Juergen Uhl (South Burlington, VT) and Audrey Weber (St. Louis Park, MN) may have graduated from college last spring, but they haven’t left their racing days behind. The UVM and Dartmouth ’09s captured the 54K Birkie Classic titles in February this year and will make their way to Maine to race at Spring Series this week. FasterSkier caught up with Juergen and Audrey on winning the Birkie Classic and life after EISA racing.
Since graduating from UVM last spring, we’ve seen you racing in a Craftsbury uniform — what has your transition to post-collegiate racing been like? How has your experience as a racer at UVM helped shape your focus and shift to racing professionally?
The transition to post-collegiate racing has been very smooth. I graduated in May 2009 and decided to continue at UVM as a graduate student in Engineering. This lead to a rather small change in lifestyle. I was going to be in Burlington and take classes. And I wanted to continue racing!
I worked as a volunteer student coach with the UVM team, assist the team at practices and at some carnivals and Eastern Cup races, as well as get some training in.
It was the perfect setup for me as I would be training with a very good group of guys without traveling far. Furthermore it was awesome to be supported by the Craftsbury Nordic Ski Club and their newly initiated Green Racing Project. This helped me to receive the necessary race support and a second opportunity to train with a different group of highly competitive skiers. Overall I felt like I was offered the optimum base for another good season.
Coming into the 2009-2010 season, what were your goals for the year? You’ve historically been a strong classic skier, highlighted this year by your win at Craftsbury in February, and of course your win at NCAAs last season — what races were you focusing on for the season?
I had a limited amount of goals for the season 2009-2010 because I knew that I would not be very flexible while being a TA and taking classes at UVM. Therefore one of my main goals was to stay in shape and keep the momentum for the season 2010-2011. I will gain a lot of flexibility during the next academic year – I should mostly be able to plan my work at school myself. This is of great importance to me as I am hoping to qualify for the World University games next year. My main focus for this season was to compete in a couple of bigger marathon events. I had heard a lot about the American Birkebeiner and besides my desire to check out the scene around the Birkie I was also eager to race in it. The Craftsbury marathon was on top of my list because it is hosted by my home club and it is one of the biggest marathons in the East. Furthermore I had decided to compete in smaller races in the East – but besides the two marathons I did not have a set race schedule.
Explain how your win at the Classic Birkie unfolded: Did you lead the field the whole way or did you exchange the lead with other racers? What kind of skis did you use? How were the conditions? How did your skis hold up throughout the race? Were there any critical points in your race that you felt contributed most to your win?
The plan to go to the Birkie arose through Peter Hale. He helped me out with Madshus skis for this season and invited me to stay at a house in Hayward. A lot of people talked very positive about their experience of racing the Birkie, so I was really excited to compete. And it sure was a good time!
I waxed my race skis the day before the race with the help of Leif Zimmermann – there was not going to be any time before the start of my wave to test wax or try my skis which made me a bit skeptical whether my skis would work especially in the beginning of the race. I had only skied the last few kilometers of the 54k course previous to the race day. So, I was worried that it could be too hard to stay with the lead pack in case my skis were not going to work from the start. But they did! I was relieved.
My body also felt great which made it fun to just cruise for the first few kilometers. After about 10k I accidentally ended up in the lead of the pack; I increased the pace by a notch, mainly because I felt good and it didn’t seem like it could hurt me. I noticed that some of the racers seemed to have trouble to keep up or didn’t feel like going harder at this early stage of the race. I thought to myself that the race was still very long and I decided to hold back. But I definitely felt more confident after this minor surge and I knew that I was going to have a good race.
At about 23k I went back into the lead; this time I was trying to break away from the group. I pushed the pace up and over a 1k hill and I managed to put a gap between me and the rest of the field. The next 20k I skied hard. The rolling course at the Birkie is perfect for classic skiing. It was a lot of fun to be able to use the full range of classic techniques to be the most efficient at every part of the course.
After 43k I started to get a bit tired – I had tried to be conservative with the two gels that I had carried with me but it just was not enough. I had also lost my drink bottle at about 3k of the race which may have added to this lack of energy. Luckily a friend and ex-teammate from UVM Anders Osthus who was competing in the same race and a couple of other coaches had supplied me with drinks so that I ended up being strong enough to fight up the two longer uphills that were left before the finish.
I reached the lake and therefore the 51k mark of the race. It felt awesome to ski across the lake knowing that I was getting closer and closer to the win and the post race activities. At 1k to go I looked over my shoulders and I knew I was going to be able to bring it home. Sweet! The finishing stretch in Hayward was very exciting; the nice weather had attracted a lot of people that provided all racers with an amazing atmosphere when making their way to the finish.
What’s next for your race season? Any exciting spring plans? Will you return next year to contest the Birkie?
I will conclude this season with the Supertour Finals up in Maine. I heard from a lot of skiers that they will make their way to Presque Isle, so it should be great time. An exciting trip that I will be going on this spring is to visit the Niagara Falls. I have heard various opinions as to how much people liked or disliked their trip there – but the Niagara Falls are very well known around the world and I am looking forward to check them out. It will be awesome! I had such a good time at the Birkie this year that I would love to go back to Hayward/Cable, Wisconsin. It may depend on how much support I will be offered at that point.
Thanks for catching up with us Juergen! Good luck at Spring Series!
You graduated from Dartmouth in 2009. What made you decide to pursue skiing professionally after graduation? How has your experience at Dartmouth shaped your experience as a racer?
I always knew I wanted to ski professionally, but just had to get my academic obligations out of the way first. I love putting myself 100% into the things I pursue, and being done with college, I wanted to take the opportunity to put all my effort and focus into skiing and see what I could achieve. My experience at Dartmouth taught me how to lead a very busy and demanding life, all while maintaining my sanity and not losing the joy in the things I do. I now find myself very well prepared to manage my responsibilities in a professional manner on and off skis. Also, skiing on such an extremely stacked team, such as Dartmouth’s women’s cross country team, has taught me to really just ski for myself and to achieve things for myself, and not worry about other people and their results compared to yours.
What has your year been like on the CXC team? Where do you spend most of your time training? How often to you train with other CXC athletes? What has been the biggest change to your training and racing experience since joining a professional team?
My year on the CXC team has been fantastic! I have gotten to travel all over the country, train with a great group, and really learned a lot about myself through the experience. Adjusting to the new lifestyle has posed its difficulties, but in the end I find that it all suits me very well. It is really hard to say where I spend “most” of my time. If I look over my schedule for the past 9 months I have spent 13 weeks “at home” in Minneapolis, 7 weeks in Hayward, 5 weeks in Utah where my boyfriend lives, and the other 3.5 months traveling to other locations for training, racing, and recreation. I’ve become rather accoustomed to living out a suitcase. Between May and November I train with the team at camps two weeks of every month. Then starting in West Yellowstone I am training with the team when we are together for races. The biggest change for me since “going pro” is what to do with myself all of the time when I’m not training. Recovery is a top priority, so I have lots of down time, but I also spend time working on fundraising, as well as other team responsibilities such as blogging and clinics. It is a little odd for me to have such an unstructured schedule for the first time in my life. Many days I have nothing I must to do at a specific time, so I really have to be motivated to get things done on my own.
Coming into the 2009-2010 season, what were your goals for the year? What races were you focusing on for the season?
My goals for this year were mostly training-related. I wanted to make a smooth adjustment to my new training regimen and to be very careful about not overdoing things with all the extra time I now had to put into training. I also was focused on successfully rehabing my shoulder, which I had surgery on in late April 2009. I wasn’t able to start using it again until September so I wanted to fully regain strength and range of motion by the end of the season. My main focus was the SuperTour sprints, especially the classic. I didn’t get to sprint as much as I wanted in college, and sprints are the area in which I feel I have the most potential.
You’ve had some strong results in sprint races, including your 13th place finish at US Nationals this year. What was it like to get a win in a high profile distance race? Have you raced a 50K before?
I was very happy with my sprint at nationals, but winning the Birkie was way cooler. I am really proud to able to represent the Birkie and all the great things it stands for in this reguard. I really did not expect as much of a reception as I got. Coming down Main Street the crowd was deafening and then as soon as I crossed the line I was whisked away by an escort to a holding room while we waited for the podium presentation and the press conference. It was pretty exciting. I did one 50k before this, the Great Glenn to Bretton Woods “ski adventure” in New Hampshire. I really enjoyed that race and it got me thinking that I could do pretty well in other classic marathons.
Explain how your win at the Classic Birkie unfolded: Did you lead the women’s field the whole way or did you exchange the lead with other racers? How were the conditions? How did your skis hold up throughout the race? Were there any critical points in your race that you felt contributed most to your win?
I skied in a small pack of ladies including Kerrie Fabius of Thunder Bay and Hillary Patzer. We switched off the lead for the first 20k or so, and then Hillary and I pulled away. I was leading Hillary at 36k (15k to go) when I got my second-to-last feed. I was feeling strong, so I started pushing the pace to see what Hillary had left. I pulled away and increased my effort throughout the remainder of the race. I raced on a pair of original production Salomon skis with a low camber, soft flex, and Finn Sisu fine grind. The skis were great the entire race: I strode every hill except the very top of Bitch Hill. I was running up on people’s tails on the down hills and striding past them on the climbs. The conditions were amazing. A hard white track all the way from Telemark to Hayward. The track was fast, which made the downhills really fun! I think the critical part of my race was that I fed a lot early on while staying relaxed and patient. This allowed me to have the energy to start pushing where I did and break away.
What’s next for your race season?
My next and final races for the season will be at Spring Series in Fort Kent, Maine. There is a classic sprint there, so I’m pretty excited.
Thanks Audrey – congrats on your Birkie win and good luck in Maine!