Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic gave the US athletes smog, overcast, dirty snow, thin snow and slush, but we were missing out on the bluebird sunshine. However, Switzerland pulled its weight with blissfully blue skis that we all were looking forward to. Things changed today when we figured out the reason behind the large snow berms along the ski trails and roads. Blue bird became a blizzard.
The sun missed its wake up today and the morning dawned white out the window of Ristorante Ospizio. Chains, visors, and zeros all jumped from the bottom of the gear piles into serious consideration for the day, but first it was breakfast time: Euro style. Boiled eggs, bread, croissants, and special Isostar (sports drink) muesli fueled our upcoming slog through the snow. With fuel in our bodies, large backpacks stuffed, and a plow conveniently having just passed, we departed for the venue ready to test out our guns versus the top Europa Cup competition in distance and at least for me, move up from a low sprint finish.
An hour and a half later, my warm-up was finished, skis tested, clothes changed, and shin quivering near the starting wand. With seeding off the previous day’s sprint, I started squarely within the non-sprinter group. The clock ticking down, I tripped the want and charged off into the fresh snow. More snow was accumulating every minute. Traversing over hills, across the flats, and back down only a single classic track had seen any attention. Previous ski tracks indicated that the entire field switched classic tracks for the best line within about twenty feet on the course. On the hills, classic tracks were quickly mushed into herringbone lanes any place that the junior girls deemed was even the slightest bit difficult for striding. Downhills became difficult as the sky merged with the snow and our eyes became tired. Each lap a sharp corner or skate push bumped me from the track forcing a quick recovery as a loss of speed.
In all this confusion of the snow, there were also competitors. The organizers adopted a compressed schedule with junior women, women, junior men, and men racing with no gaps to keep the trail packed down. Thus there was always someone out there to catch, chase, or desperately struggle to hang onto (though I didn’t start early enough to ski among the lapping girls). I experienced all three passing juniors on later laps, fighting back and forth with starters around me, and hammering after the top seeded guys whenever possible. Through all these interactions two lessons stood out. First, minimize time outside the packed track. When overtaking or being overtaken, getting out of the packed classic track quickly dropped my speed from semi-fast for the snow conditions to dragging along. Learning early on, quite a few of the juniors were greeted with a tired exclamation of “hup.” Second, my double pole was in need of some serious work. I stuck onto the second place finisher up the longest hill on course on my second lap, only to have my spirits crush with our return to flat double pole terrain. The soft snow can have the blame so I feel a little better about my double poling.
Overall the race was a step in the right direction after low energy in the Czech Republic, but still can be classified as an experience building race more than a good race. However, excitement didn’t end with the race. We had to the Birkie and World Championships skiathalon to watch! Next up, one more day of racing in Campra and the snow keeps falling.