Rybinsk 15km Skate World Cup

So on the Friday before the race, after a night on the bus which was so rough it would make riding a cow feel comfortable, we were rewarded somewhat by a completely blue sky which showed the race course overlooking a very scenic frozen lake. This small reward was slightly diminished by just how cold it was again. -26°C over night and not warming up terribly much over the day it was certainly another day of discomfort when skiing, particularly on the downhills. For those not in the know, when the temperature is so cold it makes skating very slow as the snow is so dry and abrasive that not even a ski base slides smoothly across it. At these temps it is more like sand, where it even crunches and squeaks under foot just the same as the dry hot sand on an Aussie beach.  Testing skis is more about which provides the least resistance, but the harsh fact is that nothing runs very well in these conditions making skiing a hard slog.

A hard slog is actually a good way to sum up how Saturday’s 15km Mass Start felt. The cold symptoms had cleared up a lot, with just the unpleasant cough and splutter ever now and then with my lungs clearly were not appreciating the high volume flow of super cold and dry air. The temperature had warmed up to -18°C which is just enough for the race not to be cancelled (-20°C limit) but even at -18°C it still hurts your lungs on a good day, not to mention other parts of your body! With the aim of holding onto the main pack for a good part of the race disappearing before my eyes early on, I had absolutely nothing in me to alter the outcome. After being sick I just felt lethargic and not able to reach that top gear that I had the weekend before in Austria. I was still hurting, but I have definitely been able to put myself much deeper in what is now so commonly known as ‘The Hurt Box’. I was completely aware that I should be able to punish myself that little bit more but it was as though the muscles would not respond and this I can tell you is one of the most frustrating feelings I have had to deal with as an athlete.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENkziB6BXS4&feature=youtu.be]

The result therefore was disappointing. Last weekend I had felt like I was right on form and then this weekend I felt as though I could

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Moscow World Cup City Sprint

Getting off the plane in Moscow you can straight away notice that you are in a place completely different to the rest of the world. With the outside air temperature so dropping below -22°C, you think to yourself how could anyone bear to live in such a place where it is so cold for such a long winter, but then leaving the airport you find it is quite the opposite. Moscow is huge and the roads are pretty well 4 lanes wide for all major roads but this seems to have little effect. Congestion was what was going on inside my head, there should be another word to explain the mess of cars out there! So yes, I had come down with a bit of a cold after leaving Bad Ischl but it seemed to be pretty light but let’s hope it doesn’t get too much worse after racing 3min30s Flat Chat in air so cold you have to tape up your face to prevent frost bite (see some of the video below).

Hopefully this pic (above) from outside our hotel room window can show give an idea of what sort of view we had of the city. On the 26th floor with a full sized window easily bigger than a man which simply opened fully out over the edge, anyone scared of heights should not go near this open window! An ironic feature of our room however is that it could have doubled as a sauna, so despite it being -20°C outside, the window was opened full all night! This will also explain the following half-naked pre-race clip which team mate Vandy (Mark Van Der Ploeg)insisted I included in this post:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L3Oia6gq4I&feature=youtu.be]

With a World Cup City Sprint being placed in the middle of a massive city in a country where Cross Country Skiing is a heavily followed sport, you would expect huge spectator numbers. The opposite also happened here as there would have definitely been less than 400 people watching in total. Can’t blame them really with such cold temps.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtTNKxcUiHU&feature=youtu.be]

Anyway to the actual race; the race prep session the day before felt absolutely horrible. The cold symptoms had worsened and the cold air (-22°C now) which normally burns the lungs meant I struggled to breathe properly in the efforts. With race day temperatures slightly better (-18°C) and the cold symptoms clearing up somewhat, it was a huge relief to find breathing much easier. In the end I felt as though I skied reasonably solidly, but just lacked the spark required to do well. I held onto my rank (63rd) and was around 12% off the pace.

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Bad Ischl Austrian Champs

The road down from Bad Ischl race track

So as a brief catch up on events, last weekend I raced in the Austrian Champs in Bad Ischl with the rest of the Australian Team. As I have mentioned many times before, it is always fun racing at a level where you are more competitive and fighting for positions and this is exactly what these championships offered. The Sprint Qualifier on Friday went exceptionally well for me with by gaining personal best FIS points of 82 (24pts better than my previous best!) and with a solid rank of 9th overall. With a reasonably fast and flat course that had plenty of overtaking opportunities with such a wide track I was slightly concerned about my lack of finishing speed and the risk of being pushed out of the top 2 in the heats. With a fast start in my quarter, I found myself at the very back heading into the first downhill. Not loving my position at the back meant I pushed hard over the top of the hill and went all the way through into second by the bottom of the first hill – now that’s the place to be and where I should have stayed. But no, the guy in front didn’t want to be there and slowed the pace right down which doesn’t work well for me as it allows all of the skiers to stay together giving everyone the opportunity  to have a crack at the finish. So I went for the break with the aim of trying to break some people off which worked on 3 people, but unfortunately not on the remaining three who held on till the finish straight then burned right on past leaving me quite frustrated with my choice of strategy. A good lot of fun as a whole though and a good learning experience.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vult4Kaoks&feature=youtu.be]

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