Mora Vasaloppet 2011: 3 overall wins, 10 age group wins, and 16 total dalahorses. Not a bad day for Vakava Racing.
In fact is was a great day for Vakava Racing, highlighted by awesome wins by Angie in the 35k skate (coming from behind, catching the leaders and pulling away for the win), and Eugene in the 42k classic. In his first year training with Vakava Eugene has made HUGE improvements. Last year in the 42k classic race Eugene finished in 23rd place (6th in his age group), and over 9 minutes off the winning pace in 2:07:37. This year, in much slower snow conditions he was 45 seconds faster than last year, and won the race. All the top guys from last year were there again too – including COLL classic champ and defending Mora classic champ Evan Pengally.
My own race also went very well, as I defended my win in the 35k skate race. Last year standing at the starting line I knew I should be able to win, and early in the race while testing the field I pulled away and soloed in for a relatively easy win. This year the field was much stronger, including two skiers who had soundly beaten me last weekend at COLL (Derek and Andy Brown), and Gustavus college skier Andrew Tilman who had outsprinted me the weekend before that at the St. Olaf invite. Plus Mora’s own Chad Giese was in the field. A multiple time 58k champ (and former National champ), he has retired to the family and working world, but I couldn’t be sure about how much training he has been getting in down at his new home in Illinois, and I sure was not going to take him lightly. I had my work cut out for me.
The race started cleanly from the new location, which featured a much narrower starting line. My goal was to (unlike last weekend at COLL) ski easy and relaxed from the beginning. The 58k field had most of the top skiers, so I made a point not to concern myself with their starting pace. Andy Brown had started fast and was up in the top 5 guys, so I kept an eye on him and made sure he would not get too far ahead, but I also knew he would not be skiing all 35k by himself. Once the course split and the 35k field was alone, Andy was leading a long train of skiers with myself in 2nd. He pulled us along for a few kilometers, and eventually pulled off to the side and I took the lead, with Andy jumping back into 2nd. I pulled for a while, making sure to stay relaxed. My skis felt great (2 coats Fast Wax tan with Rex 244 powder on a FinnSisu fine grind), but unlike last year I could tell the field was having no trouble keeping up with my pace. After a kilometer or two I pulled off to the side and Andy was left to lead again. I pulled into the 5th or 6th position, since I had put in my work and did not feel like simply trading the lead with Andy for the whole race. This must not have occurred to Andy and Andrew Tilman, since the two of them pretty much traded the lead for the next 10 kilometers – one would lead and the other would pull into the second position (putting them in line to take the next lead). They both were keeping the pace relatively honest, but because the course is almost entirely flat, and there was a headwind of 10-15mph, everyone in the draft was able to ski much easier than the leaders.
The 35k course only has one significant hill, and it is at about the 15k point. The Birkie probably has a dozen hills that are bigger, but for this race it is a significant climb. Andrew was leading with Andy in second and myself in third going up the hill. At the top I looked back and noticed that a gap had formed back to the 4th skier. I yelled up to Andrew that we should put a little juice in the pace to see if we could widen the gap. Andrew moved to the side and I jumped to the lead and floored it. I didn’t really intend to completely break away and have to ski the second half of the race by myself, but I did want to see who had the legs to come with. When nobody came right away I just kept my foot on the gas (Derek had been conserving his energy back in 6th or 7th place, and had to get around too many people from too far back to respond very quickly). By the time I let off the pace and turned around there was no one in sight. I was a little concerned with having to ski the last half alone, but I actually had broken away sooner last year, and although I had to fight through the headwind (last year was a nice tail wind), I was counting on my move having splintered the pack and all the other skiers would have to fight the wind too.
By the time the sun came out and the snow really started to slow down (and my legs started to really feel the extended time pushing the pace on my own) I only had 7k to go and people cheering along the course were telling me I had a big lead. I let my pace slow a bit to save my legs and make sure I wouldn’t run out of energy before the finish. I got to the finish on main street and was ready to be done (I sure didn’t envy the 58k skiers – once things warmed up they really got slow) but I felt great. After finishing I got to watch all the other Vakava skiers come across the line in great positions (Derek finished 2nd). Vakava had won 3 of the first 4 races that had finished and then Carolyn finished 2nd in the 58k skate! There was lots of celebrating to do at the finish, and many dalahorses to pick up at the awards.
11th Andrew K
1st Eugene (age group win)
12th Andy S
21st Brent (age group win)
5th Michele (age group win)
1st Nate (age group win)
2nd Derek (age group win)
11th Mark (age group win)
13th Dave C (age group win)
20th Dave B
1st Angie (age group win)
7th Cheryl (age group win)
4.) Long time Finn Sisu racer (from the early days of Finn Sisu racing) Roy “Gramps” Carlstad is still skiing strong at 87 years young, finishing the 42k classic in 4:08:40.
Former collegiate skier at GAC. Currently a dentist in MN who can still win a few local races if the CXC guys don't show up.