For Holly Brooks, the Tour de Ski was supposed to be about the chance to rewrite her experience from a year ago. When she broke her wrist before the first stage last season, performance-based goals changed and she sought to just prove to herself she could finish anyway. Healthy and injury-free this time around, Brooks set her ambitions for 2013 much higher.
“Part of the plan was to just try it this year and see what it was like and just learn something before next year when it’s an Olympic year,” Brooks said after completing the final climb up the Alpe Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
In racing, things don’t always go as planned. Brooks started strong in the first few stages, placing eleventh in both the Oberhof prologue and 18th in the Val Mustair sprint. But after a full schedule of World Cups in both Europe and Canada in the early season, she began to tire in the last four back-to-back stages and fell well short of her original goals.
After she finished the penultimate stage in 47th, a 10 k classic in Val di Fiemme, she considered ending her Tour right there.
“If you had talked to me within 10 or 15 minutes after finishing, I didn’t want to do it,” Brooks said in a phone interview after the final climb. “But it kind of wears off and you’re like, ‘Aw, I might as well.’ I figured — it’s hard for me not to finish something that I started and in hindsight maybe it’s silly.”
She kept going, climbed the Alpe Cermis, and finished the Tour in 38th overall. Was it a smart decision to finish despite her fatigue? Brooks wasn’t sure.
“A lot of the Euros, you see they have a bad race or they have a tickle in their throat and they go home right away and rest up. And we just don’t have that option,” Brooks said. “If you’re not feeling good it’s not like you can go home. What are you going to do, just sit in your hotel?
“And so, you know, I just keep racing whether it’s good or bad. And I have a hard time drawing that line — when do you give in and say enough is enough and just start recovering? I’m just hoping I didn’t dig myself too deep of a hole.”
Going forward, Brooks has learned what it means to overextend herself and doesn’t plan on making the same mistake again.
“If I had to guess, now I’d probably come up with a little different race schedule. I’ve raced every World Cup except for one and it’s included a lot of really tough travel. A lot of people that did the Tour didn’t go to Canada, and a lot of people who went to Canada didn’t do the Tour. Maybe I’ve just done too much.”
To give herself much-needed rest, Brooks went directly from Val di Fiemme to a friend’s house in Polcenigo three hours away following the Tour to “do some reading, drink cappuccinos and just try to recover, mentally and physically.”
In the immediate aftermath of the final climb her future race schedule was up the air. Despite her best efforts to stay positive in the face of unsatisfactory results Brooks is not immune to their toll on confidence, and hopes that spending time in some lower-level European races will help.
“Ideally I’d like to do a couple races that aren’t World Cups, just to get some starts and go for some podiums,” Brooks said. “I think that can help with confidence and just your race head.”
Less than two months remain before World Championships, the high point of this season, begin in Italy. Until then, Brooks is focused on getting herself back to feeling normal.
“I really want to get back into the place I was in Gallivare and Kuusamo. And luckily I have some time.”
— Chelsea Little contributed reporting.
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.