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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Craftsbury SuperTour Weekend – Lost Nation Cup

The Craftsbury SuperTour was also combined with Eastern Collegiate Carnival races and an Eastern Cup, which drew almost all of the competitive skiers from around New England in addition to the SuperTour field. This cumulative event is called the Lost Nation Cup and is a fantastic weekend of racing from top level SuperTour athletes all the way down to BKL skiers, showcasing that ski racing is more about community and supporting all athletes who strive for self improvement than just trying to win races. I also think it is great to add collegiate skiers to the SuperTour field, in addition to the Canadian skiers who came to race from Quebec and Ontario as it increases the level of competition for all of us.

The Lost Nation Cup started off with a classic sprint on Friday. I felt quite good in the previous week of training leading up to the weekend of races and felt confident in my ability to perform better than I did at US Nationals. The weather was predicted to be a bit sketchy with mixed snow, sleet, and rain throughout the weekend but luckily it held off, and Friday’s sprint was a mix of sun and clouds with quite warm temperatures, great for spectators. I had a solid qualifier, finishing 7th only about 3 seconds from the fastest skier. I was with my youngest teammate Braden in the quarterfinal just like at US National classic sprint and it is always fun to race with your teammates.

I took the quarterfinal out pretty fast and found myself in the lead, which I did not necessarily want due to the long downhill before the last half of the course. I was passed by Peter on the gradual climb and was able to herring bone behind him to stay in second place through the finish, moving onto the semifinals. I tried the same tactic in the semifinal but knew that more people would likely try to pass me on the climb after drafting on the downhill, and I was in 3rd place fighting to try and get 2nd, but finished just barely in 3rd place and did not get lucky loser. I finished 7th overall. I was pretty disappointed to not make the Final with how I felt that day, but just had to focus on the next races.

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Sending out of the start of the qualifier! Photo: Elizabeth Simak
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Trying to get to 2nd place in my semifinal. Photo: Elizabeth Simak

The next race was a 10km skate individual start. Usually on the SuperTour and World Cup circuits men race 15km individual starts so it was a fun change to do a fast 10km, reminded me of college racing. 10km is a fast race and especially at sea level you need to push hard right from the line. I was a bit nervous to be starting directly in front of multiple time skate National Champion Kyle Bratrud who would be getting splits off me the whole time so I went out about as fast as I could reasonably go. I felt pretty strong, springy on the climbs and recovered well on my long V2 on flats and downhills. I got back splits saying I was a few seconds behind Kyle throughout the race (but sometimes I think Pepa just says that to make me go faster). I started to really feel my legs burn on the last few climbs and did a little burst of speed at the last hill to the finish. I was able to take the overall win by just over 2 seconds! I thought Kyle was going to beat me due to some splits I was getting but I was happy to manage to take the win against such a solid competitor.

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Crushing the 2nd lap with Adam! Photo: Elizabeth Simak
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10km skate overall men’s podium! Photo: Elizabeth Simak

The last day of the Lost Nation Cup was a 15km classic mass start race. This is a very exciting format due to the large group of skiers and the short distance. Usually mass start races are kept for 20km and longer so these shorter ones can be quite exciting. I like to keep my race strategies incredibly flexible for mass start races to allow for any changes in pacing and attacks throughout the race, combining those factors with how I feel, snow conditions, ski speed,  course profile etc. I usually like to stay near the front of the race, but not leading much so I don’t waste too much energy. I was able to be in the lead a bit on the first lap and then drafted in 2nd place or so for the next lap. The pace felt a bit conservative due to my excellent skis (thanks Nick!) that were fast on the downhills and amazing kick on the glazed tracks for the climbs. Near the end of the second lap I was feeling like something was going to happen. Zak did a minor acceleration at the top of Screaming Mimi where many of the spectators and coaches are. I tucked in right behind him and we kept the pace a bit faster through the next 600m or so. We had about 2 seconds maybe a bit more to the field, which is not enough time for anyone to be really worried because usually with the accordion of the pack on climbs that gets absorbed quite easily and effortlessly. However I decided to use that. With a spur of the moment decision I decided to make my move. I felt good, my skis were awesome, and we had a hint of a lead on the pack. I did a sprint double pole across the lower field, a speed into the short and steep chip hill so I could double pole half of it or so, ran over the top, and then another double pole speed across the upper field. I could feel the loading in my legs a bit and knew I had to keep this pace up. It was exciting not only to make the move, but to see and hear the cheering of people watch the move being made. I also was nervous. Those kinds of attacks have to be decisive and once made cannot be undone. If I got caught by the pack in such a short race I likely would have had no energy to stay with them as they pass me, sacrificing any chance to hang on. I knew I had to push the next 4km really hard, so I focused on skiing well and not trying to rest in places like I usually do. I pushed the corners hard, crested hills really well, and tucked really low. The pack could draft together to create faster speeds on the descents and work together on the climbs. I felt strong and kept getting splits that Kyle was only 5-6 seconds behind me. I knew I had to keep pushing hard. At the last few climbs I was starting to realize I could really win the race and hold my lead, which is when I really pushed the pace to solidify that reality. Better to hurt now and celebrate later, then ease up now and fight in a sprint to the line. At the lower field I felt confident that I had gained enough time to win the race and eased up just a bit on the last hill. It was an amazing feeling, and I was very happy with my fitness and excited to have such great skis from our wax techs on a tricky day. I always think that wax techs should share the podium with their athletes, this sport is so equipment dependent and the amount of work they put into our skis cannot be overstated.

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Very start of our breakaway acceleration at the end of the second lap! Photo: Elizabeth Simak
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Breaking away from the pack, 5km to go! Photo: John Lazenby
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Taking the win in the 15km classic SuperTour race! Photo: John Lazenby
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15km Classic Podium! Photo: Erica Lustgarten

It felt amazing to ski so well at our home course, in front of home crowds and my parents and girlfriend there to cheer me on! I managed to take the overall SuperTour lead once again, qualifying me for Period IV, which is the new 2020 Scandinavian Ski Tour from Sweden to Norway. It is 6 stages in 10 days, similar to the famous Tour de Ski. I also have a discretionary spot for the Falun World Cup distance race (15km skate mass start) on Sunday Feb 9th and will be flying to Europe soon! Thank you to all of my supporters and those who have helped me this year!

2020 US National Championships!

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.

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US Nationals Skate Sprint quarterfinal heat. Photo: Reese Brown

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!

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Trying to get that precious oxygen during the 15km skate. Photo: Reese Brown

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.

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Pushing to the finish! Photo: Skinnyski.com
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Rocking that kick double pole to the line! Photo: Skinnyski.com

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.

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Classic sprint quarterfinal with Braden and Andy’s effective track change! Photo: Reese Brown

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!

First SuperTours – Canmore and Sun Valley!

The first SuperTours of the year went well! First stop was picturesque Canmore, Alberta. I love Canmore, as do most skiers I feel like due to the gorgeous surrounding mountains, usually perfect sunshine and perfectly groomed nordic ski trails. We got to Canmore about 7 days out from the first races in order to acclimate to the ~5200ft altitude.

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The most supportive parents ever!
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Gorgeous Canmore views!

The race weekend was a mini-tour style: skate sprint Friday, 10km classic race Saturday, and 15km skate race Sunday. I felt pretty solid on the fun sprint course, and snuck in qualifying 25th. It is fun combining the US and Canadian skiers in these races because it doubles the depth of the field at least! I was 11th American after qualifying 25th. I got a bit boxed out in my quarterfinal and didn’t have room to move up in the heat before the final downhill and sprint.

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Qualifying 25th in the Canmore skate sprint! Photo: Doug Stephen

The next day was a 10km classic race individual start. The 10/15km classic races are one of my favorite ever since back in college. The course in Canmore is very challenging with long steep climbs and swooping descents. We did 3 laps of 3.3km for the mens race and the course profile combined with the altitude and changing snow condition proved for a good hard race. I went out a bit faster than I possibly should have done, and had good splits in the top 3 for the first lap and a half. I started to fade a bit on the second half of the race and lost a bit of kick throughout the race, and finished 3rd overall! Still a solid result on a tough course.

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Mens Classic 10km podium! Photo: Pepa Miloucheva
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Hammering up the long climb! Photo: Bryan Fish

The last Canmore race was a 15km skate race on a cold sunny morning. After the 10km classic race I decided to pace the 15km much better. I went out quick but stayed relaxed and very light on the long steep climbs. I think my time split at the first time check a few km in the race was 26th or something. I felt good the first half of the race and then pushed the last 2 laps really hard, and with some extra energy on the last few climbs I pulled away and was able to win the race by 0.8 seconds!

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Pacing the 15km skate in Canmore! Photo: Weymuller Photography
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Pushing hard to the line to take the win in the mens 15km skate race! Photo: Doug Stephen

The following weekend was the SuperTour in Sun Valley, Idaho. The last time I was in Sun Valley was when I left the Gold Team back in spring of 2016.

The first race at Sun Valley was a classic sprint. It was a classic Sun Valley day: gorgeous blue skies and temperature rising into the low 30s. The qualifier felt pretty decent for a good hard course and I qualified in 8th. Usually I feel pretty weak, tired, and nervous before the quarterfinals. I’m a bit used to it now, but I still am working out how to feel better before the heats. I went out a bit fast in my heat and surprisingly got in the lead. I tried to control the pace up the first climb and then was passed on the first downhill into the second longer climb. I pushed hard with Utah skier Noel and finished comfortably in 2nd place in my heat, moving on to the semi finals! Somehow I felt even worse before my semifinal, legs and arms shaking from fatigue, heart rate high just walking around, etc. I got in the lead on the first climb again, yet slipped to third place before the 2nd climb. I tried to push hard but stayed in third in my heat and just barely missed out on lucky loser and did not move on to the A Final. I finished 7th overall for the day.

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Pushing the 2nd climb in the quarterfinal with Noel. Photo: Doug Stephen

The following day was a 15km skate race on a tough altitude course. There was a small climb out of the start then a lot of grueling flat and gradual climbs with little rest. I tried to ski light and smooth, conserving energy and pacing appropriately for the altitude like I did in Canmore’s 15km skate race last weekend. However, my legs felt heavy and flooded and I had very little energy to push hard through the middle and end. I finished in a disappointing 6th place, only 0.4 seconds from my 4th place, which is always a tough pill to swallow. However it was an excellent day for our team, the GRP mens team had all 4 skiers in the top 10!

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Mens 15km skate podium! I finished 6th and Adam finished 4th. Photo: Pepa Miloucheva

Finally we could return to sea level after a few weeks at altitude. It was time to head back for the holidays and fine tuning for US National Championships in Houghton, MI.

After the first two weekends of the US SuperTour, I was able to obtain the overall male SuperTour lead, which qualified me for Period II World Cup starts for the US Ski Team: the Tour de Ski. However, considering my experience last year and how long it took me to recover from the Tour (sickness mostly), I decided it would be best for my personal goals and season to compete at US Nationals instead of the prestigious Tour de Ski.

Summer Mountain Bike Racing and Trail Running!

The summer has come and gone again in a flurry of activity, training, and some recovery squeezed in here and there. I competed in the same New England mountain bike race series this summer as last year called the Bubbatrophy Series. It is such a great event with awesome competition. I progressed much faster and raced better this year which was a nice surprise considering how little I bike in the spring due to late ski racing and resting in April. I also jumped into a local Vermont trail running half marathon which I will describe a bit later on! I raced more this summer than I usually do, which possibly led to a bit lower training volume, but feeling better at higher intensities and just mixing up training nicely.

The first Bubbatrophy race I competed in was the second race of the series, I missed the first one to see my girlfriend on her birthday in Wisconsin. The first race I did was in New Hampshire and was a tough one on the legs. The early races are always very challenging for me because I do not have the strength or power in my legs for cycling, in addition to carrying some extra spring time weight probably. I find that cyclists go out incredibly fast on the start in order to get a good position before the singletrack, and my off-the-line power is not high until around August. I paced the race well I thought and fought for 11th place in the Pro Mens category. It was a fun race, getting the skills back and engine going again.

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Landing a touch off camber in the Bear Brook Pro Mens race. Photo: State Nine Racing facebook

In addition to the summer training routine of running, biking, and weight lifting, we had a few long and challenging rollerski workouts that we started to incorporate 3-4 times a week. Luckily for us, we had amazing weather for most of the summer in Vermont and enjoyed dry and cool days.

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Starting to feel stronger after a 3.5 hour double pole to Lake Willoughby! Photo: Pepa

I had the opportunity to coach three clinics throughout the summer in partner with Skirack for the Mansfield Nordic Ski Club at the Jericho Range this summer. The first clinic was for skate skiing specifically working on timing, coordination, and power for V2. The second clinic was focused solely for double poling technique over varying terrain and the final clinin in August was for working on V1. Luckily the Jericho Range had all the terrain we needed to focus on all our technique changes and it was a fun and rewarding time working with the next generation of nordic skiers. They picked up on the technique incredibly fast and was great to see them improve over a few short weeks.

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Talking technique to the Mansfield Nordic Club! Photo: Sara Falconer
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Loving this groups’ attitude! NO LIMITS! Photo: Sara Falconer

My second Bubbatrophy mountain bike race was at Highland Bike Park in New Hampshire. It was a brutal race with 6 short laps including a long climb up the downhill mountain bike trails on the mountain. I didn’t get a photo of this race, but worked my way up from 2nd to last (a terribly slow start for me) up to 4th place overall in the Mens Pro category! It was a breakthrough race with solid pacing and a strong last 3 laps that gave me confidence to go much harder in the remainder of the summer.

A few weeks later I competed in my third Bubbatrophy mountain bike race in Ascutney Vermont. It was a hot and humid day racing 3 tough laps on the side of a downhill ski mountain. Luckily I was hydrating properly, but I don’t know that any athlete didn’t encounter serious discomfort from the heat and humidity. I personally had a headache for the last lap and I know I was not the only one. I had a breakthrough race again, I was able to stay with the lead pack in the beginning (which surprised me) and worked through a few bikers and had strength to push the climbs in the last 1.5 laps to get 2nd in the Mens Pro race! It was awesome having Elizabeth there to cheer me on and help with feed bottles during this hot race, best support crew out there!

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Fighting to the line! Photo: Ansel Dickey
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Podium ceremony with these awesome riders! Photo: Ansel Dickey

The next weekend I decided to do a local Vermont trail running half marathon at Paine Mountain in Norwich. I admittedly have never been to Paine Mountain, but it was a great venue with fun singletrack trails and hiking trails all over the mountain. I competed in the half marathon option in order to have the intensity last between 1.5 and 2h hopefully. Elizabeth came with me and decided that week to jump into the 10km trail race as well! She of course won the overall womens 10km race, and was 2nd overall in the 10km! I went out at a solid hard pace but was promptly dropped on the first summit of Paine Mountain. I decided to work the descents and save a bit of energy running the climbs as fast as I could L3. At the bottom of the mountain going up for a second time I caught the race leader and put in a bit of a surge to get some distance, and was able to take the overall win and new course record! It was a tough race, but fun and I love trail running due to the inconsistent nature of the terrain and mix of climbing and descending. It was also great to see some of my sponsors at the event promoting the best outdoor gear you can get: Leki, Julbo, Skirack, and Altra running shoes!

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Enjoying some sun and elevation gain at the race! Photo: Mike Burch
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Grabbing the W in the mens half marathon! Photo: Mike Burch

It wouldn’t be a complete summer of racing without doing a rollerski race! The GRP competed in the App Gap rollerski race in late July. Unfortunately for me the 5th Bubbatrophy mountain bike race was the next day in Massachusetts, but Elizabeth and I made it work! I didn’t feel amazing for the rollerski race, so I decided to stay in the pack and feel out the pace, see if I could hang and how it would unravel. I stayed with Simi and Adam to the classic ski exchange, and tried to pull away a bit near the top of the gap. Simi and I had a nice little battle but he quickly surged with 150m to go or so, and put 12 seconds on me with ease. It was a nice tough race and good to test the skiing fitness.

 

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Chasing the legend near the top! Photo: Elizabeth Simak

That afternoon Elizabeth and I drove down to Massachusetts to visit my old GRP teammate Corey! It was a perfect distance only about 30min from the race venue. I tried my best to hydrate and recover for another hot race, but my legs were aching during the warm up anyway. I tried to go out hard in the Pro Mens race to stay with the lead pack. I started in 2nd but was bumped back to 6th by the singletrack. I managed to work my way up to 3rd and bike with my mentor and friend Jake Hollenbach who I rode with for a while. I managed to find some recovery in the endless twisty singletrack and pushed to try and close some time to the winner and finished 2nd again! It was a solid race, I pushed very hard on the 2nd lap, and faded a bit on the 3rd but just focused on maintaining momentum and consistent effort to keep the silver.

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Finishing hard during a technical race! Photo: Elizabeth Simak
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2nd in the Pro Mens race Bubbatrophy #5! Photo: Elizabeth Simak

A few weekends passed with some glorious Vermont weather. We all were worried about a heat wave similar to last year, but we never got the full brunt of it, just a few weekends. During one of the nice weekends Elizabeth and I got out for a gorgeous hike up Mt. Mansfield. Certainly no hills like that in Wisconsin!

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Perfect Vermont summer day!

The second to last mountain bike race that I did was the Craftsbury VT30! The original VT3 stage race had to be shortened due to lack of registration, but the awesome folks at Craftsbury (Sheldon and Ollie) made up a sweet and unbelievably challenging 15 mile course. I opted for the 2-lap. I thought it would be around 2.5 hours of solid racing, but it ended up being much harder. Jake Hollenbach brought along some great local riders with him, so the field was pretty stacked. They went out much faster than I had hoped, with Cooper Wilsey attacking in the first few miles. My legs almost blew up before the first feed zone about 3 times. I thought it may be a tough race from that start, combined with the technical sections I knew were ahead of us and the severe humidity that day. Cooper was gone pretty soon, and there was a small gap to Nick, and then to Sam and Jake and I. Jake had a crash and flat, and then Nick got a flat about half way. Sam did some work on the flat sections and climbs that was too much for my legs to handle. I could barely catch him in the singletrack before he pulled away from me. With my legs cramping at 1.5 hours and 10 miles to go, it was going to be a tough day. Needless to say, I bonked and cramped with about 3 miles to go and lost 5 minutes to Sam, held onto 3rd place, but not feeling super good. My legs cramped so bad by the end I had to hobble off the bike to get some water. Good hard effort, and harder course than it looks!

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Leading eventual 2nd place Sam Noel into the descent! Photo: Elizabeth Simak

The final Bubbatrophy race was the 2nd day of racing of the Julbo Eastern Grind held at Catamount in Williston, VT. I was hoping to stay closer to the consistent Pro Mens winner of the summer in this race. I had a decent start out in 2nd place, but by the singletrack I was more in 6th position. Due to a technical climb, I was held up in the pack while the leaders got away. I managed to work my way up to 4th and then finally 3rd place by the last lap. I had a small crash on a rocky section in the woods, which bent my derailleur hanger. My shifting was all off and making truly awful noises that no biker likes to hear, but I made it work all the while seeing riders close the gap behind me. I luckily had enough of a lead on 4th to keep 3rd place behind the usual Bubbatrophy Pro Mens winner all summer Logan, and Nick Lando, a rider who raced well in the Pro UCI race the day before.

I managed to finish 2nd overall in the Pro Mens category in the series for the summer, which I am really happy and proud of! Not only was it a great day for racing and great result, but Elizabeth, both my parents, my twin brother (who was in town for a wedding), a best friend from high school and his girlfriend, and some other friends came to watch and cheer! What a way to end my xc biking season. I may jump into a few more this fall, but none that I am signed up for yet.

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Finishing the season with 3rd place in the Pro Mens race, 2nd overall in the Series! Photo: Eric Lustgarten

Next stop: Europe! The GRP ski team will be traveling to Oberhof, Germany and Ramsau, Austria to get on snow in September in order to prepare for the season.

Stay tuned for some equipment updates and a post about the snow training camp!

World Cups World Championships and Spring Series

After the Tour de Ski my body was fed up with all of the racing and travel and decided to force me into some much needed rest. I got very sick and was in bed in Seefeld for about 5 days. I unfortunately had to miss the first World Cup races for Period II, the sprint and team sprint in Dresden, Germany. I started skiing while at the training camp in Seefeld before the next two weekends of Period II World Cup in Otepaa, Estonia and Ulricehamn, Sweden. My body was still fatigued and plateaued from the sickness and the stress of the Tour, but I tried to do some light intensity workouts to get ready for the races. The Otepaa classic sprint was just a warm up for the distance race, and did not go very well. I had several small sections that felt good but my result was nothing spectacular.

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Trying to crank up a long climb in Otepaa! Photo: Hosula Photography

My final stop for Period II World Cup was Ulricehamn, Sweden. I heard that the crowds in Sweden are amazing and so I was really excited to see how I could race there, and at sea level again. I still felt plateaued and could not push myself to my maximum capacity during the workouts leading up to the races and in the races themselves. In the 15km skate I felt as if I got to my max on the first flat, and just loaded way too much too early. I tried to stay nice and relaxed but just didn’t have the high end speed or gears to ski fast especially in the softer conditions. The crowds were amazing and it was very fun to race in Ulricehamn.

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15km at Ulricehamn Sweden! Photo: Warner Nickerson

On Sunday it was a 4×7.5km relay. I was the anchor leg of the mens relay. I started out just in front of a few teams and they caught me on the first downhill and uphill section of the course. I tried to hang on with them, but I knew I had to pace even a 7.5km race. I went out fast, but I knew to ski as fast as possible and in order to do that I had to let a few skiers go just a bit ahead of me. I kept them within about 150 meters of me. On my second lap (we did 2 laps of 3.75km) I started to reel in the two teams that passed me on lap one. On the second steeper climb I tried to go as hard as possible and did some hop V1 and actually caught the two skiers at the top of the hill, even surprising myself! I decided to draft them and try to position myself to out sprint them. It was soft snow and faster and easier to ski within the skied in section of the trail. I tried to make a move around the final corner but couldn’t get my toe in front of their boots at the line.

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Final Sprint in 4×7.5km Mens relay Ulricehamn. Screenshot from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbSPw6EK-_I

I flew home to Craftsbury after Ulricehamn in order to rest and recover before World Championships, and also to compete in the SuperTour races to get some more points hopefully. It felt amazing to go back to Craftsbury and get some solid training at sea level. I also got to spend some time skiing with my girlfriend who made the trip to see me in Craftsbury before the SuperTours!

After about a week and a half of Craftsbury rest and training, I finally started feeling a bit better skiing fast. The SuperTours in Minneapolis were pretty fun and I liked the set up with a skate sprint on Friday, 20km classic mass start on Saturday, and 10km skate on Sunday. The courses were much flatter than European courses but still had a lot of work and moderate climbing.

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Skate sprint semi final with my teammate Akeo! Photo: the wonderful Elizabeth Simak

The sprint was a pretty fun day, it was cold but sunny and gorgeous. The course had a nice long flat and slight uphill for a bit, then a steeper climb, twisty downhill, and short steep uphill before a longer downhill finish.

The 20k classic mass start race was a fun race on the winding Wirth trails doing 5 laps of the 3.75km course. The first few laps felt nice and relaxed with a large group of guys shuffling around the front, I decided to do a burst going into the last two laps. I tried to keep up the sprint but noticed that my body was flooding much earlier than I expected. I don’t think my body was quite as recovered or ready for the strong effort just yet. NMU skier Zak Ketterson went with me on my break and we skied the final two laps together, ending in a sprint, which I lost by just a few meters. The 10km skate the next day didn’t feel as good, and it was a very tight race with the top skiers all within a few seconds. I was so happy to have my girlfriend there watching and cheering me on and taking great photos of the races!

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Cruising in the 20k with Zak and Akeo! Photo: Elizabeth Simak

Next stop was World Championships in Seefeld, Austria! I flew out on Monday and arrived Tuesday to prepare for the races the following week.

Seefeld was incredibly sunny and warm for the World Championship races so we got some good T shirt skiing in. Race prep went well in the days before the races, threshold felt pretty good finally and felt a bit faster than the previous weeks.

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T shirt ski first afternoon in Seefeld! Photo: Nick Brown

I unfortunately was not selected to race the 30km skiathlon, so I focused on the 15km classic race.

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Ski testing in Seefeld before the races! 

I felt great in the first half of the 15km classic race. We completed two laps of a 7.5km course, where each lap consisted of 3.75km on the “red” side and 3.75km on the “blue” side. The race was held in the afternoon at 2pm, with direct sunlight and probably 55 degrees F. Luckily we were able to cut the sleeves off of our race suits, and some skiers even opted to just race in the bib only (shoutout to Erik Bjornsen). I went out smooth and relaxed, the first few km consisted of about 5 minutes of consistent climbing in the sun. At the moderate altitude of 3900ft, I knew even a pace even just too fast would be hard to recover and finish strong. My double pole felt surprisingly exhausting and my climbing even though I was just running up the steep climbs, felt slow and laboring. On the second lap I faded a bit, and actually crashed on one of the first fast curvy downhills due to about 8 inches of wet slushy snow that caught my left ski pulling it out from under me.

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Hurting at the top of the long climb on the second lap in the 15km World Championship race. Photo: Reese Brown

I finished feeling like I went as hard as possible, but still not quite at the fitness level I needed to be to get that elusive top 30 result I have been seeking; I finished 45th. The rest of the World Championships week was fun watching the races and preparing as an alternate for the 50km skate, which I was not needed for.

After Seefeld we flew to Oslo, Norway to prepare for the legendary 50km Holmenkollen race. The skiing was incredibly nice up until the day before the race were we got some snow and rain and a whole mix of weather. The tracks were a mix of glazed ice, windblown new snow, and made ski testing relatively pointless considering the conditions would be different the next day.

The Holmenkollen 50km classic race was a mix of challenges. The conditions were tricky, I started out with some zeros that felt good in the warm up. The tracks broke apart and it was about 0 degrees C with some light snow. The zeros were a bit slick but nice and fast. I had trouble staying with the pack after the first lap having to double pole most of the moderate grade climbs. I had some incredibly startling dizziness starting at the beginning of climbing on lap 2. The smoke and crowds combined with the hard effort on the climbs at Frogneseteren seemed to trigger my vertigo pretty badly. I felt really unstable and had a hard time staying upright in the tracks. The dizziness lead to mild nausea which made taking feeds pretty challenging. After lap 2 I swapped skis to some covered klister. The conditions were changing so much and the tracks and snow were getting very soft, sheering easily if the kick was just a bit off. I ended up double poling most of the climbs due to faster skis, sacrificing the kick a bit. The dizziness came back at Frogneseteren again worse this time. On lap 4 I swapped my skis for the final time and got a bit better kick. The dizziness was the worst on lap 4, and I had a hard time staying in the tracks. I also was far off the back of the pack at this point. Due to lack of feeds my arms and lats were seizing and cramping a bit. I decided to drop out of the race at the end of the 4th lap due to the vertigo. I no longer could stay in the tracks, and couldn’t ski the race at all to even the middle of my abilities. I am incredibly disappointed with having to drop out, but I made the choice knowing that is what I needed to do on that day.

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Suffering through tricky conditions at the Holmenkollen. Photo: Denis from the Daily Skier

I came back to Craftsbury to rest and recover. I didn’t train for 5 days after the Holmenkollen due to residual vertigo. It was still another 4 days after that until I could do intensity. This was the longest it took for any vertigo episode to subside, it just lingered with mild dizziness for over a week. After that I started to do more sharpening workouts to prepare for SuperTour finals, the last races of the year.

Before SuperTour finals we went to Quebec City to watch and cheer on our teammates at World Cup Finals! It was an incredibly exciting and fun weekend with the best skiers in the world racing on North American soil. It was also great to see basically all of the New England nordic skiing community out there cheering on the US skiers!

The next stop was Presque Isle, Maine for SuperTour finals. The last time I was in Presque Isle was for 2010 JOs as part of the New England team! The skiing in Presque Isle was incredible. It was cold for the first few days and actually felt like mid winter conditions. Prepping for the races went well doing some short speed work and easy jogs. The first race was a skate sprint. I felt ok on the qualifier and strangely heavy and tired warming up for the quarters. The course was wet from rain and warm temperatures and I stayed in 3rd from the first corner to the finish line, trying unsuccessfully to pass three times during the race, and finished only 0.8 seconds from lucky loser.

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Working the skate sprint qualifier! Photo: Reese Brown

The 15km classic race mass start was a fun race but on pretty icy fast snow. The first 1.5km or so are twisty downhill with one or two really fast corners. The start was delayed 2 hours due to scary fast conditions. The front pack went out fast and I took the downhills a bit conservative. I also opted for more kick for the long striding climbs, so my skis were a touch slower than some others. What I lost in speed I made up on the climbs and maintained contact with the back of the main pack for the first 2 or 3 laps (it was 4 laps of 3.75km) and lost them halfway through the 3rd lap. I was skiing with Kevin for the last lap where he did a great burst of speed on the second to last climb, where I finished in 8th. All in all, a great race for me after a frustrating few months.

The third race in a row was the 4x5km mixed team relay. I was second leg, the mens classic leg. Ida raced a very strong first leg and handed off in 2nd with a pack of other skiers. I skied to the front by the first downhill trying to keep the lead. On the first climb I was swallowed up by the skiers behind me, and I think I made a mistake not asking for more kick on the slick icy/glazed tracks. I had to herring bone too much and lost time, in addition to feeling pretty tired and run down. I lost about 20 seconds or so over 5km and handed off to Caitlin. The next two legs (Caitlin and Akeo) did a phenomenal job reeling in the other teams and finished in a close fight in 4th place!

The final race of the year was the 50km skate US Distance National Championships. I had no expectations or pressure at all, 50km is no my strong distance and I only ever felt good in one 50k race before (2018 Birki). My goal was to stay very relaxed, and let the front pack go if it felt too fast for me. I know enough about myself that if I blow up, the race is basically over, and it can happen early. I also know that I needed to feed a lot, so even though we were doing 10 laps of 5km and there would be plenty of opportunities for a coach to give me feeds, I opted to carry my water bottle with my mixture of Hammer HEED and Endurolyte Extreme powder for the whole race. The main lead pack stuck together at a relaxed pace for the first 3 laps. On lap 4 the leaders picked up the pace just enough to split the field. I stayed behind at a relaxed pace with my teammate Adam and Scott Hill, a Canadian skier. We skied the middle 3 laps together until Scott put a small burst on the bottom of the course when I decided to stay with him. We skied together a lap or two until he dropped me on lap 8. I skied alone but started to feel like I needed to push to the end of the race. My relaxed start and constant feeding kept the cramping at bay, just in my quads. I pushed the last two laps very hard and caught about 6 or 7 skiers who were fading at the end of the race to finish 6th overall in my best 50k of my career!

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Post 50km / 30km distance races = end of 2018-2019 season! 

This season also concludes the ski career of our teammate and friend Ida Sargent. She had an incredible career full of success both domestically and internationally on the world cup and we will dearly miss her fun and loving attitude on the team! Thank you Ida!

Now it is time for some rest and relaxation:)

2019 TOUR DE SKI

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!

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Toblach town square filled with people ready for the Tour de Ski!

Stage 1:

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!

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Ski testing in Toblach’s stadium!

Stage 2:

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.

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Me (bib 55) currently in the painful process of getting dropped by Klaebo’s burst of speed on my last lap about 2.5km from the finish. Screenshot from Skiing Vinnie YouTube recap of stage 2.

Stage 3:

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.

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Switzerland knows how to put on a Tour de Ski stage! Photo: Eli Brown

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.

Stage 4:

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.

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A blurry screenshot from Eurosport lapping through the race course!

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!

Stage 5:

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.

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Screen shot from Skiing Vinnie YouTube replay of Tour de Ski 2019 stage 5. Me going all out in the foreground to not get lapped by these legends!

Stage 6:

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!

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Best supporters came to see me race the last 2 stages in Italy!

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.

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Cruising through the 15km classic stage 6. Photo: Eli Brown

Stage 7:

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.

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Best parents ever!!!
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View of the final climb from across the valley. Photo: David Lustgarten
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The grind never stops. One of the steeper sections. Photo: David Lustgarten
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The feeling of victory. Screenshot from Skiing Vinnie YouTube replay of stage 7.

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.

 

Fall SuperTours!

The ski season started for the Green Racing Project where it usually does in the US: West Yellowstone, Montana. We flew out to Yellowstone after two mini training camp weeks on snow in Foret Montmorency, Quebec. Adjusting to the altitude in West Yellowstone is always pretty tough, being around 6700ft. As always the Green Team tries to compete in the West Yellowstone Ski Festival FIS skate race, 5km for the ladies and 10km for the guys to warm up for the following weekends’ Supertours. It usually lands on day 4 of being at altitude which makes it a nice and painful wake up call for the season. I felt ok for the race but really just focused on going as hard as possible and truly dive into the pain cave. I was very happy to be able to win the race and it gave me a bit of confidence not only about my abilities but my skis for the next weekend.

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Racing 10k in Yellowstone! Photo: Ian Harvey
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Podium ceremony! Photo: Pepa Miloucheva

The following week was spent skiing on the minimal snow that West Yellowstone had and prepping for the Supertour races. The first race was a skate sprint on the flat twisting course where you only have to V2, which I much prefer to hop V1 in a sprint. I was happy to qualify 4th in the sprint. The quarterfinal went smoothly where I placed 1st or 2nd in my heat after drafting 1st for most of the course. The semifinal was much more intense I skied from the back of the pack to 3rd in a fast heat. I managed to get lucky loser along with my old Middlebury teammate Adam Luban who was 4th in my semi. My strategy for the A Final was to go out really hard and get a good position to try and control the pace and respond to moves. I managed to sneak in right behind Newell and stay behind him until the last hill. He put on a nice burst before the final climb and put some distance on me but I managed to maintain 2nd place to the finish!

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Yellowstone Supertour Sprint podium! Photo: Pepa Miloucheva
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Hugging fellow ex Middlebury College ski teammate Adam Luban after the A Final! Screenshot from replay video on US Ski and Snowboard facebook page.

Sunday’s race was a 15km skate individual start. It was incredibly cold in the morning but warmed up to moderately chilly temps by race start. My skis have never felt so good, thanks to Pepa and Ollie and Brian! I went out fast and smooth trying to get as much glide and recovery as possible. On the climbs I tried to stay nice and springy but also not blow up. My plan was to just go as hard as I could but stay relaxed, and focus on pushing the first 2km of each 5k lap because that is the hardest part of the course. I left it all out there and faded in the last few hundred meters, but managed to win by just over 3 seconds!

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WY 15km podium. Photo: Pepa Miloucheva

The next day we traveled to Silverstar in British Columbia. I felt surprisingly good after the travel day and got a bit excited doing strength Tuesday afternoon. I thought I was doing light weight squats and lunges, but I don’t think I lifted properly since before the Yellowstone races and got surprisingly sore. I was doing everything I could to reduce the soreness by race weekend but the sprint was still a bit uncomfortable. I did well and made it through to the A final but lost my energy and got last in the final.

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Battling in the A Final! Photo: Bryan Fish

The second race that weekend was a 15km classic race, one of my favorite races. I still was fighting fatigue and soreness, which was my own fault, but managed to race pretty well. I went out smooth and fast but my legs were loading more than I expected on the climbs and I felt the altitude when I tried to double pole hard to crest the climbs. I kept getting back splits that Kyle was within a few seconds of my time, but I faded a touch on the last lap and got 2nd by about 3 seconds.

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2nd in the 15km classic in Silverstar! Photo: Pepa Miloucheva

Overall this was by far my most successful start to any ski season! I took my training a bit more relaxed this summer and fall, and trained a bit less, so I did not know what to expect. I was happy to be able to race hard and within myself and still have great and fun results.

After a week of rest and seeing my girlfriend in the midwest, I had one more weekend of racing the Craftsbury Eastern Cup before I flew out to compete in the 2019 Tour de Ski! This Eastern Cup was to be one of the largest ever attended with the great snow in Craftsbury. The sprint was fun and even with a dreadful rainfall, Craftsbury still pulled off amazing conditions. I made it through to the A Final and got a bit boxed out on the last climb and skied to 5th with some very fast college kids in the mix. It was fun to race the eastern college skiers and Canadians again! The best part of the weekend was having my parents and my twin brother and best friend from high school come watch the race as they were home for the holidays.

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Eastern Cup A Final! Photo: Eric Lustgarten

My energy was fading throughout the rounds but I decided to do the 10km skate race the next day anyway as a good hard effort. The weather normalized a bit and it was cool and sunny for the 10k. I went out nice and fast and was surprised by how well my legs were handling the climbs, sea level felt amazing after all those weeks at altitude. I honestly don’t think I have ever skied a distance race feeling that good. I managed to secure the win and felt great that day!

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Cruising through the 10km skate Eastern Cup! Photo: Eric Lustgarten
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10km Eastern Cup podium! Photo: Eric Lustgarten

The best part of the weekend was spending time with the whole family which only happens on snow a few times a year at most!

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Photo: Andrew Freeman

Next stop: Tour de Ski!

 

New Zealand Round 2

In late August the CGRP nordic team made our way halfway around the world to get on snow in New Zealand again! This was my second trip to Middle Earth and the skiing conditions and weather was even better than last year. We spent the first few days acclimating to the 16 hour time change and doing some fun dryland training runs in and around Wanaka before going up to the Snow Farm and doing some serious hours on snow.

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First afternoon jog looking over the town of Wanaka.
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Finding snow

 

Trying to take more animal selfies, Caitlin captured the epic moment!

The skiing was incredible this year with amazing snow conditions, beautiful weather, and excellent grooming. We tried to ski twice a day working on speeds, transferring all the hard technique work we did all summer onto snow, and some interval workouts. We also had the chance to jump in the 2018 New Zealand Winter Games races: a 10km skate race, skate sprint, and 15km mass start classic race. The field was small, but pretty deep considering how much of the US Ski Team, Craftsbury GRP, Stratton Mountain team, and some of the Japanese National Team was there.

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Akeo enjoying the first day on snow!!
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Working on that good ol’ fashioned classic skiing. Photo: Akeo
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NZ Winter Games 10km skate podium 3rd place! Photo: Matt Whitcomb
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NZ Winter Games skate sprint final (ended up 4th to these fast guys). Photo: Matt Whitcomb
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Herring bone run in the 15km mass start! Ended up 3rd again! Photo: Pepa Miloucheva
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Finding peace during our long OD crust cruises with Akeo and Cailtin! Photo: Caitlin Patterson
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Looking out over the valley during a long sunny crust cruise!

The New Zealand camp was an incredible experience. I did not do as well in the races as last year, but that was kind of part of my plan for this season. I thought I was a bit too fast too early last year so I have been tweaking my training. I did not feel as fast in NZ but still was working on fitness and technique! I hope it works out later on when it matters 😉

Next training block is surviving the cold rainy fall that Vermont loves to dish out in October and November, then on to West Yellowstone for the US SuperTours.

Just to explain to all of my supporters, I decided to turn down the Period I World Cup starts I was offered by the US Ski Team in order to try and qualify for Period II via US SuperTour points. While this is a gamble and definitely not a guarantee, I feel I have a better chance at Period II qualification by racing in the US and also better chance of 2019 World Championships qualification by staying in the US for Period I.

Summer Training Grind and bike racing

This summer has been the standard whirlwind of too much sweat and a bit of blood and not too many tears. As all Vermonters know, it was way too hot to have a comfortable training season and we all look forward to colder weather in the fall and winter. I decided to break up the standard training routine of running and roller-skiing with a bit more biking in order to reduce chance of injury and also increase my efficiency of power output from my legs. Running is, I think, one of the most efficient ways to increase fitness for the amount of time put in. However I think that skiing, skate skiing specifically, is becoming a bit more power-focused with strong pushes and long glide phases.

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May trail running on the Long Trail with furry friends! Photo: Caitlin Patterson

I joined the local Burlington cycling team 1K2GO in order to take bike racing a bit more seriously this summer. I also invested in a new racing mountain bike with the generous help of Skirack and Specialized! As much as I loved my aluminum 140mm travel full suspension trail bike that I had the last two years, it was not quite the quickest ride on the local XC race circuit. I replaced it this past season with a Specialized Epic full suspension xc racing bike, which is an incredibly fast and capable bike. As part of 1K2GO I wanted to race the local NE pro mountain bike series – Bubbatrophy Mountain Bike Series.

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My first mountain bike race of the season in New Hampshire! Photo: Bear Brook Classic

I generally see myself as a decent all around athlete who is overall pretty fit and strong. I love challenging myself by trying new sports and testing myself against other athletes. I by no means am a bike racer and don’t ride my bike until April usually. It was shocking how fast cyclists can go and maintain such a high power output. I was dropped and in dead last at my first mountain bike race for at least the first 2 miles, and I was pedaling as hard as I could on a carbon race bike! I was so impressed by the fitness and leg strength of these riders that I knew I had to keep training and riding more so I could try and compete by the end of the summer when I finally get my cycling legs stronger.

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Getting a bit faster at the Gnar Weasels race in southern Vermont! Photo: Meg McMahon

Of course as much as I love riding my bike, I still did the standard strength training, running, and roller-skiing that nordic skiers can’t seem to get enough of.

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Running the Hillstead Half Marathon with Raleigh! Photo: Lazenby Photography

I even ran a half marathon trail race through the woods around Craftsbury. I ran the race mostly threshold with the new GRP biathlete Raleigh.

The GRP skiers took part in a mid summer training camp in Lake Placid with some of the US Ski Team and Stratton team to work on our speed together. It was a short but productive camp with a fun sprint simulation workout at the jump complex and a fun OD run/hike in the Adirondacks.

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Sprint simulation with SMS team following the speedy Ben Saxton! Photo: Matt Whitcomb
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Cruising through Catamount singletrack at Julbo Eastern Grind. Photo: David Lustgarten

The Julbo Eastern Grind mountain bike race took place at the end of July at Catamount that brought a bit larger of a crowd than most races. It was a fun event but I think I was a bit dehydrated on that day to feel good enough to be competitive. Still a great event that local cycling legend Jake Hollenbach took the win at in the Pro Race! Jake is always a threat in any bike race and has helped me with my bike racing set up and strategy this whole summer!

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I wrapped up the summer with the VT3 Mountain Bike race organized by the incredible guys at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. This race is a non-traditional 3-day mountain bike stage race in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. The first stage is a short ~5 mile paired start time trial in the woods of Hardwick on Friday afternoon. The following stage is a brutally long (~2.5 hour) xc race on the enduro trails of Victory near Burke. And the last stage is a 20 mile xc race on the fun and newly renovated trails at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center!

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Staying focused on the long Victory xc stage of the VT3! Photo: Christopher Williams

The first stage of the VT3 I think I burped and flatted my rear tire cornering too hard and had to jog my bike in. It was a frustrating start to a stage that I actually felt very fast on. The second day I took more conservatively due to my epic blow up last year, so I immediately lost the leaders and biked mostly alone for the duration of the race finishing 7th for the day. On the last day I started fast with the leaders mostly because I knew the trails. I still struggled to keep up with the top guns on any climb more than 60 seconds but due to the twisty nature of Craftsbury’s trails and how well I knew them I could stay in contact for most of the race. I had a strong second lap and finished 3rd on the day!

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Staying focused on lap 2 of stage 3 of the VT3! Photo: Wes Vear

The next week we got ready to go to New Zealand for some quality on-snow training and racing!