If practice makes perfect, it makes sense that there were a lot of hurting units in Tuesday’s skate prologue in the Sun Valley, which was the first stage of the 2011 SuperTour Finals.
The prologue format has only been raced a couple of times on the domestic circuit, and while a number of teams and athletes have tested the distance in time trials, there’s only so much you can simulate it without a bib on.
“That’s why you see such big gaps on the World Cup—because people still don’t know how to race it,” said Kris Freeman, just after he finished second place. “There’s bigger gaps in a prologue than there is in a 15 k, a lot of the time.”
In Sun Valley, the unfamiliar distance combined with a tough course and 6,000 feet of elevation made for a potent mix. While some athletes paced their efforts well, there were a number who didn’t, and ended up suffering miserably.
That was the experience for Mark Iverson (APU), a domestically-competitive sprinter who could have been in the mix for the top 10 on Tuesday, had things gone well. Instead, he went out a little too hard, crashed on the course’s tight corner when his contacts froze, and never recovered, finishing 93rd. Heading up the last climb, he was in so much pain, and moving so slowly, that it looked like he was ready to pull over and stop.
“My body just seized—I was breathing uncontrollably going up that hill, and nothing was working,” he said, a day later. “I haven’t felt that way in a race in a long time, but I literally had no control over my body for the last kilometer. I don’t really know what happened yesterday—it took me about 15 minutes to compose myself after the race.”
Just like Freeman, Erik Flora, Iverson’s coach at APU, said he thought that the men’s field would improve at skiing prologues as they got more opportunities to practice what he called a “brutal” distance, “the hardest of all the races, especially here in the altitude.”
Two or three more a season, Flora said, and there would be some big changes.
Indeed, the prologue was the first ever for the 28-year-old Iverson, who hadn’t skied three kilometers since he was a junior. The pace, he said, was a tough one to nail.
“It’s not a sprint race. It’s not a distance race. I think you almost have to start it like a 5 k and rally into the finish. And I think some of us started like it was a 3 k…and ended up blowing up,” he said. “I think if you weren’t skiing relaxed, and took it out a little too hard, you had the possibility of totally destroying yourself—and that’s what happened.”
Regardless of the exact source of the pain, though, the suffering was apparent all throughout Tuesday, worn on the faces of a good portion of the 221 finishers. We tried to convey that suffering as well as we could in words, above; below are the photos, so you can see for yourself.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.