Racing the Ski Tour Canada has been a whirlwind of excitement and tedium. We are now halfway through the tour and have raced four times over five days. In between all of this were several extended bus rides, hotel changes, and a full travel day out to Canmore, Alberta to mark the halfway point of the tour.
The tour kicked things off in Gatineau/Ottawa with a skate sprint in a riverside park. The day before we were greeted with deep sugar and an incredibly busy course as the entire world cup field trying to fit in ski testing and intensity on an 800m loop. However, while the athletes were paraded through a small opening ceremony, the groomers were out working hard to turn sugar into a nicely prepped track. The race was utterly unremarkable for me. Extra US fans made it a bit more exciting, but as expected my race day was over with two turns around the loop. While Simi Hamilton and Jessie Diggins made it a double podium day for the American team, I rushed back to my room to pack, shower, and jump on the bus to Montreal.
Three hours later, I was settled back in, just in a new city and new venue. Matt Liebsch and I used the last remaining daylight to scour the city for the venue. This was a successful trip, but our energy and the light were fading too quickly for an examination of the course to be feasible. Thus we went into the next day with a unique situation, racing a classic mass start on at a venue we had never seen.
Arriving at the venue the next morning quickly indicated we were in for an unusual world cup experience. The wind was ripping through the park and rumors of carnage were emerging from the women’s race. So and so was in a massive pile up, this person broke a ski, that corner was gnarly. With that in mind, ski testing and course previewing commenced. The gnarly corners jumped upon me the first time. Luckily for us, they were scraped down to ice. This can be interesting, but is a little more predictable than lots of loose snow on top of ice. An hour later, my skis were selected and the race had started after a few minutes of shivering in the start. Right off the bat, I realized that my start wasn’t great. I glanced around on the first uphill and saw that I was in dead last. Not ideal when shooting for a good distance finish. It became even more non-ideal when we reached the first uphill and the pack stalled. The first few skiers were able to smoothly transition and ski the hill, while the dregs of the pack including myself were left to sort out a couple herringbone lanes and waddle up the hill like we were in a high school race. 30 seconds down the drain. Then recharge for the next hill. Luckily we were a little better sorted out for the next one, but the real bottleneck arrived a few kilometers later in the form of a single file hill. Now the world cup field isn’t even at a high school level. Middle school is more appropriate from the single file waiting and the massive snowplows utilized on the downhills.
Though I lost significant time to the leaders through this mess, I was able to regroup for a couple of the later laps and come out with a decent result and good feelings for the next distance race, hopefully on a course that would be a little more fair. Next up on the platter was another three hour bus ride to Quebec City and the first rest day of the tour.
Racing in Quebec city was a little more normal. The heats of the sprint were marred by crashes and excitement, but again I missed out on that. Top 70 finishes don’t exactly qualify me for the rounds. However, we did get a pursuit start the next day. After losing so much time in Montreal and not picking up any bonus seconds in either sprint, I was relegated to the five minute wave. Five minutes after Sergei Ustiugov started, 33 of us, including most of the North American starters would take off hunting all those in front. At least I did get to start near the front of this mini mass start. The course was relatively easy for a world cup distance race and provided good opportunities to hammer and recover nicely; however, that doesn’t exactly suit my strengths as the sprinters are able to recover as well. When the party wave started, I was quick to move towards the front and become an animator of the wave, making sure that we didn’t settle into a slow pace and instead hunted for every second we could wrangle away from those in front. After several mass start in Europe getting blown off the back only a few minutes into the race, this working at the front was quite exciting. It was exaggerated by having voices in the crowd that I could put faces without even looking.
We churned around four laps of that course and although I was outsprinted by a few people from my wave and didn’t quite manage to get in the top 30 for time of day (38th), the race was still a success. I was able to confirm good feelings from Montreal, move up in the overall tour, and build a little more anticipation for the Canmore races. But first I would have to deal with a little more travel tedium.