La Fleclaz OPA Races
Skiing here at La Fleclaz is amazing with abundant mountain snow. The temperatures upon arrival were mild and near 0 Celsius for the first two days. The snow is transformed and granular, so klister has been effective. A dusting of snow tends to fall each day and temperatures have now dropped slightly (-4 Celsius) to dry out the snow. Skiing is now very firm and fast as the new snow gets tilled in.
Classic Team Sprint:
We had a classic team sprint under the lights Friday evening. The race started at 7:30PM and concluded around 10:00 PM. We couldn’t figure out where the start/ finish was the evening prior while testing. It became apparent why the morning prior as they plowed and moved snow onto the main street of the small La Feclaz village. They groomed at 5:00 PM on race day, which left the course soft and sugary. The track did begin to set up a bit as the temperatures dropped into the finals. One might consider the set up as somewhat amateur, but watching the skiing of the participants during the daytime would tell you otherwise.
Observation can teach a lot and it was apparent during the training session that the best skiers here have a high cadence and more importantly, very quick and snappy movements – more quick and snappy than I am accustomed to seeing. This observation would be confirmed in the team sprint eight hours later. It was also observed at World Cup (like Canmore) in the last 200 meters of the sprints and likely to every Nordic ski fan in the 50 km in the Olympics to name just one example. I believe this is something for us to pay more attention to.
The team sprint course was great for observation, for there was a little of everything – short and steep uphills to watch a running stride and herringbone stride as well as a couple long gradual climbs to witness kick double pole and long gliding diagonal striding technique.
5km Women’s/ 10 km Men’s Mass Start Skate:
The temperatures have been dropping to -14 to -16 Celsius at night, so the course was sure to be rock solid. We headed out yesterday morning to test wax and it was status quo. The waxes that had been running the days before were still running the best. It was apparent however that the colder conditions had ruled some of the warmer waxes out.
It’s interesting. Things are a little different which throw you off your “normal” game. They are small items like European outlets for example. My cordless drill can not be charged in Europe even though I have a converter. The issue is voltage, which – I’m sure can be overcome – but not in the short period of time we were here in La Fleclaz. I couldn’t charge my cordless drill up, so we didn’t have one at the start. We didn’t have a wax room adjacent the race start even if we did have a European cordless, so we need to be adaptable and we were. We had competitive skis.
We tested skis yesterday and the firm snow dictated a stiffer ski for control, but we also noted that the best skis that relatively light in structure. Light snow fell throughout the day today and there was certainly a happy medium of structure. Skis, structure and wax had to all be within a reasonable tolerance. The athletes need to make small but noticeable adjustments as well. France is 6-9 hours ahead of the US, so time adaptation is important. We’ll also at moderate altitude. Another very notable aspect is the competition. They are unfamiliar and race slightly different. We need to adapt and we did in many respects.
The adaptations made were effective for a number of athletes to have great races. A number of athletes scored their best FIS results (Sadie Bjornsen, Erik Bjornsen, Mike Sinnott, Nicole Deyong and Brian Gregg). The top American in the 5km skate was Caitlin Compton in 10th place about twelve seconds from the win. Caitlin Compton tangled with German strength Denise Hermmann and went down at the start. Caitlin shuttled from last out of the gate to first out on the course and finally finished in 10th. Brian Gregg was the top American in the 10 km men’s mass start. Robin Duvillard had a break away that was reeled in, but he still won. Robin was 6th in the Davos World Cup this past December.
The most valuable item is simply mixing it up with a new group of competitors. We need to be adaptable. We need to recognize that we rarely have home field advantage, so we need to make “home” on the road. This is true at least some of the time.
Subtle changes will result in notable results at this level. Brian Gregg noted he had a very good race but noted that he might have selected a ski with slightly too aggressive of structure for optimum results. I agree. Today was his best FIS result to date, but we need to look where we can squeeze additional seconds whether it is from fitness, recovery or equipment. Structure and ski select will be an increasing focus for our whole CXC Team Vertical Limit program next year. We made strides forward this year and will continue into next with a focus on ski selection for races as well as ski structure.