Turkish non-delight

Unfortunately my first experience in Turkey was definitely not a good one. Here’s a top tip for you. If you are going to lose your passport, Turkey is definitely not the place to do it! Ok, well losing your passport in any country is far from ideal, however for three solid days, I went to hell and back to sort out the biggest muff up of my life. I was certainly extremely fortunate to have the Australian Unigames crew to help, in particular Helen Bryson and Daniel Tackenberg.

So to clarify what actually happened, we are still unsure as to whether it was lost or stolen. I had it as I boarded the plane in Istanbul as I needed to show it along with my ticket. I am then almost certain that I put it in the pocket of the seat in front of me, however when I went to get it as I got off the plane, it was no-where to be seen. I can pretty much guarantee that it was not on the plane because I spent the next 15-20min searching every little gap and floor space where it could have fallen with a heart sinking lack of success. The only thing that was lucky about the situation was that it happened between a domestic flight meaning I had no trouble at the airport, but the thought that I could be stuck here for a very long time was extremely depressing.

The next two days were spent stressing and making many phone calls with a lot of help from Helen and Daniel. The most frustrating part of the whole process was the Turkish way of getting things done. This was overwhelmingly evident whilst trying to get the police report done. I left at 2.30pm to go to local police station and even this relatively simple task took until 6.00pm to finally get it done! Let’s just say they are extremely big fans of passing you off to the next person, who then follows suit. This meant after a ridiculous amount of referrals, which resulted in walking across a massive portion of the city, we finally met the right person, but unfortunately we seemed to be interrupting a ‘meeting’ which from our perspective looked a lot like a Turkish tea party and were told to come back 1 hour later. I won’t go to all details but essentially we dropped off Georgia and Phil back at the athlete’s village, and then I was convinced by the attaché that we had enough time to fix another issue involving team mobiles which turned into a huge shemozzle including losing our driver (who we finally found at a bar drinking tea) and only just made it back to the police office in time!

On Thursday, Helen and I then had to fly to Ankara (2 hours away) which was a 5.30am start, and right from the word go there was huge doses of drama resulting in the most stressful day of my life. So we had arranged for a driver to meet us and drive us to the airport at 6am, however he was a no-show. I then went to the organisers who didn’t have another car available, but managed a full sized coach to take the two of us. We were lucky to not have too many problems checking in without my passport and just made the flight. My first near death experience came when we got a taxi from the airport to the Australian Embassy. This was quite an old, worn out Fiat driven by a driver with a death wish! On the freeway with a speed limit of 120, we got up to 170, and I was genuinely convinced the car was going to rattle itself to pieces.

Once we got to the embassy, we were given the information that it would be unlikely that I would be able to continue travelling to Norway, Sweden and Finland on an emergency passport and that I would have to stay and extra week here in Turkey whilst a full passport is processed. This was a huge blow for me and I was having a lot of trouble dealing with this very unfortunate situation. After a few phone calls to consulates, it now appears I will be able to get to Norway, to where I should then be able to have a full passport processed which is obviously a huge relief.

The taxi ride home was still not very safe with lots of speeding, but the main problem came when we arrived at the airport to find that our 2pm flight had been cancelled. The next available flight was then apparently not until 6.45pm despite there being another one on the departure board at 4.00pm. After very unsuccessful nagging, we were told this flight was full. Still not convinced, we then rang Dan who managed to find out this was actually a chartered flight to World University Games for the VIP, and we managed to get onto the right people who allowed us to book a ticket. It did then take a lot of convincing to let us on the plane as we were the only ones not suited up, which meant we were very close to missing this flight as well.

Once on the flight we were proud that we had finally gotten through the day, but unfortunately that was not the case. 15min before landing, we were told that we were going to turn back to Ankara because the airport at Erzerum was closed and the conditions were too bad to land. This was the major disheartening event of the month as the following day I was meant to be racing the 10km classic. After circling around for quite some time we get another call that would be landing, but to expect a rough landing. Rough was a bit of an understatement! The turbulence was a lot worse than anything than I’ve ever experienced, and the run-way hadn’t been cleared so even with reverse thrust amped all the way up, we still had to use a lot of brakes making us slide quite a lot. This was the 2nd near death experience of the day.

So with this all as a lead up to the first two races of the championships, I have been feeling far from on top of my form. To add to this, the trails are right on, maybe even slightly over the FIS elevation limit of 1750m, and this can be felt by everyone. In addition, the athlete’s village is even higher at close to 2000m meaning recovery is very minimal and sleeping at night is extremely disturbed. Consequently, I haven’t been very content with my first two performances with the 10km classic being extremely difficult and just missing the finals in the Sprint yesterday. I was 36th in the Classic and 35th in the Sprint. Tomorrow is the 15km Pursuit so I really am hoping that I can ski to a similar standard to what I have been in the past few World Cups.

In terms of the atmosphere in the athlete’s village, it has all been very enjoyable so far. We have a great team here this year and it’s been great to meet athletes from such a wide range of nationalities.

Otepaa 15km Classic World Cup

Today’s race was reasonable, but I was definitely hoping for more. It was a tough 5km loop with a very large climb in the middle part of the course which was then followed by a long fast downhill, which should have been good for recovery. Unfortunately however, the major factor that I lacked today was good recovery on the downhills. I had a good first lap and felt quite strong and confident going through the stadium. The middle and end section of the second lap was very difficult. I managed to catch the Latvian skier who started in front of me, however I too was struggling slightly especially up the major climb. For the final lap, I managed to regain some strength and maintain a similar ranking to what I had gained in the first lap.

At the finish I was 64th, 13% behind the leader with 104FIS pts. So very similar to my other distance results this season so I can’t really be disappointed, and it was actually my best result in terms of percentage of field. I am just hoping that I can see a gain in form for the upcoming World University Games in Turkey. Esther and I leave for Turkey on Monday and I’ve got to say that I am very excited for these championships. I’ve never been to that part of the world before, but I’m looking forward to some racing where I will be a bit more competitive. I have raced nothing other than World Cups this season, so it will be good to have a short break from it to see what results I can produce in Turkey.

I would also just like to mention and thank Swix as they are my newest sponsor with free Triac poles. I received the poles today and raced with them straight up. To begin with I thought that there would be very little difference between the old Star CT1’s, however I was amazed at how good they felt to ski with. They swing well, are definitely stiffer and the interchangeable basket system is a smart, convenient solution. Now I’m not just saying this for Swix’s sake. If anyone is considering buying new poles, definitely give the new Triac’s some consideration as they truly are a step up and I feel they would be worth the extra expense if they are in your budget. See http://www.swixtriac.com/ for more info.

Liberec Team Sprint

Unfortunately, the Liberec Sprint was not followed up by a successful Team Sprint. I can take full blame for this with a large crash on the very first downhill. Mark skied his first leg solidly then tagged off to me. I then skied strong up the first climb with the pack, but was then caught out by the very soft conditions on the steep, sharp downhill corner. In my defence, the conditions were very difficult with temperatures of around +7°C and shin deep slush on the corners. I caught an edge and tried to recover which was a big mistake. I should have just gone down there and then whilst still on the course, instead I found myself heading straight towards the fence and off the track, which is really not good when the track is built up with man-made snow and no snow off the track. In panic, I tried to step quickly but caught a boot in the soft snow and went headfirst, backwards through the fence and off the track. This provided quite the show as apparently on the TV, the pack went through, then there was me entering the screen sliding headfirst through the fence. Not my proudest of moments by any stretch, but at least I wasn’t the only one with 3 or so others having the same problems on that corner.

As a temporary concern, I hit my head on something hard which turned out to be a shovel and banged up my wrist which I injured before the start of the season whilst rollerskiing. So to be sure, Finn and I went to the Medical centre which turned out to be a mistake, not for me, but for Finn. Turned out I was fine with no concussion but whilst trying to convince the Doctor that an x-ray on the wrist wasn’t necessary, Finn randomly comes out with ‘oh, I just got really light headed’. Now this isn’t the first time this exact scenario has occurred! 2008, in Albury Hospital after quite a nasty cycling accident, despite not remembering very much from that entire day, I distinctly remember Finn saying these exact words and having to leave the room and recover on a chair. This time, Finn starts stumbling out the doorway and the man suggesting my wrist could be broken is offering no help. So seeing that Finn is about to go down I rush over and keep him upright and guide him to a seat on a log outside. In the end Finn was looking very green, but fine otherwise after another unexplained fainting session. It did turn out that he came down with a bad cold so maybe that has something to do with it…

After a day or so my wrist had settled down and training in Otepaa for this weekend, was exceptionally uneventful but went well.

Liberec Sprint World Cup

I have nothing against the Czech Republic, in fact I quite like the place with its friendly people and historic looks, but it sure is good at putting on some glum weather. I remember two years ago, when we spent two weeks here in Liberec for World Champs and I did not see the sun once! Two days ago we arrived and we have pretty much had a solid two days of miserable tropical weather with temperatures of up to +7 and lots of rain. It was so warm in fact an enormous toad found itself on the ski tracks this afternoon, most likely thinking to itself ‘wow spring came round quick!’ I should however mention that the sun did pop out on the odd occasion today and it really was a good sight.

With these unfriendly ski racing conditions, the track was heavily salted in an attempt to try and keep the snow firm, which worked very well. If it weren’t for this my result today would have most likely been horrible.  I’ll admit straight away, I’m useless at skiing in deep slushy condition, so it was a real relief when I found the tracks were holding up nicely. Today I skied a Personal Best for sprinting in terms of FIS points and percentage behind. I was around 8.9% off the lead with 107 FIS points and came in at 60th place. The field today was strange. Only 14 seeded starters, but plenty of very handy sprinters with almost no distance skiers (apart from me) as most are taking time off after the Tour.

Read more

TdS Final Climb

There is no question that there is a very strong feeling of relief to have completed the tour. Unfortunately, it was not the final climb performance that I was hoping for. I had a very good start and was ahead of 10 or so athletes up the first two climbs, and this gave me a good confidence boost. Everything turned around unfortunately once the first downhill came with everyone except for one passing me. It was then a struggle to hold onto the pack through the stadium and then after the next small downhill I lost contact. I then spent the next 4km down the valley trying to lose as minimal time as possible, however this was a very difficult task given the speed of my skis. Never in my life have I craved the start of a massive hill before!

I knew once I started the climb I could then begin trying to make up lost time. Overall I felt really quite good up the hill and managed to pull in quite a lot of the time I had lost on Francois. From the previous day I had a 1min 12s advantage over him, and it was one of the toughest things to see him so close in terms of distance, but the time it was taking to cover this distance was disturbingly long. The pain was certainly there, however it was quite different to the usual. The strain on the muscles was relentless with such a steep ascent and no rest. In fact the switch backs which added more distance were a thing to look forward to. They didn’t really provide much rest but at least it relieved some of the strain temporarily.

With 300m to go, Jeff gave me my final split. I had almost bridged the gap between myself and Francois to the required 1min 12s. I then gave it my final burst with the overhanging Viesmann banner in sight. Unfortunately this wasn’t the finish line with another 200m to go. Now this doesn’t seem like much but after you have given it your final efforts, it’s very difficult to sustain it for a longer period than you were first anticipating! This was the relief I was talking about once I had crossed the line.

After more than 5 hours of racing and over 102km, of the 75 athletes who started the tour, I was 36th overall, just 4s off Francois in 35th. It was slightly disappointing that I was so close to 35th, however I knew that with good skis on the final climb I would have been able to achieve this. As you are all aware, there are always a couple of races every season where you have bad skis. This happens in all the teams, and even the big nations who have far greater numbers of servicemen and far higher budgets get it wrong some days. I was the youngest athlete to finish the tour this year and I am very proud to have completed this highly respected event. I would like to personally thank Finn and Jeff so much for devoting so much of their time towards helping me achieve this goal, as it means a lot to me.

I have now arrived in Oberwiesenthal with the rest of the Australian Team where I will rest and recover for a few days before preparing for Liberec and Otepaa. It is great to be back with the team and we are already having a good time catching up on the last few weeks.

Hopefully I will get a few more pictures and videos up in the next few days!

Tds Stage 7 – Val De Fiemme 20km Classic

Today was quite a good day for me. Yesterday was a bit worrying when I found that I had very little energy all day. A good sign however was that I was continuously finding myself hungry, meaning my body was in full swing recovery mode. So with the consumption of enough food to feed a family of four for the day I was finally feeling a bit more energetic in the evening. That afternoon we also skied down the downhill slope which will be the last stage of the tour – The Final Climb. With complete confidence in my awesome telemarking skills (I’m actually quite useless) I hook into the first turn with a bit of speed and quite the effort and hit the ground like a sack of manure (and yes, you all know I would have used an alternative word). This was all intended to be filmed of course, however Jeff got a little confused with the camera and it’s on/off switch, meaning we have some quality footage of blurred snow instead. To be fair, it’s only his first real muff up so we can’t be too harsh. More to the point however, we discovered how steep parts of this climb really are. The camera and TV do not do it justice at all. In Australia is would most likely me classed as a Black Diamond run, getting down on xc gear was quite the challenge.

Anyway back to today. The start was great. I found myself right in the mix of things and in the top 30 up the first two climbs, then we hit some downhill and flat sections and I began to lose a few places. I knew from there that my skis weren’t running that quick but I was advantaged on the climbs with more grip so it wasn’t too much of an issue. The 2nd and 3rd laps I found myself in a bit of trouble. I had fallen back and Francois was closing the gap behind me, by the end of the 3rd it was probably down to just 10s. At the end of this third lap however, Jeff and his bottle of coke turned my race around. At first it didn’t sit well but then on the first climb 4th lap I felt an appreciable boost in energy. I had a definite increase in speed up the climbs and opened up the gap and began closing in slightly on the skiers ahead. I continued to take the coke in every lap after this and by the finish I had made a gap of almost 2min on Francois. This result now raises me one place to 39th in the overall standings.

There is no doubt that the final climb tomorrow will be hard, however I think it has the potential to be really good for me. I am advantaged as there are very few (if any) who are lighter than me and this will be of great assistance tomorrow with so much climbing all at once with no rest. So I say bring it on, and I’m excited to see how it all finishes up!

TdS Stage 6 – Cortina to Toblach 36km

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhGAWH4TZ88]

Today was tough, but despite this, I am confident in saying that it will be one of the most memorable races of my life. Things were not looking good for me early on. The last 15 skiers or so (all skiers that were back more than 6min in the total standings) started together in mass start format. I knew that it was crucial for this stage to not ski it alone, and this left me with the tough challenge to stick on this pack. Despite being the final 15 skiers, these guys are still another level above me entirely, with some big names starting in this group. The first 1.5km or so was fine, but with no rest (the first 15km was all pretty well uphill) I began to suffer. A few guys began to drop off, the I dropped off these guys as well. By that stage I had blown, my legs were full of lactic acid and I thought I was finished. The next km was mentally crushing. I thought my tour was finished, and the prospect of pulling out at the 5km mark where I knew Jeff would be with my first drink was disturbingly real. I then decided to relax a little and try and flush some of the lactic out and recover a little. Within 30seconds I already felt a noticeable improvement and then gradually worked back up to speed. I could then see that the Francois from Andorra has also fallen off the back, and this gave me the motivation to work to my absolute max capacity to catch back up. To great relief it paid off and I had gotten back on, but by that stage I was wrecked again and spent the next 3km or so struggling to hold on. Read more

Tour de Ski Stage 5 – Toblach Skate Sprint

It is such a good feeling to finally have some form of appetite once again! Today was quite a reasonable race for me with 56th position and I managed to make up some lost time on Francois Soulie (a French skier racing for Andorra) wh0 is now just over 40seconds ahead of me in the overall standings. I still didn’t feel like I had bundles of energy but shouldn’t complain with the result as it was my best sprint result on World Cup so far in terms of percentage behind the winner with 11.25%. My skis felt good and paced it well so I think this made up for the slightly lower energy levels. It was also great to have a good lot of Aussie supporters with the Ciganas, Porters, Hamish Roberts and Adrian Blake all cheering me on!

Tomorrow’s race is the Cortina to Toblach 36km endurance stage. It is therefore very good timing to have finally regained some of my usual eternal hunger. Finn was highly amused and relieved to walk in to the hotel room to find me having just come back from a run to the shops, half naked, munching on a fruit loaf whole! But there is no time to waste in times like these when you are trying to carbo load on a short time schedule!

Tour de Ski Stage 4 – 20km Pursuit

To sum it up, yesterday was tough and today’s rest day could not have come at a better time. I woke in the morning to find that I was not at all feeling the best, and things only got worse when I tried to eat breakfast. Usually I get down breakfast as though it’s been days since my last meal, however this time I was struggling after just half a bowl of cereal – not the best of signs before a 20km! I forced down the rest of breakfast then spent the next 2hours or so before the race feeling bloated and sick. Read more

Tour de Ski Stage 3 – Oberstdorf Classic Sprint

So for my first classic sprint of the season I was quite satisfied with my result. Despite being a bit scrappy here and there I felt quite strong and seemed to have recovered quite well from yesterday’s race and busy schedule with all the travel and packing. The only thing I struggled with somewhat was getting back to the right frame of mind. It was quite challenging getting psyched up this morning as it felt like I should be relaxing. This is really important, particularly for sprinting but once I was warming up and seeing how fast the earlier starters were going, that got the nerves up and adrenaline pumping.

At the finish I was 11.75% off the winner’s time and 67th which is quite reasonable for me (very close to my Davos result, and I was happy with that result), which means that I have improved slightly overall. One benefit of not making the finals is that I had to do a lot less racing than many today which means that I should be fresher for tomorrow’s race – the 20km Pursuit. Yet again, the organisers have gone for the short 2.5km laps, however I am not very concerned by the lapping rule. I am feeling good, and so long as I ski to around the same standard as I have been all season, I will make it through. I am actually really looking forward to it and hopefully I can stick on the main pack for a good portion of the race and make up some more places in the overall standings.

We are travelling again tomorrow after the race, to Toblach where we will finally get a rest day on Tuesday. I will keep you all posted then on my progress. Also, to check results see www.fisski.com , go to Cross Country, then results.