Homenkollen really is something special. The atmosphere and the history make the race so much more spectacular. Carved out of the Oslo hillside is one of the most difficult courses on the world cup. Over 50 kilometers we were slated to climb over two kilometers. Homenkollen also has a different reputation: weather. Either it is beautiful or super nasty and foggy. For the prerace days we got a few of the beautiful ones, but the fog rolled in for the 50k and the jumbotron across the stadium disappeared from view for those sitting in the stands.
Testing skis for a world cup 50k is a little different than other races. Unlike shorter races, we are allowed up to two ski exchanges per race. In dirty conditions or if things go wrong, these changes can be a lifesaver. However, looking at it before the race, it seems like an unnecessary hassle. At least two pairs of skis need to be dialed in before the race for every athlete. For those with a somewhat limited fleet this can mean racing on a non-optimal pair; however, the conditions on the race day played nicely and dialing skis was relatively simple.
With A and B skis selected, a short warm up, the race start was upon us and I have to say I was a bit intimidated. I haven’t raced all that many 50 kilometers and especially few on hard courses. Also this one would be against the best in the world. Luckily, I quickly forgot about that once the racing started.
With the start behind us, we charged up towards Frogneseteren and the campfire crowds for the first time. I jockeyed my way through some of pack trying to stay relaxed. However, as we neared the top of the course after about two kilometers of racing, I found myself on the inside track with an open lane in front of me. Suddenly there were other thoughts than just skiing a good race and fighting for a top 30. Instead I was actually considering going for the sprint prime at the top. Distance world cup points are awarded to the top 10. I only had to pass 8 people. Luckily common sense reclaimed my race and I slipped back into the group chilling out for the rest of the climb. I was chasing a top 30 not prime points.
As we made the climb for the second time five kilometers later, that little extra aggressiveness caught up with me. The groups I wanted to ski with were pulling away and my legs and arms were starting to congeal. While I did lose some time, the following downhill helped me get back under control. Passing through the stadium on the second lap, I switched to my B pair of skis and settled in with a chase group.
One of the amazing things about 50 kilometer races is the phases that one can go through. After struggling on lap two, I found some rhythm for lap three and four skiing with a group before my wheels came off again and I was left dangling in no-man’s-land. However, in Oslo being in no-man’s-land has its perks. Instead of splitting the cheers amongst a small pack, I received all the drunken yells. Scott chants and USA became significantly more prevalent when I was on my own. Maybe it was that or maybe it was just another phase in how I was feeling, but things turned upwards for lap six as I closed down the gap to two skiers and managed to drop one of them (even though I was outsprinted by the other).
After having my chips removed and exiting the finish pen, Jason Cork was waiting to take my skis but the first thing out of my mouth was “do you know what place I was?” The response was a disappointing “32nd.” Only two places away from my first world cup points!