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Archive for April, 2010

The Season Finale in Northern Maine

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

The 2009-2010 season comes to a close with the final week of racing in Northern Maine.

First on tap was the 30km skate US National Championship race in Fort Kent. I was a little nervous about how I would feel after a heavy racing schedule at the World Cup finals and a trans-Atlantic travel back from Europe, but I made it onto the snow feeling fresh and ready to go.

It was tight pack racing through the entire 30km, with everyone exchanging leads every few kilometers. After leading for a bit at the beginning of the race and then settling into the pack, I again took the lead going into the final 9km lap. I controlled the pace and lead a hard-charging pack of 5 races into the final kilometer. I was able to counter each attack and crossed the finish line in first place for my 5th National Championship of the year, and my first 30km championship.

There was one day off from racing that we filled with a fun-filled Fast and Female event in Madawaska. Several of my fellow elite racers joined me as instructors for the 150 girls we had participating in ski games, healthy snacks, and inspirational talks. The weather was fantastic and we had a great day.

The SuperTour Finals mini-tour kicked off the following day with three consecutive days of racing, including all sorts of fun formats, bonus seconds and overall scoring.

The first event was a 7.5km mass-start classic. I set a fast pace from the start, to go for the preem at the 1km mark, and kept rolling from there. I felt really strong and was able to take the win with a 30-second margin. I also gained 45 bonus seconds by taking all three preems.

The second day was classic sprints. It was cold, but the tracks were like rails and the sun was shinning. I won the qualification over Ida Sargent by 2.4 seconds and led both my quarterfinal and semi-finals. In the finals, Ida gave me a quite a challenge over the first half of the course and it wasn’t until the top of the final climb that I was able to pull away for the win.

Going into the final race of the competition, I had a 90 second lead in the overall ahead of Rebecca Dussault. I gave it my best effort to lay down a good time on the 4.8km course that went up and over the Fort Kent alpine course. While I did win the overall title, Rebecca managed to edge me by 7 seconds for the stage win.

That concluded my 2009-2010 racing season. On Monday I flew back to Anchorage, where I hadn’t been home in 2 months, to begin my spring break.

For a quick review of the season, see below.

The Full Story:

When it comes to the end of the season there is no reason to hold back. It’s time to just race a lot and see what is left in the tank. That is what I have done this past week to finish off the 2009-2010 ski season!

After wrapping up the World Cup season last weekend in Sweden with 4 races in 5 days, I made the trans-Atlantic trip over to Northern Maine last Monday, reuniting with my APU team. On tap was another busy schedule with a 30km US National Championship on Wednesday, and the SuperTour Finals held Friday, Saturday and Sunday in a mini-tour format. I also took part in an amazing Fast and Female ski event on Thursday. It was non-stop action!

I had one day to get my feet back on the ground and prepare for Wednesday’s 30km skate. I went out and scoped out the course and did a little ski testing. I was surprised at how good I felt despite all the racing and travel. The snow conditions were quite soft and sugary, which was going to make for a challenging long-distance skate race. By the end of my ski however, the snow started to fall and it didn’t relent all day.

The snow came down hard all day and actually turned to rain at one point during the night. It was anyone’s guess what the conditions would be like for the race.

30km Skate Mass-start

That night was pretty short, I only got six hours of sleep. We had to be up at 5:45am to eat breakfast and leave early in case the roads were bad. The road up to the venue was quite steep, and we were nervous about making it up. We ended up making it with no problem, but it was good to be prepared.

During my warm-up I was happy to see that the snow and rain from the previous day and night had firmed up the track. I continued to feel pretty fresh and lively, and I was excited for the mass-start race. I hadn’t done a 30km skate race since 2004, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I figured I would get into the pack and try to hang for as long as possible.

When we lined up for the start, it was nice to see so many familiar faces. Before the final commands were given, they played the US National Anthem and then the Canadian National Anthem over the loud speaker. It was still snowing. Everyone was in a pretty good mood, joking and chatting with each other. Then we got the 30-second warning and it was all down to business.

As bib #1 I was at the front of the chevron starting pattern. So when the gun went off, and we came out of the double-pole lanes, it was easy for me to take the lead. I felt good and tried to set a quick pace to get the pack to settle down and form a good train. I led through the stadium loop and for the first 4km until Kristina Strandberg took over.

Strandberg lead for a while and then Caitlin Compton took the lead going through the open field at the far end of the course. I had slipped back through the pack a little as everyone came together off the downhill so when Compton put on a surge up the next climb, I had to scramble to keep touch with the leaders.

By the time we came back through the stadium, I had made up the gap and was back in about 4th position right behind the leaders. The pace surged and slowed and then surged again over the next few kilometers and the lead changed a few times between Compton, Brooks and Dussault. I was still feeling pretty good at the halfway point, able to respond to the pace changes.

Rebecca had been leading for a while as we came into the stadium for the final lap. She pulled aside to let someone else lead and as I was in 2nd right then, it was my turn to take a pull. I figured I would just lead for a few kilometers but I ended up staying in front the whole time.

I was feeling good so I tried to pick up the pace on the climbs and keep the momentum going on the flats. Our pack had thinned out to 5 or 6 skiers, but they were all sticking right with me. As we came into the open field at the bottom of the last 2km, I was hoping someone else would lead for a bit. But when no one made any attempts to come forward, I figured it was my race to control.

Heading up the final climbing section in the last 1.5km, I tried to gradually pick up the pace. I could feel the racers behind me starting to get antsy. As we crested the final steep, it was time to really pick up the pace. Every time I felt a surge from behind me I countered with another increase in pace. When we came into view of the stadium, I jump skated hard up and over two short steeps and really worked the final corner coming into the home stretch. I opened up nice and tall and powered to the line. After an hour and a half of racing, it came down to 1.6 seconds. I took the win, Rebecca was 2nd and Holly was third.

The race had gone by much faster than I had anticipated. I usually cramp pretty bad at the end of 30km races, so I kept waiting for muscles to lock up. But instead, I felt strong through the race. We carried a solid pace the whole way, with negative splits the last two laps. With all the lead changing, it was a fun race.

Fast and Female Madawaska

On the day off between the 30km and the SuperTour Finals, I joined several of my fellow elite female racers for a Fast and Female ski day with 150 girls from Madawaska, Fort Kent and Presque Isle. We lucked out and had a beautiful day with warm temps, clear blue skies and fresh snow. After breaking into groups, we had a fabulous ski session where we worked on different ski skills and played games. Then we came inside for a healthy lunch and a Q&A session. The event finished off with autograph signing. Thanks to the event organizers, SKIDA headwear, and ISIS for a great event!!

After Fast and Female concluded, we all went over to the Four Seasons Trail venue to check out the next two days’ race courses. The hot sun had been baking the tracks all day and the snow was quite mushy and slow. Still, it felt good to ski in the sun and work out some of the stiffness from the 30km.

7.5km Mass-start Classic

The first race of the SuperTour Finals mini-tour was a 7.5km classic mass-start race. It didn’t begin until 5pm in the afternoon, so we had all day to hang around the house. I went for a short jog in the morning, which was quite pleasant heading out and then when I turned around to come back I got blasted by a sharp cold wind. That wind stayed around all day.

When we got to the Four Seasons Trail venue, the conditions were quite different than the day before. The temperature had dropped overnight and froze everything solid. The groomers had worked tirelessly through the night to chew up the ice and put in good tracks. It felt like we were back in mid-winter again.

This race had some added elements for the mini-tour format. There would be a preem at the 1km mark, where the first racer through would get a $250 sprint bonus and 15 bonus seconds subtracted from their overall time. Then there were two more preems available at the high point of the course for climbing points, where the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places would get 15, 10 and 5 bonus seconds respectively.

With all the extras on the line, I decided my strategy would be to get out front early and go for it. When the gun went off, I bolted out to the lead, but kept the pace slightly conservative to keep from blowing up. Coming up to the preem line, I expected a challenge. But I had a clear gap on the field and crossed easily in 1st place. I was feeling good and decided to just keep the pace up. We then headed out on a full lap.

The tracks were hard and fast and it was a great time to really play with technique. I went through all the cues in my head for how I wanted to ski. I focused on keeping the pace high and tried to imagine other World Cup skiers striding along next to me.

I couldn’t believe how good I felt after all the recent racing. I could just keep pushing the pace. People were joking with me to slow down, but I was having too much fun going fast. I got the two climbing preems and sailed down into the stadium with a 30 second gap. I crossed the line in 1st and got the first leaders jersey.

Classic Sprint

The next day we were back out at the Four Seasons Trail club for classic sprint races. It was another clear and cold day, although the wind was not quite as nippy as the day before. The groomers had again worked hard through the night to get the tracks ready and we had great racing conditions.

It was a really fun atmosphere as many of the Fast and Female participants were out at the races with cow bells to cheer us on.

In the qualifying round I went out first. Ida Sargent started next behind me. The course first descended out of the stadium and then climbed up three stair steps. As I made my way up each stair step I tried to increase the pace. I didn’t feel quite as zippy as expected, and I could feel the pressure from behind me. I knew I had to really push it all the way to the end. When I crossed the finish line and Ida came in soon after, I knew it would be close. I jogged a short warm down and then settled in to a spot on the floor of the lodge to wait out the 2+ hour wait until the heats. I did end up winning the qualifier, but only by 2.44 seconds.

After a long wait, it was time to get back on course again. I bundled up and headed out to test skis. The sun had warmed up the area a little bit.

In the quarterfinals I wanted to test myself out so I took it out pretty hard. I found a good rhythm on the climb and powered across the top. I let up just a little coming into the finish and crossed the line in first. Sometimes I find that I actually feel better if I ski the rounds a little harder than if I try to conserve.

In the semi-finals, I didn’t get the greatest start and didn’t have the lead coming out of the lanes. Sadie Bjornsen almost came over the top of me but I was able to duck out of the way. By the bottom of the course I got back into the front and kept the lead the rest of the way in. I felt pretty good again and was excited for the final.

At last came the final. My start wasn’t great this time either but I did manage to get into the lead heading down the downhill. I put in a few really hard pushes over the mid-flat and got into a low tuck. Suddenly, Ida Sargent came roaring up beside me and took the lead going into the fast corner. I tried to take the tight inside line but she held her ground and I was forced into the side track which was a little icier.

It took me a moment to get my grip but I was able to pull even with her. However, the course turned the opposite direction over the top and she had the inside line. I tucked in behind her. She skied the transitions really well. As we came into the next stair step I again pulled into the outside lane and strided up beside her. We went stride for stride for a few meters. There was a slight change in pitch and that is when I made my acceleration.

Everyone was yelling loudly and I couldn’t tell how close they were behind me. So I kept accelerating over the top and pushed hard across the flat. It wasn’t until the last few meters that I was sure I had the win and took a second to celebrate the effort as I crossed the line. Ida held strong for 2nd and Holly ended up third. It was fun to be challenged.

After the race we headed over to a pizza place to grab a quick bite to eat before heading back over to Fort Kent to check out the hill climb course. We skied the course at an easy pace but it was still quite the workout as the course went directly up the alpine hill. Just one more race to go!!

4.8km Hill Climb

The final race of the mini-tour, and the final race of my 09-10 season was a 4.8km skate race up and over the alpine hill at Fort Kent. It was a handicap start based on the overall times of the mini-tour which meant that I got a minute and a half lead over Rebecca Dussault.

I got a good scare during my warm-up when I realized my bib was locked in the coaches van just 15 minutes before start and they were halfway up the alpine hill. I started to skate after them when I was able to flag down a snow machine and get a ride up. Thankfully I got to my bib in time.

When I stripped off my warm-ups I got a bunch of comments because I was wearing the German suit from the Olympics. I had traded suits with Nicole Fessel, one of my World Cup friends, and figured the last race of the season was a fun time to pull it out. Plus, it matched my yellow leaders jersey quite nicely!

The first part of the course was a 2km loop that went up and back down the ski trails to the side of the ski area. I took off out of the start and tried to build good momentum in this first section. The men’s race had gone before ours, so the trail was pretty soft and chewed up in a few places and I found it hard to find balance and rhythm.

Pretty soon I was sailing out of the woods and coming face to face with the steep pitch of the alpine run. I immediately settled into a quick tempo and thought about dancing on and off my skis. Every hundred meters or so the course would take a switch back. It was a good break in the grind.

Although it seemed daunting at the bottom, the hill went by pretty fast. As I made my way up the final 1/3rd of the hill, I was getting lots of “Auf geitz” cheers. My legs were starting to burn but I still had a pretty good zip in my step. When I did finally crest the top, I was still feeling pretty strong.

The last 800m of the race was a slightly downhill, twisting section through the woods to the Fort Kent stadium. I tried to keep the speed up and the glide long. There was one short graduall uphill just before entering the stadium and I finally found my jump-skate. I powered down the final stretch and slid across the finish line to conclude the season. Then I just had to wait, and see if Rebecca and the others had made any time up on me.

I was tired, but surprisingly not that wasted. I had expected to want to fall over as soon as I crossed the line, but I caught my breath pretty quickly and immediately regretted not pushing harder up the climb. It was over so fast. A slightly anti-climatic end to the season.

When results came out, Rebecca had managed to gain 7 seconds on me to win the day’s stage. I was 2nd but only less than 2 seconds ahead of Brooke Gossling in third. It was a tight race. I was a little frustrated to have not won the race. But I had given my best effort and did end up winning the overall mini-tour, which was pretty sweet.

They handed out awards for the stage, the mini-tour and the overall Super Tour season awards. In addition to the mini-tour win, I also got named the US Grand National Champion.

With the competition complete, it was time to celebrate!! I headed back to the team house with my APU teammates where we packed up our stuff to be ready to leave the next morning. It was Dylan Watt’s birthday, so we did a quick team celebration at the house, toasted the season, and then headed back to Fort Kent.

The last night was a great chance to reflect on the season and all the hard work, and to thank all those that helped put on the races, wax skis, coach, etc.

The next morning I flew back to Alaska, a trip that still took about 18 hours, to begin my spring break.

Season Review

Looking back, this has been a pretty sweet season. The main focus of the year was the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. It’s hard to believe that an event I had looked forward to, and planned for, for so long has now come and gone, but I can look back on the memories with a great sense of pride. I hit both of my big goals for the Olympics, setting another US best in women’s Olympic cross-country history in the individual sprint, and having some great performances in the team events.

I felt like I really picked up speed from the Olympics on. I consistently placed in the top 30 in distance events on the World Cup and notched my best ever World Cup distance result with 14th in the pursuit in Falun. I managed to get back on the World Cup podium in Holmenkollen, which is really important and exciting heading into next year’s World Championships.

Overall I gained a lot of important experience and confidence that has me more fired up than ever to keep pushing the envelop and go for more. Oslo World Champs 2011, Val di Fiemme World Champs 2013, Sochi Olympics 2014, and of course the World Cup are the big targets for the future.

But now it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy some play time!!

A big thank you to everyone for supporting me through the years and for cheering your hearts out at the Olympics!! It’s so amazing to have such a great group of people behind me, sharing the journey and daring to go where American skiers have never been.

I hope you all get to enjoy a fabulous spring. Stay tuned to Kikkan.com for updates on my spring adventures.

Cheers,

Kikkan 🙂