Scandinavian Ski Tour 2020 ! A New World Cup Tour

After the Craftsbury SuperTours I was able to obtain the overall male SuperTour leader by points for Period III, qualifying me for a brand new World Cup racing series: the Scandinavian Ski Tour 2020. The purpose of this event was to fill the one year that happens every 4 years without an Olympic or World Championship event (Olympics are every 4 years, World Championships every 2 years). This Ski Tour was aimed to have multiple races starting in Sweden and ending in Norway, and to incorporate efforts to make high end ski racing as green as possible. I think this is a fantastic idea, and the incredible complexity of the event was handled so smoothly by the race organizers and volunteers. The amount of logistics for a standard World Cup weekend are staggering, and for the famous Tour de Ski even more so. In their first attempt they not only achieved smooth racing, but had all athletes take trains and busses between venues and to training days in order to cut the carbon emissions, organize a cross-country World Cup race at an alpine ski resort with almost no room for anything but a short race course, and had to reroute the long distance point-to-point race planned to go from Sweden to Norway the day before due to weather! It hurts my brain to think how they could have done all of that with so many moving pieces and with the video, timing, spectators, in addition to the needs of the athletes and waxing staff, etc. So well done to Ski Tour 2020! Races were fun, it wasn’t quite as demanding as the Tour de Ski (as an athlete who did not ski any sprint rounds) and was a great environment for athletes and spectators.

I was able to meet the discretionary criteria for the World Cup distance race in Falun, Sweden the weekend before the Ski Tour, which was an excellent opportunity to get a feel again for racing World Cups and have time to acclimate to the time, food, and feel of European racing. I raced the 15km skate mass start race on a surprisingly challenging 2.5km manmade loop. It was a mild long uphill before dropping down and doing two very steep climbs with a tight downhill corner between them. Any World Cup mass starts are crazy, but putting 90 guys on a narrow 2.5km loop for 15km skate made for an extra exciting first few laps. I avoided all the crashes and broken poles but still got stuck at the back a bit. I felt not very good in the beginning, breathing really hard and legs loading but tried to pace it and ski with a pack, and my last two laps I moved up quite a bit and felt like I was actually racing again! It was a fun race and helped me feel ready for the Tour. The best part was that my girlfriend flew all the way to Falun to watch my World Cup race and stayed for a few days before. It was so great to have her there, and for her to see a European World Cup in person!

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Elizabeth cheering us on in Falun Sweden! Photo: Cecilia Bergsland (who also came to cheer!)
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Working hard through the 15km skate World Cup mass start race in Falun! Photo: Elizabeth Simak

Next up was the Ski Tour 2020!

STAGE 1: Östersund, Sweden – 15km Skate 

The first stage in the Scandinavian Ski Tour 2020 was held in Östersund, Sweden about a 6.5 hour bus ride north from Falun. Thankfully as we drove north we saw more snow on the ground and it became clear when we reached our destination that there was indeed plenty of snow on the race course! The bus that took us to Östersund was our first experience of Ski Tour 2020 because the organizers arranged transport from our hotel in Falun up to Östersund in order to help reduce carbon emissions from all the teams driving their own vans and cars, etc.

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The awesome tour busses that transported athletes from all teams for training and competition!

We spent the rest of the week preparing for the first two stages in Östersund. The weather was awesome with some sun and great grooming so we had a good time with pre race intervals.

The first race was a 15km skate individual start race for the guys. We had to start at 4:10pm due to TV scheduling I think because the World Championships in biathlon were taking place as well. I don’t enjoy racing late in the day if I am being honest because I have a difficult time fueling and my body is so used to racing in the morning. Also usually pre race nervous are kind of annoying when they last almost all day. I felt pretty good in the pre race but unfortunately when I started my race I think I went out a bit too fast and tried to stay springy up the steep climbs. This caused my legs to load more than expected. That combined with a random spasm in my right back behind my ribs definitely slowed me down on the 2nd lap. I tried to save something in the last lap but it was a struggle and I knew I was going quite slowly. I was frustrated but there is always more racing to be done in a Tour so just had to look forward to the next day and recover asap because the following race was less than 24h later.

FIS world cup cross-country, 15km men, Oestersund (SWE)
Semi night time racing Stage 1 of the Ski Tour 2020! Photo: Nordic Focus

 

Stage 2: Östersund, Sweden – 15km Classic

The second stage of Ski Tour 2020 was a 15km classic pursuit race held at 2pm. Still a bit later than I am used to, but much better than 4:10pm! I started near the front of the wave along with my teammates Logan and Kevin. The conditions were incredibly challenging for the wax techs. We had some rain overnight and slick, wet, packed down transformed snow and then it started to rain right when we were on the starting line. Luckily the wax techs did a great job with the klister and we had solid kick up the steep climbs. I again felt quite loaded and slow in the first two laps and was struggling to keep up with the wave. On the last two laps (it was a 4 lap race) I started to feel better and almost feel that I was holding back staying in the wave. I surged to the front and tried to drop some skiers in the pack on the large main climb. I ran hard up the last climb before the downhill into the stadium with two other skiers and outsprinted one of them, finishing second overall in the wave pack. I was happy with my 2nd half of the race even though the first part was tough.

FIS world cup cross-country, pursuit men, Oestersund (SWE)
Working my way through the wave pack in the 15km classic pursuit – Stage 2. Photo: Nordic Focus

Stage 3: Åre, Sweden – Uphill Skate Sprint

The next day we had our first rest day of the Ski Tour and in the afternoon we took a bus from our hotel with all the other athletes to the train station. Every athlete had to get onto the train in order to compete in the next stage, thus trying to ensure relatively equal conditions for all athletes and to keep the Ski Tour as green as possible. This was a really cool experience! The organizers again did an amazing job with keeping the transitions smooth and on time.

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Media crews inside the athlete-only train from Östersund to Åre!

The hotel we were staying at was maybe 20 minutes from the alpine ski area where the sprint race was being held and had incredible accommodations. The uphill skate sprint was one of the more unique races I have ever competed in and the Norwegian and US ski teams got to see it right when we arrived in Åre by train!

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Needless to say we were all shocked at the steepness and length of the climb even after seeing the elevation profile of the course!

Due to the lack of space at the base of the alpine hill and lodge, all wax trucks had to park across the street and train tracks right next to the lake and ski testing and course inspection could only be done during certain times. It was a challenge with timing warm up, ski testing, and waxing so I actually ended up starting to test skis 1h50m before my start, and had to take a short break after my ski testing and before my harder warm up. Then the course was closed so I tried to do some L3/L4 with uphill running with poles on a 40 second stretch of uphill next to the hill along with several other athletes. The course was quite awkward to try and race. I wanted to go as fast as I could, but I know that if I blew up even on such a short sprint I could lose so much time at the top 1/4 of the hill. I went out what I thought was kind of quick, took the descent and icy banked corner well, and tried to hop skate efficiently and quickly. I think I failed to do both, and ended up loading my legs fully and hobbling up the last part of the hill, finishing near the bottom of the results. It was still a cool event but I definitely needed to do a different and harder warm up I think.

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Pushing hard in the uphill skate sprint! Photo: Toko US / Nordic Focus

 

 Stage 4: Meraker, Norway – 34km Skate Mass Start

The 4th stage of the Ski Tour 2020 was supposed to be its more-or-less defining feature: a point-to-point distance race from Sweden and crossing the national border into Norway to finish. However due to incredibly high winds they had to make it into an out-and-back adventure over some smaller mountains in Norway. This also was the most logistically challenging day for athletes I think. We woke up at our hotel in Åre, packed up and ate breakfast, got a 1.5h bus ride to Meraker ski stadium, tested skis and warmed up for the race, raced the 34km skate race, immediately without cooling down dropped our skis off, got our bags, got in a bus and were driven about 10min to an arena to eat and change and jog cool down, then about an hour later get on a short bus ride to the train station, and finishing with just over an hour train ride to Trondheim. What a day! The race was challenging, we did a 2.5km loop in the stadium then a far out-and-back over a small mountain that was essential 5km of gradual climbing and an equal descent with lots of flats. The wind was unbelievable, I don’t think I have ever skied in such windy conditions in my life. Usually in high winds you need to be careful how it blows your poles to the side, but during this race I had to watch out where my skis were being blow so I wouldn’t trip over them. I also had a really hard time seeing the trail when leading.

I started out near the back even though I tried to keep my position well. My legs were not wanting to go too hard up the long climbs so I kept it within reason and stuck onto a pack just as we crested the long climb into the windy sections. I knew I had to draft due the strong headwind, but I also felt like our pack was losing contact with other packs. I did a small push to gain onto some faster skiers and then we had a rotating pack that moved along pretty fast. We overtook and absorbed some skiers who fell off the lead and chase packs in front of us. We skied pretty strong together for most of the race, dropping some skiers while adding others. On the way back to the finish I was skiing hard leading with a Japanese skier for our group but on the downhill into the stadium our whole pack came back and we had a battle for the final 2.5km. I tried to do a speed to drop some skiers on an early climb with 2km to go but my legs flooded and had to fight to keep contact and sprinted in with about 4 or 5 other skiers. Overall it was a fun race and pretty good result!

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The only photo with me in it of this race that I can find! I think about halfway up the first climb as the pack gets stretched out. Photo: Bildbryån

The bus and train ride to Trondheim was a bit more subdued because of the relatively high level of fatigue most skiers were experiencing post-race. When we arrived in Trondheim we were greeted with an actual marching band and walked along the sidewalk from the train station to the Scandic hotel where all the athletes and staff would be staying for the last two stages of Ski Tour 2020!

 

Stage 5: Trondheim, Norway – Classic Sprint

The final two stages of Ski Tour 2020 were a classic sprint and 30km classic pursuit for guys, 15km classic pursuit for girls. We thankfully had another rest day on Friday before the final races.

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The weather was quite nice during the rest day and up through the qualifier of the classic sprint. It was transformed manmade with glazed tracks so made for perfect klister skiing. I warmed up well and found that I actually felt pretty good and with plenty of skiing for warm up I could do exactly what I needed. The course was long time-wise but actually not as difficult as many others. It went up a long gradual climb (mostly power striding and some double pole) and then you go down the same long gradual climb into a not-really-technical corner and up a slightly steeper climb and then a gradual grade and back down into the finish. Plenty of rest between each climb. I felt strong, stayed relaxed and skied hard but not frantic. My legs fully flooded at the top of the second climb which was what I wanted so I knew I maxed it out, and finished hard. It was surprisingly one of my best feeling races of the Tour!

FIS world cup cross-country, individual sprint, Trondheim (NOR)
Charging up the long climb in the Trondheim Classic sprint qualifier! Photo: Nordic Focus

 

Stage 6: Trondheim, Norway – 30km Classic Pursuit

We made it to the final stage! I was hoping to feel better for this race but I woke up pretty tired and the warm up was not encouraging. My heart rate was a bit high just trying to ski easy up the hills, and to be honest I cannot imagine harder classic waxing conditions. We were on manmade transformed snow, it rained and snowed the day before and snowed around 34 degrees most of the night and they had to groom in the morning, bringing lots of moisture up to the tracks. It continued to snow so it was wet new snow on top of wet transformed, the tracks got glazed very fast but outside the tracks was wet new snow that iced up on klister so fast. Zeros worked well but got slick when the tracked got too glazed. It was then a gamble guessing about the storm. It was snowing pretty hard at 36 degrees before the start, many skiers with their techs deciding between klister or zeros. The storm was supposed to stop about 45min into the race, meaning it would glaze a lot and I wanted kick for the last half of the race so I opted for klister and just had to make sure I didn’t ice up too much. I started in the wave with about 35 other racers. The first 2km is uphill on the 5km course, then about 1km downhill, another 1km uphill and last km was rolling hills into the stadium. I struggled to maintain contact with the pack, I found out fairly quickly I should have gone on zeros, while the kick may be tough in the glazed tracks, they were much faster and good kick running outside the tracks. I found myself just a few seconds behind the main wave pack for a lap, then lost contact. It was a struggle and I skied alone for most of the race, catching a few skiers near the end, and getting passed as well. It was frustrating to not ski as well or fast as I wanted, and to sometimes feel like I couldn’t push hard. I finished the race, but not anywhere near where I wanted or feel like I could have been with a good race. But still, I am proud to have finished another challenging tour and difficult race.

FIS world cup cross-country, pursuit men, Trondheim (NOR)
Fighting hard to finish the Ski Tour 2020 in the 30km classic! Photo: Nordic Focus

I didn’t quite get the results I was looking for in the Ski Tour 2020, but there were some good racing moments that happened that I would like to learn from and try to build on for the next World Cups.

The next stop is Lahti, Finland for a distance World Cup race on Saturday with a 15km classic. We won’t have enough US men to race the distance relay on Sunday so the plan is to rest and prepare for the Holmenkollen 50km race the following Sunday! Then back to the USA for World Cup Finals (hopefully!) and Spring Series to wrap up the season! Stay tuned!

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