Brian Gregg had a few reasons to feel confident going into Saturday’s 50 k skate mass start in Oslo, Norway. It would be his only World Cup start of the season, but that wasn’t scaring him at all.
Fact one: just a week earlier, Gregg had finished 24th in the 42 k Engadin Ski Marathon in Switzerland, just 26 seconds out of the win after avoiding a crash in the last few hundred meters.
Fact two: many of the men he had skied with there for 42 kilometers were also on the start list in Oslo, including Ilia Chernousov of Russia, Robin Duvillard and Jean Marc Gaillard of France, and Roman Furger and Toni Livers of Switzerland.
Fact three, and maybe the most important fact: his training partner and wife, who also writes his training plan, is Caitlin Gregg – and she recently won a bronze medal at World Championships in Falun, Sweden.
Gregg got off to a slow start in the 50 k, ranking just 53rd after 11.3 kilometers. But using a steady pace, he climbed through the field and finished 35th, the top American and 6:47.7 behind the winning time set by Sjur Røthe of Norway.
The U.S. Ski Team’s Noah Hoffman finished 44th, 8:55 back, and Erik Bjornsen dropped out of the race.
“I’m feeling pretty tired from a long season,” Bjornsen wrote in an email. “I went into today thinking I could be competitive but as soon as the gun went off it was obvious my body was fighting my mind. I tried a couple times to throw in some speeds throughout the race to try to get the legs to wake up but they were straight dead. I still have some races left in the season so there was no reason to bury myself quite yet. I apologize to the racers back home for wasting a U.S. team spot.”
FasterSkier caught up with Gregg for a chat from Oslo about the day’s race.
FasterSkier: So how did things go for you today?
Brian Gregg: I think it went really well. That’s a pretty good result for me. I was a little bit short of my goal, which was a top 30. I was actually exactly one minute out of the top 30. But I felt really good as far as my pacing and being able to be pretty strong in that last 10 kilometers. I was able to move up and pick some people off. I’m really happy with my skis and my feeds – to have everything come together at the Holmenkollen is pretty awesome.
I’ve done the race before – I did it in 2010 and I finished 39th. But today I felt stronger. It was also pretty exciting because Caitlin writes my training plan, and she has been racing really well. I haven’t had as many races, so it was fun to be able to get a start, and I feel like I performed pretty well.
FS: This is your only World Cup of the season, right?
BG: Yes, first and only. But if I had to pick one World Cup to do all season, this would be the one that I wanted. My focus for the second half of the season after Nationals has been the 50 k at SuperTour finals. So it was a little bit of a surprise to get the start at the Holmenkollen, but I felt like my training prepared me well for it.
FS: So how did you get the start? Was it because you were already in Europe?
BG: I was planning on coming up here anyway to support Caitlin. To get to do both races is even better. I can share how things felt out there with her.
I was trying to get this start earlier, but [the U.S. Ski Team] said that they’d have to wait and see how the Engadin goes. After the Engadin and finishing in the lead pack there, I’m not exactly sure [what they looked at] but I was really happy to get the start.
FS: Holmenkollen probably couldn’t be more different than the Engadin – big hills after a lot of fast flat! How did that affect your preparation and attitude?
BG: This is a really good course for me because it’s a lot of climbing and I think it requires a pretty high level of fitness. I feel like my fitness is really good. I have been working on my turnover a lot, doing intervals throughout the summer and even this year, in the last week certainly for the Engadin. But I feel like I’ve always excelled in uphill V1 or slight V2. So that was great, to be able to race a course like this. I always look forward to the hardest courses.
FS: You were at World Championships watching, and training but not racing. How did that break in the schedule affect you?
BG: When Caitlin got named to the World Championship team, our focus basically was on that 10 k. That was the main goal, but I was doing my training as well, and she wrote that out for me to ski well at the 50 k at SuperTour Finals.
We know that, okay, it’s not going to be the most ideal for myself, being a supporter at World Champs. But it’s also one week, and rather than freaking out about losing one week– it was right after the Birkie, so it was probably good to take a little bit of time.
Although to be honest I gained a lot of appreciation about the service side of things. I was literally just helping Caitlin test skis, I wasn’t doing any of the waxing, and I skied two and half hours the day before the 10 k. Those three days were almost harder than racing the 50 k today! I definitely gained an appreciation for how hard those guys work.
FS: What about the mental component – watching some good racing up close must have been inspiring?
BG: I think it was pretty inspiring for everyone. To see Caitlin and Jessie and everyone do so well, it’s really encouraging.
And particularly for Caitlin, coming from essentially the domestic circuit, it’s that idea that you can come over one week before your race in Europe, and have a really really good, strong race. Rosie Brennan did the same thing when she came over. The more that happens, it opens the eyes like, all right, we can do this. It’s a little bit different flying from Switzerland to Norway for a World Cup, you’re flying over the ocean, but the more often that Americans have that success, it will become easier and easier to share how that success has come about.
That was pretty inspiring to me. But also, when your coach is third at World Championships, that gives you a lot of confidence in your training plan. So that was pretty helpful as well.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.