January 13, 2011 (Canmore. AB) – The fifth ever edition of the Tour de Ski is over and done with. I am comfortably sitting in a “Nighbor driving” laid back position up in B-Class flying home after over two months of European racing and am still in disbelief… first how fast this first half of the season has blazed by, and second how great our team performed over the last 10 days in Germany and Italy.
The Tour de Ski is the most grueling race that we do all year. We race eight distinct competitions in only 10 days at four different venues. It’s a fast-paced, high-stakes week and a half and considering how I feel at the end of it, I cannot even imagine how it is for our staff who work so hard indefatigably all day, everyday to give us every opportunity to perform.
I’ll break ‘er down race by race since I didn’t update as I went along this year.
Day One: 3.75km Skate Prologue – Oberhof (Ger) – December 31st/2010
I was psyched to get my 5th Tour under way. Ivan, Alex and I did our finishing touches on our Tour-prep enjoying Davos’ great skiing and stellar café over the holidays. Everything went quite well for all of us in the pre-Tour period and with the added bonus of Hutchdogg tirelessly working on us over Christmas we were all feeling strong and confident – and for the most part I had great workouts and life was grand.
When December 31st finally came, I felt ready but not 100%. One aspect still lingered – some heavy legs that settled in after my last long distance ski earlier in the week. My legs were stubbornly holding on to fatigue like a dog that just won’t release that tennis ball. Justin and I had planned to push for that optimal training load before backing off but as the race day came and I was still feeling slightly sub-par – oops.
The good news was that the first race is short. The prologue is under 8 minutes and the Tour is never won or lost on the first stage. I hammered the one lap course willing my body to empty the tank. It didn’t take long before I knew things weren’t going my way. Early in the race I knew my legs hadn’t came back in time. While I was happy that my energy was back to 100%, and my legs no longer felt heavy while pushing hard, I lacked punch/power and in such a short race that’s not good.
I pushed as hard as my flat-feeling body would go crossing the line out of the points in 37th – same finish as last year. I was pissed off. No denying. I’ve been very hot and cold with prologues in the last and while I was happy that the body felt better I wasn’t expecting to be so bad on day one. Being a Tour though I had very little time to feel sorry for myself as the next day the 15km classic pursuit was quickly approaching. I did wallow of course being the drama-queen that I am blasting some Band of Horses during a cold bath, and afterwards for about an hour before putting the race in the rear view mirror and refocusing.
Day Two: 15km Classic Pursuit Start – Oberhof (Ger) – January 1st/2011
I was fired up for this race. I always am. I love classic skiing, I love the course in Oberhof and I love pursuit starts where you’re chasing the leaders. It’s exciting, fast from the start and suits my strengths. It helps that the previous two years I had finished 3rd and 10th in the same race. It was a classic Oberhof day, foggy with slightly soft tracks. Warming up I felt great far better than just one day earlier and our skis were top shelf. I was nervous, but pumped.
Still, I had a lot of work and dudes to go through to catch back up to the front. I played it patiently, slowly working through the pack for the first six or so kilometers before making sure I was hanging out in the top 10-15 out of trouble and close enough to react if an attack went.
It was a tactical affair, some surging and some half-hearted attacks but none that stuck. Then, on the last lap Cologna went to the front to assert himself. I followed; just focusing on skiing as well I could technically. Next thing I knew I was in the front with about 2km remaining. I made a snap-decision that it was time to punch it and starting a long drive to the line in the lead. Coming around the last corner and into the windy finishing stretch I was still leading. I was double poling as hard as I could, but Dario came around me with 50m to go and passed me. I slipped right in behind him and crossed the line in 2nd place.
Needless to say, I was pumped. It was only my second-ever distance podium, and after not hitting the podium at all last year it felt so good to be back. It was a great race for me, best of the year and I posted the fastest time of the day, moving from 37th to 2nd. It also confirmed that Justin and I had in fact got the training right. It would have been awesome to win but Dario was just too strong for me and to finish only 0.5 seconds from my first win wasn’t bad.
Alex was 9th putting two Canadians in the top 10 for the first time this season which was sweet!
Day Three: 1.2km Classic Sprint- Obertsdorf (Ger) – January 2nd/2011
After packing up and showering it was onto our badass bus that Justin had organized (you’ve all seen the photos and read about it. The thing ruled for recovery!) as we rolled Southwest to the site of the 2005 World Champs Obertsdorf.
I love the sprint course in Obertsdorf. It was the first time I was ever top 15 internationally back in 2005 as a 22year-old, and I watched Sara Renner make history sprinting her way to a bronze medal there. I knew the course well, and was cautiously optimistic that I could get through the quarter-finals.
Well, it went far better than I could have ever imagined. Again our skis were fantastic and Alex and I qualified 6th and 7th. I felt amazing in all my heats and moved through to the final for the first time in my life in a classic sprint on the World Cup. I was stoked!
In the final I made a desperate attack up the last climb and came over the top with a gap. The meters were flying by and I was still in the lead down the finishing stretch.
I may have even thought about what my victory salute would be but Joensson had other ideas. With meters to go, he pulled even with me and it came down to an epic lunge for the line for the victory. After some tense moments, it was announced that no, for the second day in a row I had been beat at the line. I lost the race my 1cm or something ridiculous. Joensson described it as his tightest victory ever.
After hitting the podium the day before I was shocked to snag back to back silver medals. I was choked to lose such a tight race, especially after a gutsy move over the top that I believed was enough to stick, but Joensson is the best sprinter in the world, and to even be competitive with him was more than I ever expected. Alex finished an impressive 7th so back to back great days for Canada all around!
Day Four: 20km duathlon pursuit Obertsdorf, GER January 3rd/2011
The fourth race in a row was the also the longest. The course in Obertsdorf was the same 2.5km that they used for some races back in 2005 as well, whith consisted of flatter terrain and one huge hill per lap. The only difference is that they used the same course for classic and skate (just groomed in tracks on the side) and that made for a narrow/sketchy experience.
People were attacking all over the place going for early bonus sprints and launching for the finish line. It was very messy, lots of crashes, and just pandemonium in the pack to be honest. The course was silly.
I felt great but ended the day in 7th getting caught behind traffic up the final climb but I was still happy with how the race played out. Alex and I both thought it felt more like a zone 3 workout because of all the bodies around. That was the one positive it didn’t take as much out of me as I would have thought.
Day Six: 1.3km skate sprint Toblach, ITA January 5th/2011
After another sizable trip, but on our sweet bus from Obertsdorf to Toblach, we had a rest day which we used to test skis and train on the long 35km stage. This was the best day to date in my ski career – I finally won a world cup! I felt so good today. I qualified in 14th, then moved easily through my final. Once again that was the main goal get through the quarters, so I was pretty relaxed for the remaining rounds.
In the final, I got off to my normal snail’s paced start, and was content to hang in the back part of the pack. Then, with two uphills remaining I just went crazy and launched an attack with everything I had. I kept the pressure all the way to the line, and while I had a big lead at one point Cologna almost came right back to me, but he ran out of real estate. At the time I could not and still cannot believe it.
It’s the best feeling in the world to be able to lift your arms in victory on the World Cup after working and dreaming about it for over 10 years. Haha, it’s almost embarrassing when I put it that way, but it finally happened. Our staff did such a great job, and everything just came together perfectly. I will never forget that race!
Day Seven: 35km skate pursuit CortinaToblach ITAJanuary 6th/2011
From an amazing race, to an extremely frustrating race was the transition between the two Toblach events.
In the long race, I started in 2nd place but alone to tackle the long/fairly flat stage over the Italian Dolomites. Cologna had amassed a big lead so I wouldn’t come back on him, but my goal was to stay away from the chase packs that were sure to form.
The course is 18km of gradual climbing, before descending gradually back to Toblach, and then a final show lap of 3.3km to finish off the spectacle. I felt good, started at a good/manageable pace. Still, at 13km Hellner who had started 30-odd seconds behind me swallowed me up. I tried in vain to stay with him, but he was on another planet. I just got popped right away, and had to settle to ski my own pace keeping him in my sights to make sure I still had a good pace.
I made it over the top of the hill, but even though I was going all out down the other side in 2km the large 11-dude chase pack caught me. I was so frustrated – like in cycling it is so much harder on easy terrain to stay away. Guys that started over 2.5 minutes behind me were safely in the draft of the pack and with them working together they made quick work of me.
What’s worse, is when they caught me nobody was willing to work together. We were chewing into Hellner who would have been caught for sure but then all of a sudden everyone was thinking of the bronze medal and things got tactical in a hurry.
I ended up finishing in the first chase pack good enough for 10th. All that hard work for the overall that I did early in the Tour was erased. I was (and still am) bummed about it. It’s a tough race, and without question the most important race of the entire Tour as far as the overall goes.
Day Nine: 20km Mass Start Classic Val di Fiemme, ITA January 8th/2011
After another travel day, and another rest day training and scouting the Val di Fiemme classic course we had finally arrived at the last venue.
I love Val di Fiemme, and I was really excited about this race seeing how I had been feeling so strong in classic this year. I knew it could be good.
Conditions were pretty standard klister skiing with warm temperatures greeting us in the Northern Italian venue. Here’s a strange fact about Val di Fiemme – it was the first time this year that we saw races above zero degrees which is extremely odd for Europe. It felt like Hawaii out there!
I tried going for some of the plethora of bonus seconds up for grabs early but soon realized that it was going to cost too much energy, and that Northug and Cologna had both amazing skis and were gunning for all of them. I changed my strategy mid-race and focused on attempting to win the competition.
I sat near the front and stayed out of trouble keen with being patient and hyper-aware with what was going on around me in the pack. There were some pace changes, but for whatever reason this year no one was able to really inflict big damage. On the last lap the Swede Rickardsson launched a move with 2 km to go that could have stuck but we all caught him on a big descent. Then I launched up the final climb (600m from the line) and over the top I was in the lead going for broke.
Still, it was too early and on the flats of the stadium I was caught and passed by Northug and Cologna. Again. I finished 3rd which was my 4th podium of the week. Unbelievable. It’s been just such a great week of racing!
Alex ended up in 5th meaning with one stage remaining we were 4th and 7th overall. It was going to be a dog fight as not much time separated 3rd to 10th and both Alex and I aren’t exactly gazelles up Alpe Cermis but we were excited to see how things went.
Day Ten: 9km Skate Uphill Pursuit Val di Fiemme/Alpe Cermis, ITA January 9th/2011
The last stage. Always tough, the 9km skate consists of 6km of gradual descending before meeting the walls of Alpe Cermis, an Alpine run close to the ski trails in Val di Fiemme.
As expected, it was a large group heading down to the climb. We worked well together, exchanging leads often but it wasn’t enough to keep a hard charging Lucas Bauer at bay who caught our group (3rd-9th) on the bottom slopes of the Alpe.
Things splintered early on the climb especially when Bauer caught us, and I settled into the best rhythm I could. I am no specialist at this unique uphill event and tried in vain to stay with Perl, Clara, and Gaillardall who are far better at this event than me. Gaillard and I were dropped by Perl and Clara and in a battle with my friend from the French Team, Jean-Marc beat me to the line after I tried to attack and blew up with only 300m remaining in the race.
The Tour was over, and I ended up 7th overall. Alex had a tough climb as well, slipping to 10th, but both of us were excited to have completed a solid Tour and to have two Canadians in the top 10 was a great achievement. Babs had the 6th fastest time up proving once again that the bulldog IS climbing boom.
After traveling and racing for over 2 months, and I am now at home. It’s so good to be back in Canmore and I am already looking forward to training with friends and sipping cappos in the afternoons as I recharge and begin to get ready for the World Champs in Oslo. I can confirm that nothing is as comfortable as your own bed and I slept like a log last night.
I was able to catch up briefly with Chandra in Munich for one night as our trips overlapped (Chandra heading to the sprint World Cups in the Czech and Estonia, while I head home to recover/train for Worlds). It was great to see her – however brief – after weeks away from one another but I am already missing her here in Canmore!
After an easy week this week to catch my breath it’s back on baby. We have work to do if we want to keep this party going. Oslo and the World Cups after it are the next objective. I cannot wait!
I want to extend heart felt thanks to everyone who supported me and our team: Mostly importantly is Chandra and my family!
Thanks to Justin who has proven to be such an amazing coach, and has shown stellar leadership all year. Our technical staff is some of the best in the business. All the boys – Sasha, Joel J, Joel K, Yves and Micke – you all rule. Micke thanks for sticking with me for the past few years and putting up with my sketchy self every weekend (and during the week, haha), you’ve made a HUGE difference!
Most importantly thanks to my teammates. I am so lucky to be a member of such a bad ass/awesome Canadian Team. We respect each other, push each other and celebrate each other’s victories. It’s a lot of hours together but damn it’s fun! It’s been a trip – one that will continue for years to come!
We couldn’t do it without our loyal team sponsors (the crew at Haywood, AltaGas, Statoil and Teck) and B2ten for the mad hook ups all year most recently being instrumental behind our big black rock and roll Tour de Ski bus. Your continued support means that our entire team can push the limits all year.
Lastly, my personal sponsors, guys like Jamie Coatsworth who makes such a difference and who believes not only 100% in me but all of Canadian skiing, Stephen Dent and the whole Birch Hill crew in T.O., Chris out in Vancouver with Teck and Allison and the Stoneridge crew, thanks to all of you. Support matters, from all levels. Family, friends, team, sponsors, it all helps make