of the race but got stuck in the pack on the last climb and did not move on to the semifinals. The next days was another cold bright day for the 15km skate race. I felt very strong for the first half of the race, but faded hard during the last half. It felt good to be at sea level but I think I underestimated the climbing in the middle part of the course. The third race brought some new snow and soft conditions that required a lot of finesse in the kick. I started with the chase pack of the pursuit and we worked together for the first half of the race. I tried to push the pace during the last half and felt stronger than the day before. I finished 3nd in the time of day 15km classic and 2nd in the overall pursuit!
Next stop was the midwest for the Ishpeming SuperTour and the American Birkeibeiner 50km skate race! This was my first time racing at Ishpeming and I thought the course was challenging and fun, and the races were pulled off very well! The climbs on the distance courses were steep and pretty long with fun curving downhills. The skate sprint on Thursday was challenging both physically and tactically with one small hill and a lot of open field to use for drafting. Kevin Bolger showed everyone who was boss that day by slaying all the heats in a very impressive day. I felt alright and was able to move on to the semifinals but not to the finals, finishing 7th overall. We had a rest day Friday and then a joint SuperTour and midwest college race on Saturday with a 20km mass start skate race. Due to the nature of the course with about 1km of flat open field skiing at the end of every 5k lap it was a very tactical race. The group stayed together for a long time and we were waiting for moved to be made. After about 12km some skiers started doing some moves to break the pack apart but with the downhills the pack caught up. The last few k of the race was when the final sprint happened and I was able to finish 4th place with a tight finish. The next day was my favorite college race, a 10km classic individual start. I started behind David Norris, the eventual race winner, and put about 10 seconds on him in the first few kilometers. I realized that was a grave mistake because he pulled away from me very fast in the last 5k, but I held on to 2nd place on the day! (Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from Ishpeming)
Next stop was the American Birkebeiner. It was a fun week of training around Hayward, WI and the snow was excellent. I had the best 50km race of my life, and I largely contribute that to better feeding strategy. I used to try and have about 3 Hammer Nutrition gels and some Hammer HEED and endurolytes throughout the race. But in this race I made sure to take extra time to have 1 gel every 10km and drink my Hammer carb/electrolyte/amino acid custom made drink mix as much as possible. The pace was fast but relaxed, with only a few people trying to break away after 25km. There was still a huge pack with 5km to go and the final sprint across the lake had 20 people! My triceps started cramping at around 15km to go which is very normal, but I managed to stay relaxed and save energy. I was skiing in the top 20 for most of the race, sometimes up in around 4th and then back to 20th depending on the accordian action of the pack on the climbs. I should have positioned myself better in the last 12km, because I was settling back in 20th or so. In the final sprint I managed to get myself up to 9th place, but finish 6.9 seconds from the win of the Birkebeiner is kind of a tough pill to swallow.
After the Birkie I flew to Europe for the OPA Continental Cup races held in Italy and Spain!