The snow might be lacking but the International Spring Series is moving forward with great nordic racing here in Grand County, Colorado. Rebecca Dussault of the Subaru Factory team, who is currently ranked # 1 in America, has been competing over here for the last couple of days along with the best cross country skiers from across the US as well as great skiers from Canada, Germany, Norway, Finland, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Russia.
The unbelievable warm temperatures during the past month have left the cross country ski venues with little snow to work with but that hasn’t stopped the volunteers and race organizers from putting on a world class event. The International Springs Series brings together skiers for one last competition before they hang up the skis. This
is the most elite level of cross country skiing Colorado has ever seen.
It has also attracted the highest level of skiers to the United States since the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The racers will be competing in 8 different races this week which will diffidently test the endurance of even the strongest skiers. To do 8 races in one week is almost unheard of in nordic racing. I'm sure some of the racers will be
struggling with the altitude also. All of the races will be at about 9000 ft. Another twist to the whole week of racing is that it will be run similar to a road bike stage race i.e., Tour De France. The racers’ times will be added together after each race so that there will be a battle for the overall yellow leader jersey throughout the week. At the end of the week the person with the yellow jersey will be crowned Grand Champion of the 2004 International Spring Series.
The racing got underway last Saturday at Devils Thumb Nordic center with a 5K classic race for the women and a 10K for the men. Rebecca knew that she was going to have her work cut out for her as she bolted out of the
starting gate. The 2002 gold medalist Claudia Kuenzel from Germany has made the trip over to compete this week. At the mid-way time split Rebecca was leading the race by 10 seconds. She kept pushing but towards the end of the 15 minute race she lost some of her steam and had to slow down just a bit. That gave Claudia enough time to take the lead and win the race by 9 seconds with Rebecca barley squeezing into 2nd place by one tenth of a second over Norwegian skier, Sigrid Aas. This was a great start to the week.
On Sunday everyone was greeted with fresh snow on the ground which brought
many smiles to racers and especially the organizers. The snow continued
to fall steadily through out the morning as the racers took to the trails
at Snow Mountain Ranch.
The race was broken up into two different techniques, a 5K classic first
and then a 5K skate about an hour later. Rebecca put in a strong effort
for the first portion of the race finishing in 4th, 29 seconds out from
the lead. For the 5K skate portion the racers started according to their
time back from the leader in the earlier race. Again, Claudia Kuenzel
from Germany had posted the fastest time so far. In the 5K skate, Rebecca
started out fast and caught the 3rd and 2nd place girls right away. She
tried to catch the German but she was too strong. Rebecca came close but
couldn’t reel her in. Towards the end of the race Rebecca’s teammate,
Katrin Smigun from Estonia snuck up on her during the final stretch and
out sprinted Rebecca for second place. Rebecca finished 3rd overall.
I thought it looked like a lot of fun so I signed up in the citizen
category. I didn’t have time to inspect the course or try out the jump!
I was going into it blind. I as lined up on the starting line along with
all the junior boys I was excited to give it a try. As we made our way
to the top of the hill I was in about 15th position. Everyone ahead
of me decided for the jump. We were now reaching speeds up to 20 mph.
As I got closer to the jump I noticed a major pile up of bodies and
equipment all across the trail. It was too late now to stop so I hit the
jump at full speed, clearing the jump and people whom had crashed.
Somehow I didn’t land on anyone nor did I crash. As I looked up ahead of
me there was a wall of people still trying to get up and continue. All I
could do is point my skis through a tiny opening and keep on moving. I
passed through unharmed and in 4th place. I quickly felt the burn of
racing in my lungs and knew that I wouldn’t stay there for long. Sure
enough everyone that had crashed caught me and passed me as if I were
standing still. At the jump during my other two laps I awed the crowed
with a huge nordic helicopter 360 spin (which I did not land too pretty)
and a very high iron cross with the skis. The crowd went wild. I was
lapped by the junior leader from Czech Republic so I pulled myself out
the race at the end of my third lap. I was beat, bruised from my
crashes, and could hardly breath. It was fun though!
Rebecca got in a quick course inspection before she was called up to the
start line. She lined up against all of her familiar competitors. When
the whistle signaled the start, Rebecca quickly moved to the front and
took the lead. She lead all the way up the steep climb and very carefully
and graciously made her way up and over the jump. Some of the other women
were not so fortunate. The German, Claudia Kuenzel who was right behind
Rebecca was the first to go down. She got up quickly and regained her
composure. She was now in forth place. Also, Katrin Smigun who was
challenging for the lead displayed a lovely face plant for the crowd.
There were a couple of bad crashes but for the most part everyone came
away with minor injuries. Rebecca kept her pace high as she climbed up
the hill repeatedly. Where she really opened up the race was at the jump
on each lap. She would hit it full speed while the other women lost time
with their snow plows and crashes. She went on to win the race by 46
seconds which was enough to move her into the leaders jerseys. At the end
of the day she had a 28 second lead over Claudia Kuenzel of Germany. With
the yellow jersey now upon Rebecca's shoulders it will make for some
exciting racing to watch. There is a $1000.00 prize to the overall winner
so the American and German will be giving their all down to the last
Races continue on Thursday with a 3.5K classic hill climb. Then on
Saturday a 5K skate mass start. On Sunday, April 4th everyone will
compete in the National Sprint relay.