I raced the last Eastern Cup today. Or rather, I raced the first 9 km of the 10 km skate race. Up until that point it was going well. Will Sweetser did my skis again, and while I gave him a pair with a grind that was a bit warm for the cold, blowing snow, they were my favorite pair of skis and they were climbing great. According to the splits I was battling with eventual winner Bret Bedard for second with a couple of kilometers to go.
And then, after I had come through all of the tricky corners on the final decent, and was about to start attacking the final short climb, I crashed. I can’t tell you why…I didn’t hit anything, or get bumped, nor did I have time to process that I was off balance and start to correct. Rather, I was suddenly sliding along on my stomach, and then I was hit by the skier who had been drafting me (and who lost at least four places himself when I caused him to crash).
After we untangled, he took off, and I tried to chase him. But I couldn’t. It took a few seconds to realize that my ski was broken. I had to run up the hill in a herringbone, and then kick my ski around a bit in order to get it flat. I double-poled down the hill, suffered through some corners, and had to double pole up the final (very short) hill and into the finish, All in all I think it is safe to figure that I lost around a minute, maybe a bit more, which would have put me in third place, and within striking distance of the win.
Or course, it is one thing when something outside your control causes you to lose a race–a skier crashes in front of you, your ski catches a rock, a course official directs you the wrong way–and another when you just can’t manage to stay on your feet. There is something gratifying in knowing that I might have had the fitness to win today. But ski racing isn’t about fitness, it is about getting to the finish line fastest. And once again, I was not the fastest person to the line today. And with the fitness I had a few years ago steadily evaporating, I am starting to feel I will never win a race again.
Which isn’t to say that I won’t be out on the Eastern Cup circuit again next season. I was one of only six men over the age of 22 who showed up this weekend. But I love racing. I can say that with confidence now–I don’t just love winning, I love racing, pushing my limits, and helping others push theirs. And so, for the rest of this season, and next season, I will be out there, racing as best I can.