Notes and Quotes from Otepää, Estonia

Audrey ManganJanuary 24, 20121
Devon Kershaw, striding during the Tour de Ski. He finished third in the 15 k on Sunday.

It was one heck of a weekend on the World Cup in Otepää, Estonia. Dario Cologna (SUI) and Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) each swept both the sprint and distance classic races. Devon Kershaw (CAN) came back from an unlucky equipment malfunction in the sprint to a gutsy third-place effort in the 15 k the next day. With the conclusion of Period 2 on the World Cup, Kikkan Randall (USA) still holds onto the sprint leader bib.

The past few days have been travel-heavy for the U.S. and Canadian ski teams, as the North Americans headed to Ramsau, Austria at the conclusion of racing to train before the next World Cup in Moscow, Russia. Email responses from athletes have slowly trickled in, so the Notes and Quotes this week are more robust than usual.

Otepää: The. Hardest. Course. Ever.

“It’s one of the hardest courses on the World Cup, in terms of total elevation change. But when you’re feeling decent, then a hard course feels good. The course didn’t matter, its about how your body reacts.” — Kris Freeman (22nd 15 k)

“The hills are retardedly—not even a word—steep!” — Alex Harvey (4th classic sprint, 19th 15 k)

“The race went really well yesterday, the second lap especially.  If I could do it over I would go out a bit harder than I did.  It was important to be a bit conservative on a hard course like [Sunday’s], but I was a bit too conservative.  It was really fun to ski with Marthe Kristofferson (NOR) up the big hill the second lap and then try and keep her in sight for the rest of the lap. It really helps to see people out there.” — Liz Stephen (21st 10 k)

“Those hills are unrelenting… Our techs did an amazing job, we had perfect skis, great grip and great glide, so that made things easier out there, but it was tough trying to stay in the track on the steep parts for as long as possible.” — Perianne Jones (30th 10 k)

“The [15 k] course for the World Cup is unrecognizable from the course for U23s last year. Although it shares many of the same trails, the way it is laid out makes it far and away harder than last year. It is possibly the most challenging course I’ve ever skied. I am really excited to race on it!” — Noah Hoffman (26th 15 k)

“I honestly didn’t know how my race was going. I was just trying to stay ahead of Kikkan as long as I could without blowing up. I knew the course was going to be one of the hardest I had skied, so I just constantly reminded myself to hold the rhythm with constant work.” — Sadie Bjornsen (34th 10 k)

On finding The Zone

“All my best races have come when I’m in that—it sounds corny, but when you detach your mind from the pain, and not just say it, but to actually have it happen. So I’m really shocked to have been able to do that.” — Devon Kershaw (3rd 15 k)

On sprint strategy 

“I was hopeful, excited and focused. I wanted to stay in a good position and ski relaxed and well in the group and focus real hard down the home stretch and make a semifinal in classic. I was really pumped to be there but Ida [Sargent] was even more enthusiastic, so the vibe was great. With Kikkan in there I was hoping to execute some amount of sticking on her but she was, unsurprisingly, a Kikkanimal out there and strong as ever, and I got gapped a bit halfway through the race.” — Chandra Crawford (22nd sprint)

“I tried to ski relaxed and more smoothly in the qualifier and I think that made a big difference.  The sprint course wasn’t my favorite because it only has one uphill in it and a lot of double poling at the end.  I would have preferred much more striding.

“In the quarterfinal I was in the outside lane and in the back after the start.  I just stayed behind everyone on the uphill and it didn’t feel that fast to me.  But then when we hit the flats and started double poling everyone took off and I started falling off the pace.  I was able to catch back up on a short little climb later in the course but then it was a long double pole finish and everyone was really fast!” — Ida Sargent (29th sprint)

On turning things around mid-race

“[Diggins] started so spastically…Then on the huge hill on the first lap, she relaxed, took a deep breath, and did things a little bit more carefully… From there it was just: watch out.” — Matt Whitcomb, USST women’s coach

“It’s great to see [Diggins] lay it out there, she’s just got that raw energy in her stride.” — Kikkan Randall (9th sprint, 15th 10 k)

On Equipment: Picking skis, breaking poles, and destroying bases

“The conditions were actually perfect but the hills are just super steep, so if you didn’t have the right pair of skis, kicking can be tough. So, I think I made the wrong choice and didn’t have enough kick, and that’s something I for sure need to work on for distance races. One problem I’m having is that I ski with so much more power during sprint races, a lot of my skis are flexed a certain way. So I can kick them fine during accelerations warming up but once I start racing they’re slick when moving at a slower speed. So I’m learning and trying to improve that.” — Andy Newell (7th sprint, 49th 15 k)

“I had such a frustrating day all around yesterday, and in the sprint qualifier when my pole exploded in my hand, that really crushed me.” — Kershaw (40th sprint)

“Sometimes with carbon, things fatigue over time, and [Kershaw’s] pole just broke. Another fellow broke his pole on his first plant out of the gate. The guys are pretty powerful, sometimes the poles are at the end of their life, and you never know when that’s going to be.” — Eric de Nys, CNST coach

“Somehow that Russian next to me absolutely destroyed himself, and my skis… He literally destroyed my skis—poled all the way through one of them, and then scraped off a five-inch piece of base material.” — Newell

On building confidence

“It’s no longer intimidating as I step to the line. Instead I step to the line with a plan and another day of racing. I know these girls are fast, I know they are the real deal, and I know I have to work extra hard to get closer to them. For me, the confidence comes from each race, as well as my teammates that are all advancing as well. If they can do it, then we can all do it, I just know it.” — Bjornsen

“The confidence is good. Racing the Tour was extremely fun and I do my best when I am enjoying every aspect of the sport. I love being in Europe, love traveling and seeing new places, racing in new venues, and the best part is having such an awesome team to do it all with.” — Stephen

On setting a season — or personal — best

“The sprint was a lot of fun for sure and it does feel like I’ve turned some things around. The whole season I’ve been feeling fit and fast enough to make it to the finals but just couldn’t stay out of trouble. But I made it through a clean quarter and managed to make it to the end of the semi, before running into a mess… but I was feeling good and it was a lot of fun to get back into the classic sprinting.” — Newell

“I think it is a big deal for me to break the points “barrier.” It was a big goal of mine going into the season, and I’m happy to have accomplished it. I hope this is something I can build on and do more for the remainder of this season.” — Hoffman (26th 15 k)

“This being my first distance race on the World Cup, I had no expectations going into it. I wanted to just go out and ski the course the best I could, and get some experience in pacing along the way.” — Jessie Diggins (19th 10 k, 37th sprint)

On just missing the points—or the podium 

“It’s like so close, time and time again! At least it’s consistent though, and when I finally start feeling back to good form, I hope I will be able to reach it. I know it’s possible, I just have to keep chipping!” — Bjornsen (34th 10 k, 32nd sprint)

“Fourth is awesome, but it is a little heartbreaking too. Devon was fourth at the Tour, and we’ve been fourth at the Olympics. It is a little tough to take, but I have to be happy today.” ­— Harvey

“For sure, it’s frustrating, but I’m psyched to be working on my weaknesses. I was kicking today. I felt like, skiing the course during the warm up, the hills are definitely pretty big hills, and I’ve never messed around with trying to double pole this course. In retrospect, maybe I would have tried to go on skate skis if I’d been able to see how fast Dario [Cologna] qualified. But it’s hard to really change your mindset in last few minutes there to totally switch it up. Now that I have that experience in my head, hopefully next year I can draw on it.” — Simi Hamilton (33rd sprint)

On the scene in Otepää

“[My grandparents] are from Estonia, so these races mean a lot to me… I can still speak the language, so it was fun doing interviews here.” — Valjas

“It’s so hard to stop smiling! The atmosphere is great and the fans around the course are so enthusiastic.” — Diggins

On double poling the classic sprint

“That was [Harvey’s] first time double poling the entire day, so that was a big step forward for him, it gave him a lot of confidence.” — de Nys

“It felt good today. We haven’t had a real classic sprint in a long time. This was the first real one with a full field since the beginning of the year, and I was looking forward to some striding. But it’s actually fun when it becomes a double pole [session] sometimes, and square of with those guys in the finishing stretch.” — Newell

“My arms totally died. I’ve never felt that way in a race before, I pushed it right to the limit. I’m much happier with my race here than last week, even though the result is worse. I felt like I skied it perfectly; last week I made a tactical error. So this week I’m more satisfied I did everything right. My arms were just not in that shape.” — Lenny Valjas (21st sprint)

On the disparity in ski selection between the men’s and women’s the classic sprint

“One woman from Australia, Esther Bottomley, just wanted to see what [double-poling] would be like. I think some women could, for sure. It’ll take one person to do it first, then others may follow suit. Who’s going to be the brave one, you know? I’m sure [Marit] Bjoergen and [Justyna] Kowalczyk could do it, it’s just a matter of it being faster for them. For the men, it was seven to eight seconds faster double poling than striding [on Friday]. Saturday was quite firm, maybe a little tighter than testing yesterday, but for those who made it to the rounds, 23 men choosing to double pole speaks for itself.” — de Nys

“I feel for the guys with this DP stuff—I sure love to watch some beautiful classic skiing from the best in the world, and it’s disappointing when we still can’t eradicate the use of skate skis in classic sprinting… come on! I’m glad that for the women, classic skiing is still where it’s at.” — Crawford

On having her club coach in Otepää

“It’s so nice! Yesterday I felt just horrible during race prep. Normally I would freak out with that feeling, but having your coach there is just great. [Erik Flora, APU coach] convinced me to ski a super hard race prep and try to ski the “bad feelings” out of my system. It’s just little things like that that help so much! It will be nice to have him for the training camp next week.” — Bjornsen

And finally, a break from racing

“I’m super happy I’ve held up so well this first half [of the season]. I’ve done a lot of racing so far, and I think it’s been really good. Now I’m looking forward to taking a break, get my feet back under me.” —Randall


Women: classic sprint | 10 k classic

Men: classic sprint | 15 k classic

Audrey Mangan

Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.

Loading Facebook Comments ...

One comment

  • skier

    January 25, 2012 at 1:25 am

    Thanks for notes and quotes! I always enjoy reading them. Great energy going on with our athletes! They are working hard and showing our talent! Congrats!

Leave a Reply