The legendary race series named the Tour de Ski turned into one of my goals for this season. Initially 2019 World Championships was my primary objective, but after thinking about and considering the experience that the Tour offers, I decided to race the Tour instead of US Nationals that were held on home turf in Craftsbury. I was racing very well in the Period I SuperTour circuit and felt confident going into the Tour. I thought that with a good race and dwindling race field at the end of the Tour I would be able to sneak in the top 30, score World Cup points, and qualify for World Championships that way instead of accumulating the tempting SuperTour points from US Nationals. I flew on Monday Dec 24th, the day after the Eastern Cup 10km skate, so I could arrive in Europe with a bit of time for Saturday’s Tour de Ski start. The opening ceremonies were held in downtown Toblach, Italy on Friday night that consisted of a fun walk across the stage by team and waving to the crowd, followed by some great fireworks!
The first stage of the 2019 Tour de Ski was a skate sprint in Toblach on their short 1.5 lap sprint course. I was feeling pretty good, moderate amount of nerves, and did my usual warm up routine and ski testing. The sprint course skied faster on the day before than in the race due to warmer temps and sun softened snow. It may be embarrassing to admit, but I actually felt decent about the race. However after analyzing a few things, I can see what mistakes I made. I finished last in the mens field, 105th, but only 15.23 sec from Klaebo’s winning time, and 0.03 sec from 104th so I was not completely off the back. I usually find that I am around 15 seconds behind Klaebo’s qualifier time so maybe all the other skiers just had great days. I did make a few mistakes during my qualifier that I can see now. Out of the starting gate I had a moment where my weight shifted back and I lost balance going from firmer to softer snow. My next mistake was the first sharp left corner going up the first hill. It was a bit icy on the inside and I didn’t make as much speed as I should have. I also chose to V2 the climb which felt forced and a bit slow. I also definitely went too hard on the first climb, but I did push nicely over the top. I took the corner a bit wide due to a skier behind me going left into the finish, and tried to V2 hard up the next shorter steep hill. I had to hop V1 over the top but started to feel the loading in the legs, the next climb was tough and I definitely slowed down. I pushed to the finish but accidentally took it too wide losing a bit of time. I guess all those mistakes combined really adds up in a world cup field!
The second stage was the next day on Sunday still at Toblach, and individual start 15km skate race. I felt a bit tired and lower energy, I think the eating late and starting late was still feeling odd for my system. I went out smooth but my energy couldn’t quite keep up a fast pace on the climbs, I was loading just a bit too much for how fast I needed to go, forcing me to slow down on the longer less steep climbs. I caught a ride with some Norwegian skiers and a Russian who were grouped up, and then on my last lap I caught a short ride with Klaebo’s group before I lost contact on some slower climbs. I was not incredibly happy with my race but went as hard as I could.
On Sunday night after the race we drove to Val Müstair and thankfully had a rest day on Monday so we could check out the crazy twisty and fun course.
I took this sprint out much easier than in Toblach. It was a two lap course with an incredibly steep climb followed by a fun small drop, two sharp twisty downhill corners, three large rollers and a final sharp corner before a slight uphill V2 section to the finish or lap. I took it relaxed and smooth trying to maximize glide and doing a speed before the steep climb so I could hop V1 as little as possible. On the second lap I could feel my legs load nicely and tried to push hard over the top. While not an amazing race it went much better than Toblach. Pacing that kind of course at altitude was a better strategy than going from the line.
After the Val Müstair sprint we drove with Jessie and Sadie several hours to Obersdorf, Germany for the next two distance stages of the Tour de Ski. The next day was a 15km mass start classic race on a short but challenging 2.5km loop with 3 good climbs per lap and a long flat double pole section. I was starting to feel a bit run down but with a 15km mass start I figured I may have a good chance to do well. The conditions on the classic day was the stuff of nightmares for wax techs. 0 degrees celsius and fresh falling snow on top of groomed manmade. The US team did the best they could with what they were working with. I tried my zeros but had no kick. I wanted solid kick for the running hills and ended up with covered klister. Most of the field went on zeros I think. I was able to stay in the draft behind the main pack, which luckily for me never broke apart.
I finished 38 seconds behind the winner in a huge pack. It was really fun and exciting to be so close to the leaders for the whole race. It started dumping snow on the last lap and got pretty dark and definitely made the Julbo shield necessary. I thought I may be able to move up more on the last climb but my whole body was pretty flooded and with such good kick my skis were a touch slower than they needed to be for a final sprint. Still the best FIS points I ever got!
The very next morning was a 15km pursuit race. The course was about as different as could be from the day before: hard, firm, and fast. I unfortunately started in Wave 2, 3:30 after the leaders on a fast 2.5km lap. We had to do 6 laps, and if anyone got lapped they not only would be pulled from the race, but from the whole Tour as well. I was feeling really tired and lower energy, and my heart rate spiked just trying to climb the hills easy. I knew it was going to be a tough race, especially trying not to get caught by the top skiers. So I had to complete 5 laps before Klaebo and Ustiugov caught me to finish the Tour. The US coaches kindly informed me that they would be giving me back splits, time from how far the leaders are to catching, instead of “standard” splits and this was purely just informative so that I could be sure to not get caught. I assumed it would take the fastest skiers around 6 min to complete the 2.5k lap, making the 15km a 36 min race due to fast conditions. If I started 3.5 min behind the leaders, and I had to complete 5 laps before they caught me on a 6 min course, I could only afford to give 30 sec per lap to the leaders. That sounds like a lot, which is kind of is, but if I didn’t feel good and lost the pack draft it could be tough. I did not think I would be dropped in fact I was hoping to beat most of wave 2, however it did not work out that way. I was feeling fatigued and had a hard time cresting the steep climbs. I lost contact at the end of the 2nd lap, not feeling great and started to think I may get caught. I was off the pack along with one other skier who was a bit behind me. I struggled maintaining strong skiing on the flats without a draft having to work more than anticipated when I wanted to rest. I got backsplits that Klaebo and Ustiugov were 2 minutes behind me with 4 laps to go. With 3 laps to go they were 1:20 behind me. Some quick math told me I was losing 40 seconds per lap to them, making me hit lap 6 with them tied with me if we kept the same speed up. I heard sometimes you get pulled from races before getting lapped due to impeding the leaders… so that could be bad. 2 laps to go they were 40 seconds behind me. It was going to be close! All the US coaches and wax techs were cheering incredibly loudly saying it was going to be close. I was racing a 5 lap race because if I made it to lap 6 I could finish the Tour. On the out and back flat stretch I saw the leaders closing in on me and I had to start going as hard as I could. Each hill I thought would be my last, and when I hit the bottom of the last hill I tried to sprint and hop V1 over the top. I looked at the two officials at the top of the hill expecting them to tell me to stop, but they didn’t, so I went over the top and down the final hill taking a left to the lap lane. As I skied through the lap I looked to my right and saw Klaebo outkick Ustiugov and passed me through their finish lane! I finished my “victory” lap knowing I could finish the Tour. It was one of the most victorious feelings in one of my worst feeling races, quite an odd mixture of emotions.
We had a nice long 5 hour drive from Obersdorf, Germany to Val di Fiemme, Italy for the last 2 stages of the Tour de Ski. We had a rest day on Friday before the final stages and did a nice easy 30 min walk on classic skis testing a bit. I felt very run down, tired, and fatigued. I did see my parents who arrived the night before to see the final two stages, which was so great and exciting!
The first race was a 15km mass start race, one of my personal favorites. I started well and felt great for the first climb, but it unfortunately went downhill from there (not in a good way). The fatigue was getting to me, I felt as if I was skiing underwater, all my motions were heavy and slow, and I couldn’t push hard on the climbs or flats. I finished 2nd to last, but still gave it everything I had that day.
The final stage: Alpe Cermis. This 9km race pursuit style race had about 5 kilometers of flat downhill skiing before turning and skiing 4 kilometers up an alpine hill. I had no idea what I was in for. I started in the back of wave 2 and drafted to the bottom of the climb. The start of the climb was moderate and we could V2 for a while before turning to V1. It just kept going, and getting steeper. I thought for sure I was close to the end and Matt Whitcomb told me I had about 4 more minutes! It was crazy, just trying to coaches skate I was going as hard as I could. I had my parents cheering and waving a “Go Lusty” flag that my brother made for me for 2013 NCAA Championships. I finished 37th time of day for that stage.
I finished the final climb feeling accomplished, not victorious in the sense of knowing I did the best I could have done, but having started and finished the most challenging ski race series in the world, against the best in the world. I got very sick a few days after the Tour, my body was done with me, and I had to skip the next World Cup weekend in Dresden to rest for the end of Period II World Cups in Otepää, Estonia and Ulricehamn, Sweden.