My concerns about kick wax vanished as I trudged along in the sandpaper track cut out of the ice hard skate deck at Green Acres. It was obvious that no one would be using the tracks except for some of the steeper climbs. I did a few warm up laps to familiarize myself with the course and then got over to the start line to place my skis. I found a nice spot on the far right side between Bjorn and John Swain. When the gun went off I found myself scrambling to stay up with the lead pack. It felt crowded and awkward on the slippery course. As we rounded the first corner things seemed to calm down, but I had trouble getting into any sort of productive rhythm. I felt like I was struggling and kept getting cut off every time I tried making a move. The drifts of slow, dry snow and blowing icy wind only added to the frustration. I finished in 21st, an improvement over last year’s 29th in the classic, but not exactly where I wanted to be going into Sunday’s 15km skate. The guys I normally ski with had a solid minute plus on me.
Sunday I awoke in a panic at 8am, as I had slept through my alarm set for 6:30am and still had to scrape and brush my skis. Not to mention throwing on my race suit, wolfing down a bowl of oatmeal and speeding from Apple Valley to Theo Wirth for the 9:15am registration cutoff. After completing the fastest scraping and brushing on record I made it to Wirth before 9am and collected my bib and chip with relief. I cruised around most of the 7.5k course, feeling optimistic about the freshly tilled skate deck, which seemed rather fast. I ended up starting in the 19th position, only 4 seconds behind my teammate Andy Kromroy. Of course my goal was to catch up to him as quickly as possible, which I achieved within the first K. But Kelin Dunfee, who started 5 seconds behind me was also out for blood. At about the same time I caught Andy, Kelin came shooting by. We hardly had time to react, but somehow I jumped on his one-man train and settled into the quick pace. He turned out to be an excellent guy to be cruising the course with. I hardly had time to take note of all the people we were passing as I stayed focus on keeping up with him. My skis were fast and I was able to out glide him on the downhills, which bought me some nice recovery time before the big climbs. But every time I pulled ahead he reeled me back on the climbs. We kept exchanging blows throughout the race. Then it came down to the last hairpin turn at the base of the tubing hill and we began the double climb back into the stadium. I heard Ahvo screaming from the sidelines, he knew we had been skiing together throughout the race and now was the time to make a move. I was matching his pace as we turned the corner onto the second climb. I started getting that end-of-race nervousness, knowing that I would have a much better chance if I gapped him during the climb, rather than having to grunt out a sprint on the flats. I thought about Peter Northug. Hell yeah! There was room to come around him from the right, I went for it. I gave it everything I had and just kept going. He didn’t have enough to match it and I crossed the line in front of him. He still had a faster skate time since he started 5 seconds back, but I was able to get him in the overall pursuit. I ended up in 10th overall, which I was really pumped about considering Saturday’s milquetoast performance.