Last weekend the GRP crew split between the Dartmouth Carnival in Hanover and Canadian NorAms in the Gatineau. Matt, Chelsea, Pepa and I lit out for the territories early on Thursday morning to test skis and the race courses for a mini-tour stage race in the Gatineau Park, just north of Ottawa, Ontario.
With three races on tap, it was a busy weekend with little downtime between racing and prepping skis for the next day. We were greeted with cold temps and thin snow at the Nakkertok ski club, a funky little operation whose trails mainly wind up and over a single steep ridge, with tough climbs and fast descents. On Friday, in the 3km skate prologue, the stomach-dropping downhills were almost enough to distract from the leg-burning acidosis that highlights this new and increasingly present race format. It’s short enough to require precise pacing, but it’s long enough to really, really hurt. Pepa’s unofficial splits had me finishing a bit higher than either of us expected, but after we found and corrected her mathematical error and confirmed the results on her new best friend and attractive single Canadian coach Eric’s iphone, I had snagged the last spot on the podium for a satisfying 3rd place.
With over 500 starters, Saturday’s skate sprint was an even longer day than usual. All three of us moved on from the qualifier, to mixed excitement and disappointment from our expressive coach. Three more pairs of skis to touch up and prep for the rounds is a lot for one tech, but a huge thanks to her for making some fast boards all weekend long and especially in the sprint race. Matt and I were placed in the same quarter, but with an extremely tight course, most of the decisive moves were made in the start and finish lanes. Matty wound up 4th and I moved on in 2nd, and again as 2nd in my semi to ultimately finish 3rd again in the A final. All in all a solid start to the tour.
With two thirds, I started an unsurprising third in the final stage, the handicap pursuit. Three days of consecutive racing is a lot; but it’s even more when the final day is a 30km. With the top ten skiers going out in less than 45 seconds, it was going to be a tight race. I planned to start easy and hang with the pack I knew would form behind me. Well the pack formed, but I didn’t hang. Only a few kilometers after they skied me in, I got taken out on a long downhill. While I regained contact after the fall, I’d burned a lot of energy doing it and was definitely feeling the previous two days in my legs. I had to settle in for a solo 15km, going back and forth with one other guy to finish 10th overall and 10th on the day. Chelsea had a good showing, moving up a few spots in the overall, while Matty sat out largely due to some nagging back issues he’s been battling the past couple of weeks.
I’ve got to say, I like stage racing. The Canadians have overwhelmingly adopted the new race format, with 4 of their 5 NorAm weekends going off as mini-tours. It definitely adds an exciting element of ‘overall’ standings and has breathed life into the otherwise deceased handicap start format in cross country. I’m looking forward to our own iteration of the Tour format at Craftsbury in mid March! For now though, it’s back to the grind of long easy hours at the Outdoor Center, getting ready for a big month of racing ahead.