U.S. Ski Team Preps for Toppidrettsveka, Races Start Thursday

Austin CobbAugust 20, 2015
Andy Newell previewing the uphill running course for this week's Toppidrettsveka race series. (Photo: Andy Newell)
Andy Newell previewing the uphill running course for this week’s Toppidrettsveka race series. (Courtesy photo)

On Aug. 9, eight U.S. Ski Team (USST) members traveled to Aure, Norway, for the second team camp of the summer. After a successful volume-and-technique-focused, on-snow camp in New Zealand in July, much of the team has switched gears for a dryland camp in Norway, where the emphasis is on the Toppidrettsveka, a three-day race series that a world-class field in attendance.

The event begins Thursday and features four races in three days. It starts off in Aure with an on-foot hill climb in the morning and a classic rollerski sprint in the afternoon. On Friday, the races continue in Orkdal, with a 15-kilometer skiathlon for both the men and the women, and on Saturday the series wraps up with a 15 k classic pursuit in Trondheim. While the Toppidrettsveka is the highlight of camp, it isn’t the only focus for the USST athletes who will have been in Norway for eight days when the races begin.

Andy Newell, Simi Hamilton, Noah Hoffman, Jessie Diggins, Caitlin Gregg, and Sophie Caldwell, as well as coaches Chris Grover, Jason Cork and Matt Whitcomb met up with Kikkan Randall and Liz Stephen in Aure to begin the camp about a week ago. Randall and Stephen had already been in Scandinavia for a few days, taking advantage of an invite to a Swedish national team camp in Vålådalen, Sweden.

“That camp was an intensive few days so I’ve spent most of my time here so far absorbing that load and resting up for the races this week,” Randall wrote in an email. “While we’re still carrying a training load through these races, I’ve been focusing on coming into this series with good energy so I can lay down some hard race efforts.”

The first couple days in Aure brought rain, which has been typical in the region so far this summer. On the second day there was a hailstorm so severe that the team had to take a 45-minute break to let the storm pass. However, since then, multiple athletes and head coach Grover commented on how fantastic the weather has been, helping to make the rollerskiing — which the area is well known for — even more pristine. The pavement is smooth and the roads, with minimal traffic, roll along the fjords making for great terrain in a beautiful environment. It is a good thing too, since the group has mostly rollerskied in order to take advantage of the area.

A couple of kids excited about meeting some USST members. (Photo: Andy Newell)
A couple of kids excited about meeting some USST members in Norway. (Photo: Andy Newell)

Another plus of rollerskiing in Aure: the locals generally respect athletes on the road. Grover and most of the USST members there mentioned that cars leave plenty of space and prioritize the safety of rollerskiers. Many drivers wave at the athletes, and some even take pictures. This is indicative of the skiing culture that persists throughout Norway, something the athletes are excited to get involved in again.

“I’m excited to race, but I’m also looking forward to experiencing the Norwegian cross country skiing culture,” Caldwell wrote in an email. “I think there will be a lot of fans out for the races and it always feels good to come to a place where our sport is so highly thought of.”

The positive culture that exists around nordic skiing in Norway is also something that helps to get some athletes fired up for the season. While elite cross-country skiers in this country often struggle for national recognition, their Norwegian counterparts are celebrities.

“Cross Country skiing is a real, legit job and way of life here, and there is something about the feeling of professionally in it that inspires me and makes it more fun to pursue my goals,” Stephen wrote.

Other national ski teams have been drawn to Norway for the culture and high-profile rollerski races as well, which the U.S. team has taken advantage of. The men did some training with the French men’s national team, and the women skied with some Italians in the area for Toppidrettsveka. For many of the USST athletes, having competitors from other nations also means getting together with friends from the World Cup and meeting new ones who might be there next year.

One night the French men played cards with the Americans, though they did not have much success; Diggins bested them all in a competitive game of spoons.

“Cross Country skiing is a real, legit job and way of life here, and there is something about the feeling of professionally in it that inspires me and makes it more fun to pursue my goals.” — Liz Stephen, U.S. Ski Team member

The strong international showing also means there will be some tough competition for the races, something the U.S. team is looking forward to as a measure of their mid-summer fitness against a World Cup field. That being said, there’s not a ton of pressure.

“It will be great to put a bib on again,” Hamilton wrote. “But I don’t think anyone is looking at these races more than just the simple fact that they are great opportunities for some quality efforts and reminding your body and mind what if feels like to get on the start line and put your body through the [wringer].”

Kikkan Randall showing off her haul during an off day. (Photo: Kikkan Randall)
Kikkan Randall showing off her haul during an off day. (Courtesy photo)

As for race preparation, the team isn’t too worried about peaking. While the Toppidrettsveka is highly competitive, the races take place in August and are on rollerskis, so training effectively remains paramount. The important races are still months away.

Regardless, the USST athletes scheduled in a couple easy days before the races to ensure good health and energy. Up until those two days, however, they had been training hard all week. According to Newell, this is normal.

“None of the athletes will be trying to taper or anything for these races,” he wrote. “For everyone it’s all about training this year and improving.”

Skiers like Randall, Hamilton and Newell are looking to ski with the pack while others like Caldwell, Stephen and Diggins are simply looking forward to getting four hard efforts in. That being said, the athletes all seem to share a common goal of getting some practice and rollerski-racing experience, something there is not much of in the U.S..

According to Grover, the USST will also be looking to gauge where their classic skiing is at. One of the team’s goals this year is to improve their classic performances, and the Toppidrettsveka is an ideal event to measure that progress, as all three rollerski races have a classic component. After the series, each athlete should come away with insight on how they can continue to improve throughout the fall, which is one of the reasons they’re racing there.

“It would be awesome to have some good races, but I think more importantly we will come away from this camp knowing where there is room for improvement and having an idea of what each one of us needs to focus on in these months leading up to the season,” Caldwell noted.

Andy Newell cools off with a backflip into a fjord. (Photo: Andy Newell)
Andy Newell cools off with a backflip into a fjord. (Courtesy photo)

Of course, it wouldn’t be a USST camp if the group were not having a bit of fun as well. On an off day, the team went on a fishing trip that was arranged by the Toppidrettsveka organizers. Many of the athletes managed to wrangle in a catch and were then even given the opportunity to gut the fish.

Another fun highlight for Newell and Diggins in particular has been cooling off in the fjords.

“One of my favorite moments was when we jumped off the bridge into the fjords!” Diggins wrote. “I was pretty pumped on that. I realize that has nothing to do with the training, but sometimes you just gotta live a little!”

Austin Cobb

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