Otepaa World Cup

From a very young age I knew that I couldn’t sprint. Every school running carnival started off very badly with the 100m. I would lose, and badly too. I would be back with some of the worst of the un-athletic sorts, it was just lucky I could regain some respect by running very close to the same pace for the 1500m.

Skiing sprinting is much different as it is a much longer work time, however you still need to be able to move very quick. Over the past 2 years I have managed to learn how to  ski faster and more efficiently in skate sprints, however have not managed to find the same improvements in classic sprints.

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The Milano World Cup City Sprint Experience

Any World Cup has a heightened level of excitement and the atmosphere always gives me the same feeling – there are very few other places I’d rather be. City Sprints have the exact same effect but due to the larger crowds in a more confined area combined with being situated in the middle of a city where a race track realistically isn’t supposed to be, the atmosphere is twice as strong. Milano City sprint certainly lived up to its expectations with the race course situated right out the front of Sforza Castle, which as you can see from the photos can only be described as incredible!  The race track was in very decent condition for a city sprint and not completely flat with a very slight uphill section to create a bit of variation. The only difference really was the immense pollution. The air was so thick it almost had to be chewed before full inhalation!

Saturday was the individual sprint. With the race time for the men starting at 1pm, the snow was already getting quite soft. Due to a block start format being used due to the consisting of two laps, I started almost a full 30min behind the first male which turned out to be quite the disadvantage. The course softened further and due to 63 men going before me it was quite cut up by the time I got to it. These however are the general disadvantages you are constantly dealt when ranked towards the back of the field, however with such warm conditions you just suffer that little bit more. As I have mentioned many times before, a flat course is definitely not to my advantage so with this in mind, I was very happy with my result. I came in 63rd which was one better than my ranking, something that I rarely achieve in sprint races. In addition I was also ahead of a Russian skier which is always a positive feeling to be ahead of a major skiing nation skier.

For Sunday’s Team Sprint, Phil Bellingham and I teamed up to take on skiers ranked far higher than us. The ranking system used combines the averages of both athletes in the team and to give you an idea of how poorly we were ranked, our combined average was approximately 100FIS points worse than the 2nd last ranked team. With Phil making his World Cup debut the day before (congratulations to the big man!) and me not really being known for my sprinting capabilities, we were not expecting much and hence are still incredibly shocked and happy with what we managed to achieve. Team sprints for those not in the know consist of 3 Legs of the sprint course for each of the two skiers, and tagging off between legs. With a very intense pace and very short rest (1:1), it is renowned to be an incredibly painful event, but probably more renowned for the carnage that can occur. I started first and with the carnage factor in mind, I was happy to just sit on the back of the back with the aim of just relaxing as much as possible. To our advantage on the fastest corner on the 2nd lap, GermanyII went down taking at least 4 teams with them. I managed to avoid the pile of skis and bodies scattering across the track with minimal trouble, until I hit a rock embedded in the track, stopping my right ski instantlywhich very nearly saw me embarrassingly adding to the mess with no contact from anyone else! Feeling shocked that I hadn’t also crashed I looked up to find myself in 4th place! Most of the teams caught back on very quickly however both myself and Phil skied very efficiently with the pack for almost the entire race and managed to hold off both ItalyIV and GermanyII and finished around 14s off the winners of the Semi. This in its self has never been done by an Aussie team on World Cup, but in addition we also came in ahead of EstoniaII and ItalyIII who also consisted of some highly respected names placing us 20th out of the 24 teams.

Back to Seefeld for another week to prepare for Estonia this weekend.

Black Forest German Cup

The largest racing block of the season has commenced! From the positive results in the recent Swiss Cup races and more good training after these races I have been feeling even better about my shape and this has left me in a very positive frame of mind. Also helping this is the complete disappearance of my chest issues and also the move from Campra to our new base here in Seefeld, Austria. As you can see by the above pic, Campra is a very isolated, slow and backwards place. It is as though you have moved to a place that is stuck in the 70’s. The complete non-existence of sun shine in this narrow valley also really begins to hit hard after a solid 10days. All I can say is that the place is a cool place to visit with awesome trails, but 10days is really pushing the limits of cabin fever tolerance!

With record snow falls in the Austrian Alps, we were lucky enough to start off our journey to the German Cup races at the very beginning of this epic snow storm. You know it’s going to be a long trip when an autobahn has its speed limit reduced by a full 100km/h (130 down to 30) for a good portion of the trip. For a trip that was supposed to take around 3hrs 30min from Seefeld to the Black Forest, we nearly doubled the travel time. Once there it was all quite smooth rolling, with Notschrei being the race venue which was where I competed in the 2010 World U23 Championships 2 years earlier. Having a good understanding of these demanding courses helps a lot, but also liking the courses is probably even more beneficial.

The Sprint was relatively short, with a winner’s time just over 2min40s, however with 2 major climbs and a tough flat, fast and technical finish it was a real leg burner. I am really happy with how I skied. I qualified 11th and made it through the quarters despite nearly throwing it all away by poling my boot on the start straight. For anyone who has ever done this, you will know just how much it trips you up, and whilst sprinting, the effect is 10 fold, so as a result my face was probably within about 10cm of becoming a snow plough! Somehow I managed to regather myself and found myself shocked that I was still upright! I then managed to come back through the pack, finished in 2nd and made it through to the semi’s. The Semi felt really quite good, all the way until the final straight where my legs just overflowed with lactic acid and frustratingly I was outsprinted for 4th in that heat. Despite that, I was still ahead of one which meant I ended up placing 10th in the overall final standings. A top 10 in a German Cup Sprint is a huge improvement compared with the German Cup I competed in at the same venue 2 years prior which were held the week before the U23 champs. FIS points for the Sprint were a complete misrepresentation of the result with many Juniors making top 5 creating a ridiculously large penalty. To give a good indication of the result, I was 5.25% off the winners time and just over 2s behind Len Valjas’s time who is a Canadian World Cup skier who placed 5th in the Finnish World Cup earlier in the season.

6th Place - German Cup

The 10km Skate on Sunday gave us very tough conditions with fresh snow that seemed to compact and glaze creating a very unstable feel. I felt really good on the climbs and had great recovery on the downs, however struggled to relax on the flats were the unevenness of the snow was the worst. The result was quite decent and I finished in 6th place overall, 1min 27s back off 1st (Len Valjas) giving me 99FIS pts. Skis were great again this weekend with Ben Sim (Simboss), Finn and Fabian Mauz producing the goods.

Seefeld

Now back to the land of too much snow here in Seefeld. As you can see by this photo taken today, there is an absolute ton of snow here. The trails are amazing today and couldn’t have asked for a nicer day to do the long 2h35min session. It was definitely one of my most enjoyable classic skis ever. Love the skiing, Love the Racing – Love being an Athlete!

Campra Swiss Cup and a Tobogganer

Arriving in Campra is always a bit of a culture shock and this year was no different. For the first 2 days it was only the three of us Aussie skiers here at the accommodation along with one other family. This meant a very quiet Christmas until about 4pm where Pk’s luck went from bad to abysmal. Just as Pk and myself are walking towards the rather shonky set of stairs, Pk begins complaining about the build quality and the inadequate head room he uncomfortably discovered earlier that day. With me in front, 4 stairs down and quite a lot to go, I hear a ‘Whoa’ followed by the distinctive stair crashing clutter and then the legs of the big man sliding either side of me to confirm the outcome. Things were not looking good with a rather massive hole in Pk’s elbow which looked as though some bone was sticking through. So yes this did mean our 4th hospital visit for the trip (I think we have almost taken the new record previously held by KT Calder!) but with no major problems and just a stitch to seal it up, it was a major relief to see him still all set for the coming races.

Wednesday’s Freestyle sprint was held on a very tough 1.4km course with one very steep pinch, 2 major climbs and a very long uphill finish straight. This is a course designed to harvest Lactic acid and that’s exactly what it achieved. Probably not such a bad course for my slim body type and as a result I produced a career best sprint coming in 11th with 106 FIS points. This was a huge confidence boost for me as my energy was great and the persistent chest pain was no longer there at all leaving me feeling very positive towards the next day’s 15km Classic.

With a positive mindset and skis which were probably some of the best that I have ever had in a ski race, I started well, maintained the pace well and finished strong which is a feeling I have been longing for a while now. I finished 6th, 1min55 of the pace with 69FIS Points beating my rank and ahead of some rather successful skiers. This is probably my most successful international race in terms of FIS points and it felt awesome to be given splits during the race which had me right up there with the top guys. Huge thanks to Ben Sim and Fabian for the incredible skis and awesome race support.

Pk, even after his appalling preparation having been sick for more than 2.5weeks straight, then tobogganing a set of stone cut stairs also had a shredder of a race. Definitely his best ever distance race by a long shot and this hopefully shows he has a lot more to show for himself this season. Check out his blog for his race wrap up.

We will be here until the 3rd of January before heading off to Seefeld, Austria for more training and racing before my next World Cup stint consisting of Milan, Moscow, Rybinsk, and hopefully Otepaa World Cups.