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It’s been a week full of the highs and the lows here in Davos!  In similar fashion to last year’s races in Davos, we raced distance on Saturday and a skate sprint Sunday.

While I had hoped and expected to put in a strong performance in Saturday’s 10km classic race, I was again disappointed with a lackluster result of 47th place.  I struggled in the snowy conditions and ended backing off in the final kilometers to reserve some energy for the sprint.

Thankfully, day two provided some redemption.  I started off the day with 8th position in qualifying.  I used fast finishes in both my quarterfinal and semi-final to advance to the final.

In the final, after sitting in fourth for most of the race, I was in position to challenge for second place on the homestretch when Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk suddenly changed her trajectory and blocked my momentum.  I ended up finishing 4th.

A few minutes later however, Kowalczyk’s move was ruled as obstruction and she was relegated to sixth, moving me into third position.  So I got to stand on the podium for the second week in a row!

The Women's Podium. Photo: Liz Stephen

I had planned to race in France this coming weekend but due to some sickness this week I have decided to stay in Davos to get healthy, enjoy Christmas, and prepare for the Tour.

I’ll be back in action on New Year’s Eve for the start of the Tour de Ski.  Until then, Merry Christmas everyone!

The Full Story:

It’s been quite a week!  Here is the update from Davos…

My first few days here in Switzerland were pretty sweet.  The sun came out, there were perfect tracks and settling in at the Hotel Kulm felt a little like home.  It was nice to relax for a couple days, absorbing the excitement from my podium in Dusseldorf and getting ready for another big weekend of World Cup racing with a 10km classic and a skate sprint.

10km Classic

Going into the classic race, I had confidence and optimistic expectations.  Even with heavy snow falling the morning of the race, I felt I would be able to conquer the course and race to a solid result.  I even got a little pre-race advice from Bjorn Daehlie.

My plan was to attack the flats, ski with a light and quick tempo, and approach the climbs with a little reserve to be able to come on strong on the 2nd lap.  By the middle of the first lap however, I was struggling with the glazed track and the effort was already feeling hard and heavy.

Midway through the 2nd lap I was fighting myself physically and mentally.  I knew I had already lost too much time for a good result, and with the sprint the next day, I opted to ease off a little and save that extra “dig” for the sprint.  It’s never an easy decision to let up and it haunted me for the rest of the day.  In the end I was 47th place and a whopping four minutes off the lead. Doh!

While I didn’t have the distance performance I had wanted of myself, I knew from experience to just put the disappointment behind me and focus on the next opportunity, Sunday’s skate sprint.   To help keep myself in a positive mood, I watched a couple episodes of Glee.

1.4km Skate Sprint

The sprint day was going to be a long one.  Qualifying didn’t begin until 12pm and the heats wouldn’t go off until 3pm, so the morning was a long, anxious wait.  I definitely had some butterflies in my stomach this time.

The sprint course here in Davos has changed every year and this time we would be racing two laps around a 700m loop.  As I warmed up on the course, doing a couple laps at level 3, I felt heavy and labored.  This was going to be a tough one!

Since each racer had to complete two laps, that meant the starters were sent out in blocks of 5 racers at 10-second intervals, with 2 minute holds in between.  I was able to watch several racers complete their qualifiers before I started and noticed that many went out aggressive on the first lap and then seemed to fade on the 2nd lap.

So when I got on course, I thought about being quick and relaxed and worked on building speed through the two laps.  Coming through the lap lane, I was feeling strong and picked up the tempo.  I hammered up the big climb and had good energy over the top.   I came out of the final turn and really built speed over the last 100m.  When I crossed, I was in sixth position.  After all had finished, I was 8th fastest.  A good sign!

Walking out of the finish area, I marveled at how good I had felt compared to my feelings from the warm-up.  The day was off to a better start than I thought!  I got a quick laugh when the coaches told me they had been a little concerned watching my first lap only to be relieved with I turned it on for the 2nd lap.

There was a long 2.5hr wait until the heats started.  Fredericka, our PT, gave me another good rub-down and I waited out the rest of the time bundled in my parka, listening to my iPod, and going over strategy in my head.

Eighth position in qualifying put me in quarterfinal heat #5 for the second week in a row.  I watched a few of the other heats go and noticed that some of the early leaders faded at the end.   There was a pretty stiff headwind blowing through the stadium, so I decided I would try to draft.

In my quarterfinal I got off to a good start and right away Kowalczyk bolted to the front.  Perfect!  I tucked in right behind her and skied the wide line up the steep climb to hold my position.  I followed her around the 2nd lap as well and when we came off the final turn I shot wide and turned on the jets.  I was able to overtake Kowalczyk before the finish line and win my heat.

To my surprise, the semi-finals played out exactly the same as the quarters, I was able to draft Kowalczyk, and come off the final turn with a lot of speed to take the lead.  I was feeling stronger every round and was psyched to move on to the final!

There was just 15 minutes in-between the semi and the final, and it was quickly turning to dusk.  The final was stacked with an accomplished field: Bjoergen-multiple Olympic medalist, Follis-World Champion, Me-World Championship silver medalist, Majdic-Olympic medalist, Kowalczyk-multiple Olympic medalist, and Jacobsen-World Champion.

Unlike the final in Dusseldorf, this time I got off to a good start and came out of the double-pole lanes even with the others.  With a couple of strong skates I was in good position. But I didn’t want to take the lead, so I backed off and Follis and Majdic squeezed me into fourth.

Going up the steep climb I took the outside lane and came over the top side-by-side with Bjoergen.  She had faster skis though and pulled in front of me on the downhill, and so I remained in fourth as we came through the stadium.  I was able to match the pace of the others just fine but was tentative to go around.

Majdic was leading across the flat, but then Kowalczyk made a big move, coming from fifth to go around Majdic on the right.  At the same time Bjoergen and Follis made a move to the left.  I followed Follis and as we came into the tight turn I was able to just sneak ahead of Majdic.  I again went to the outside lane on the uphill, following Follis, while Bjoergen and Kowalczyk broke right.

At this point I was hoping to make a move with my V1 climbing speed, but then, “oh no!”  I was trapped by Follis!!  Still stuck in fourth over the top, I was barely able to sneak back in front of Majdic going into the tuck.  In a tight pack we all sailed through the s-turn and I crouched for the final turn.

Bursting onto the homestretch, Bjoergen had gotten away but Kowalczyk, Follis and I were in a battle.  Follis went left, Kowalczyk appeared to be going toward the middle and so I went for the open lane on the far right.  I built speed quickly and was gaining on the others when all of the sudden Kowalczyk changed her trajectory and came right into my path.  I tried to fight her off but she forced me towards the fence.  I tried to double-pole for a second but realized I would never get past and had to slow up and switch directions to the left.  I made a few quick strides in an attempt to get past, but having lost all my momentum, I came across the line in fourth.

My first reaction was disbelief and instant remorse for having just missed the podium.  I had seen my open lane and had the speed to challenge for 2nd before being suddenly blocked.  Unbelievable!  Darn!!  Oh well, that’s the unpredictability of sprinting!  “Next time I’ll just have to put myself in a better position coming into the finish,” I told myself.

I shook hands with everyone, offering my congratulations and walked over to where the coaches were standing with a can-you–believe-that–just-happened look on my face.   So close, ahhh!  It wasn’t until Grover asked me what had happened with Kowalczyk that I realized that something potentially unjust had possibly occurred.  A few minutes later, a FIS official came up to me announcing that Kowalczyk had been disqualified for obstruction and I was being upgraded to 3rd position.  OMG!  Another unbelievable turn of events!!

While being accompanied by a doping control chaperone, I quickly changed clothes and prepared for the flower ceremony.   It was pretty cool to be back on the podium for the 2nd time in a week, and a nice redemption after the rough classic race!

The rest of the evening went by pretty fast.  I had to report to doping control shortly after the flower ceremony for blood testing.   Then we got the word that the Polish team would be appealing the disqualification and there was a chance I would be dropped back to fourth.  That decision however wouldn’t come for a week, so I decided to just enjoy the podium for now since I felt I deserved it.

Part of the team was leaving for the airport, so we got to enjoy a quick champagne toast and then said goodbye.  I didn’t get out of my ski clothes until 10pm after catching up with everyone on the phone.  It was a whirlwind day!

My intention had been to race the 15km mass start skate this upcoming weekend in France to close out Period I. However, I’ve been fighting some sickness over the last few days post sprint, and yesterday I decided to stay in Davos to get healthy and rest up for the Tour de Ski.  My husband will be here in a few days and with a successful few weeks of racing under my belt, I can now take a little break and enjoy the Christmas holiday.

Thanks to everyone for the notes and encouragement, and for all the support that helped me kick off this season with a bang!

I wish everyone a very merry Christmas, and I’ll be back to you in the New Year with some more action!

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