After Nationals I had a couple days at home unpack, do laundry, and unwind after a week of racing. The skiing in Craftsbury was a huge improvement over the conditions in Rumford and being able to ski out the front door was once again a huge treat. But luckily I didn’t have time to get too relaxed before returning to Europe, very excited for another stint of World Cup racing.
The first stop was Milan, Italy for another weekend of city sprints. I was looking forward to seeing the city but upon arriving Thursday morning I was less than impressed. Our hotel was in the industrial section of town and it was dirty and covered in poorly drawn graffiti. After a lunch of al dente pasta, Sadie Bjornson and I took a subway into the Duomo or the city square and upon exiting the metro we were dwarfed and awed by the cathedral of Milan, the fourth largest cathedral in the world and largest in Milan. We spent the afternoon wandering around the city, gazing at all of the impressive architecture, window shopping, dodging flocks of pigeons, and eating delicious gelato.
On Friday afternoon there was a ninety minute official training period and we had our first chance to preview the race course for the weekend. This course was in a park next to the Sforza Castle. Snow had been trucked in from the mountains and laid out the day before around a narrow 650 meter loop. The organizing committee was still putting up the boards around the course and had only installed the metal fencing so with spectators already lining the course and photographing the event, I was feeling a lot like an animal in a zoo as I skied around and around. I was a little nervous to see that the course was a completely flat circle with maybe a meter at most of elevation changes at most, lacking any hills, transitions, or technical aspects which I consider my strengths. But it was very sunny and warm so our excitement level was high.
Saturday was the individual sprint and the race was two laps around the loop. We arrived to the venue a bit late due to the timeliness (or lack thereof) of the Italian culture and the craziness of the roadways (parking is fair game wherever you please including the lane of traffic, blinkers are optional, and right of way is given to whoever desires it the most, usually the scooter driver). Like Dusseldorf, the course was open for 30 minutes before the race start but unfortunately this time Concept 2 was not able to provide any SkiErgs so I had to do the rest of my warmup on foot. The race was hard and since there was not a single uphill there also wasn’t any recovery until after the finish line. I felt tense and rushed the whole time and despite feeling like I could push hard, I never felt like I was moving well or skiing fast. The race was over before I found any rhythm and I was very disappointed to finish a good distance outside of the top-30. Qualifiers have been very difficult for me this year as I have struggled to ski smoothly, pushing hurriedly into a spastic technique that doesn’t lead to forward momentum. I want so badly to be skiing fast but the harder I try to push the faster my tempo becomes causing tense and extremely inefficient movements. Once I’m in a heat and skiing around others I find myself able to relax and ski smoothly with more power but finding that balance in the qualifier has proven challenging thus far. It was still good to do my first hard effort off the plane and in the afternoon I had fun joining the very enthusiastic and loud crowds surrounding the course to cheer on teammates who had qualified for the heats. There was even one fan that had brought a chainsaw and was revving it loudly above his head to add extra noise to the already loud cacophony.
Sunday was a team sprint and I teaming up with Sadie for the race. It was a wicked fun race! I skied the first leg and Sadie skied the second. We were seeded at the back of our semifinal and spent the entire race trying to pass which was not a very easy task on such a narrow course. I skied a good portion of the race on the outside of the track, outside of the draft, and trying to move up but it was pretty easy for leading skiers to block any movements. By my last lap I had found the one section of the course wide enough to pass but by that time it was a bit late to make any moves. There was a lot of bumping elbows and aggressive skiing and was great experience for the next time I qualify for the individual sprint heats. We finished in the pack of our semifinal but unfortunately that was not quite enough to make the final. Instead Sadie and I went for a cool down run and shopping trip through Milan looking quite out of place wearing Nordic skiing clothes in the city of fashion. We made it back to the course in time to watch Kikkan and Jessie win a silver medal in the team sprint. This was the second silver the US has won in a team sprint this year and even more special because the girls shared the podium with Chandra and Peri from Canada who finished third! We all trained together this summer during our camp in Alaska so it is so cool to see this hardwork paying off.
After the races we left Milan and drove into the Italian Alps to the alpine town of Seiser Alm. We drove way up a steep and twisty road then parked the vans and jumped into a snow cat to drive the last five minutes or so up the mountain to our hotel. It was late and I was pretty tired so it wasn’t until the next morning that I was able to appreciate the paradise we would be experiencing for the next few days of training. Seiser Alm is surrounded on all sides by beautiful mountains, the sun was out, and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. It was best skiing I have experienced all year. There were countless kilometers of double classic tracks and it was extra blue conditions! What a treat after so many manmade loops and difficult waxing conditions. To top off the fun, one afternoon we borrowed sleds and slid down the alpine trails into town. The sleds were rockets and I never mastered the steering so it was some of the fastest and most terrifying sledding of my life but also awesome and it was hard to stop laughing at the end.
Next stop is Otepaa, Estonia for some classic races! Ciao!