So I made the challenging decision to decline the 2020 Tour de Ski starts I qualified for and instead to focus on US National Championships. I was hoping to be able to win or at least podium one of the distance races, but that did not work out as planned. Houghton is infamously known for brutally cold conditions, yet this year it proved to be quite mild and comfortable for the race week at Nationals. As always, the courses, grooming, and volunteers did an amazing job putting on very smooth running races.
We started off with a skate sprint. I felt relaxed and focused for the sprint qualifier, and surprised myself on the 2 lap sprint course with a 9th place qualification, my best sprint qualification results ever at Nationals! And for the first time ever, and I mean ever, I actually felt good before and during the quarterfinal heat! I don’t really know what happened to make that, I stayed true to my usual routine and Hammer Nutrition fueling strategy that I use for racing. I was not complaining though, it felt good to feel like and relaxed for the quarterfinal. I was in excellent placement on the 2nd downhill before the last climb sitting in 2nd/3rd in my heat. However I must have made a strategic error on the last corner and the rest of my heat zoomed around me, putting me in 5th. I kicked hard following Gus in the finish lanes and lunged for 4th. It was an incredibly tight finish; all 5 racers in my heat finished within 0.7 seconds. I unfortunately did not make lucky loser, and finished 17th overall, 12th American for the day. I was a bit disappointed due to how I felt that day, but overall it was a solid result.
The 15km skate race was one that I was looking forward to almost as much as the 30km classic. I went out about as fast as I could on the long flat section before a nice long downhill rest. I was hitting good splits for the first 1.5 of 3 laps, just a few seconds behind the leader Ian Torchia. My legs were feeling uncomfortably heavy, not light and snappy as they usually feel when I race well. I was struggling to recover on the V2 sections and the V1 felt like I was pulling an E-brake on my speed. Needless to say, it was not a great race. I pushed hard and finished in a disappointing 10th place, 9th American. It was cool to see Kyle crush it yet again here in Houghton and take the win!
The 30km classic was my main goal. I won this event in 2017 and was hoping for a repeat. I felt a bit slow and heavy during my warm up for the 30km race while testing skis and trying to dial in the kick in semi-tricky conditions. The wax techs were able to dial it in for the race skis as they always do! The pace went out nice and quick for the first 1km and then slowed a bit on the following long climb and transition sections. The accordion action was pretty exaggerated with the short steep climbs and about 50 skiers trying to stay near the front. I was in a good position cycling between 1st and 20th probably for the first lap (4 laps of 7.5km race). On the last swooping downhill before the final climb of lap one I actually fell. There was a sharp tracked corner and I had to step out in order to make the corner, while my ski edge caught one of the tracks I felt my weight slip backwards and I fell kind of awkwardly on my hip. I was worried that I would be hit or run over because so many skiers were all together right behind the leaders but luckily I was able to push myself up right after I fell. It took me maybe 600m to catch back up to the top 20 and a fair bit of energy. I tried to conserve energy and sit in the draft a bit. The 2nd lap felt controlled as well and starting the 3rd lap I felt a minor double pole surge going across the flat. A light snowfall started and slowed the leading skiers down just a bit. My teammate Adam started to try and make a break on the long finger climb on the 3rd lap and I decided to go with him and try and break the pack apart. I felt strong but not quite as good as the first two laps. My skis still kicked well but were slowing down a bit on the descents. The pack caught us on the next downhill and I knew our surge didn’t work. I had to try and conserve energy as others pushed the pace a bit on the next transition double pole sections. I felt like I was losing my power just a bit. The 4th lap was hard but I still stayed in contention until about 2km to go. The old sprint course climb was after a long slight uphill section and I was in 6th and lost maybe a few meters over the climb and through the feed zone before the last downhill. My skis were a touch slow but still had decent kick. I battled Tyler Kornfield on the last uphill and was able to pass him back and push to the finish in 6th. It was a good race, but not amazing. Looking back, I wish I opted for just a bit faster skis (I always choose kick over glide), and if I didn’t waste energy from my fall on lap 1 and the surge on lap 3 I think I could have finished maybe higher in the top 3.
The classic sprint two days later was an interesting day. It was fast glazed tracks and many skiers were trying to figure out if double poling was effective due to the short steep climb and lots of gradual and downhill. I opted for kick was in the qualifier and qualified 10th! I was happy with the qualifier, I felt fast and smooth and skied light and snappy. I felt a bit worse for the quarterfinals than I did in the skate sprint race earlier, but still not horrible. I decided to just double pole the quarterfinal heat on classic skis and no kick wax due to how fast it was and the windblown snow was slowing things down. It was fun to have my first year teammate Braden in my heat. I went out quick and was in decent position on the first lap yet again lost position on the 2nd downhill and final corner. Braden and I found ourselves in last for the last climb so we have to sprint extra hard to catch up. We passed two skiers who got tangled up just after the steep herring bone hill and then I pushed hard to the finish. I saw that Andy Newell was in 2nd place and was relaxing to the finish to save energy as the top 2 usually do. Except with the uphill finish I saw I was gaining considerable time on him seeing that I was going as hard as I could. I thought for a second I may be able to out lunge him if he didn’t hear me coming up on him so I pushed extra hard and almost caught him, finishing in a close 3rd place in my heat. Unfortunately, we took the first lap a bit conservative so I did not make luckly loser, I finished 13th on the day, wrapping up my 2020 US Nationals.
The best part of US Nationals was having both my parents come out to cheer in person during the two distance races! It was so fun having them there!
With 2020 Nationals over, I am looking towards the Craftsbury SuperTour to get a few more points and try to get the overall SuperTour lead again. I am currently sitting in 2nd place overall, 18 points down to the legendary and talented Gus Schumacher. My future goals now are to possibly attend the new Scandinavian Ski Tour World Cups, and World Cup Finals in Canmore, Alberta! If that does not work out, then I would love to try and podium the 2020 American Birkebeiner race this year!
Thank you so much to all my supporters, sponsors, family, friends, teammates, coaches, wax techs, and fans for their continued support!