So, have you read the press releases about the “best field in North America this year”, great conditions, fun atmosphere, etc? The Spring Series folks have done an excellent job promoting the race, but today it became time to “walk the walk” as the series opened with a rolling pursuit at Devil's Thumb Ranch, near Tabernash, Colorado. I plunked down my credit card last week and signed up for the entire series – in the citizen's category. I thought it might be fun (for me anyway) to share some observations of what this whole thing looks like from a “Homer's perspective”. If you want results or info on the series, check here: www.springseries.com
Most of us citizen/master/non-elite skier types have put our skis away by now and are worried about important issues like how many more weekends it will take for our rear ends to get back on a friendly basis with the bike saddle. We have either had a great season of snow and enjoyed so much skiing that we are getting tired of it, or we have had a lousy ski season and don't want to think about it anymore. This is the second year of the Spring Series in Colorado, and they are actively trying to entice more citizen participation. It is a tough sell this late in the season, and I have to confess, I probably would not have thought about participating if it were not taking place in my backyard, literally. This morning, my wife Karen and I stepped off of our driveway and onto the Devil's Thumb trail with a ski bag in hand, and skied the 12 minutes mostly descent down to the Nordic center and stadium.
On the other hand, why not go and do something like this at the end of the season, even if you are a few weeks past the last time you skied on local snow? It can still be fun and the fitness has not really disappeared. We have some friends coming out from Minneapolis on spring break tomorrow, and unbeknownst to them, they are going to do the team relay Monday. I don't think they have skied much if any since the Birkie, and I will let you know how this little experiment goes.
The opener, today, was a rolling pursuit, 2 x 7.5k. The snow has been coming down this past week just like the press releases said, and the conditions are indeed, very good. Of course, many of the elite skiers competing here have arrived directly from last weekend's Gold Rush (national 50k championships), so anything is probably better than 24″ of sierra cement they were racing in there. I was a little worried about how the predicted snow last night might challenge my kick waxing ability (I am qualified as a Homer in multiple disciplines), but the snow did not happen and the tracks were firm machined snow, with temps just under freezing for the race.
I have never had a chance to do a rolling pursuit before. I have watched and read enough to know that the elite skiers all keep the same boots on for both legs, so the only question Karen and I had last night was which boots, skate or classic? That question hung in the air for about 30 seconds until we simultaneously recalled our separate experiences with wrong boot/wrong skis debacles and realized that our classic boots would not work in the Pilot bindings anyway. Funny how those parking lot tirades did not seem like valuable training experience at the time…
If you are ever going to do a rolling pursuit, I would strongly advise a Super Tour or perhaps a World Cup event. No expense is spared, and each skier gets his or her private little parking stall, complete with numbered delineator and a carpet to stand on when changing out skis. This beats the heck out of the system I heard about at a race last year where all the skis and poles were balanced on a rack right up until a skier knocked the whole thing over. Skiers come in off the first leg and ski up a lane with these “parking stalls” on each side. They step into their stall and swap skis, then step forward in to an “exit lane” that leads out of the stadium and into the second lap. No snow or ice jammed into boot soles preventing a smooth entry into the skate bindings, and no congestion or confusion, nothing but thin air and lactate to worry about.
The start was interesting. There were nine lanes, and skiers were seeded into what they called an “arrowhead” start. The idea is that the lanes progressively are reduced with a “free zone” between each reduction in number of lanes. I was in the back, but fortunate to be roughly in the middle, so I did not have to worry about my lane disappearing. Ivan Babikov, did however, have to worry about a broken pole in the first 50 meters. I did not see him circle around to dead last position to get a replacement, but man did I notice him when he came through on one of the first steep little herringbone climbs. He was like a freight train and he parted the skiers backed up on the hill like the Red Sea. The guy is amazing, going from dead last to 4th place, still in contention for overall at about 30 seconds back. I almost forgot to mention that the format for the series is a stage race, and there are awards for overall GC, just like the Tour de France, and a King of the Mountain, sprint and leader jersey is awarded after every race.
You know, I don't remember seeing anything in the pre-race hype about how difficult course would be today for the classic leg. The trail is known as the Black 10, and it has had a reputation of being one of the most challenging courses anywhere ever since Dick Taylor cut it about 30 years ago. Midwesterners: think Telemark World Cup Trail at 9000 feet. Somebody asked me whether skiing a race on your “home course” was an advantage. No question all the times I have skied that loop in the dark made the downhill and technical corners easier, but then again, I also knew about every inch of uphill coming, and that is not always a good thing. The top of the last hill was a designated King of the Mountain point, and the top ten male and female skiers received points toward an ongoing jersey and competition for that honor. From there, it was a 1k downhill back to the stadium that I did enjoy knowing about.
The skate leg was a completely different type of terrain, with more gentle rollers, fast sweeping downhill corners and open meadows. I heard comments from many racers afterwards that this was a perfect combination of courses because the classic leg favored pure classic technique. I think we will get a chance for some double pole on Monday when the classic team relay is held on a 1.5k course that is mostly open meadow in front of the stadium. But that's ok, too. Many of us have read about the classic sprint races in Europe this year where World Cup skiers made choices between using kick wax, or going with skate gear because the course was relatively flat. I think it will be fun to have to make that same choice here. The course won't be flat by any means, and the decision may not be cut and dried at all – this will add to the drama, no?
Ok, now for the most important part of the Homer review: The food. Devil's Thumb treated us all to a barbeque on the deck outside of their new building, called the Broadaxe Barn. There is not enough room here to get into all of great things happening at Devil's Thumb these days, but suffice it to say they are building something that will be around for 150 years or more – really cool and it features Nordic skiing – you need to check it out. Anyway, the half pound burger on homemade sourdough roll was absolutely primo, and the “Fat Bastard” scotch ale (local microbrew) almost made me cry. Best of all, top skiers from around the world were enjoying the same thing I was! I did not actually see today's winner Abby Larson chase a burger with a Fat Bastard, but the image works for me so I am going with it.
Next race is Monday, the team relay. My partner the Big Shooter just ate two burgers so look out competition. Stay tuned.