January 17th, 2011
There must be something magical about Liberec, Czech Republic because I seem to be able to pull out top performances there, even if I don’t always see them coming!
Despite feeling like a zombie for most of this post-Tour week, I was able to shake off the daze and overcome some challenging snow conditions to take my second World Cup victory!
By ignoring the heavy feelings in my legs during the warm-up, I started off the day with a third place in qualifying. Then in my loaded quarterfinal (I drew both Majdic and Follis) I came second and advanced to the semis.
In the semis, I drafted early and then put on a strong finish to win the heat and make it to the final. The final played out much the same way and I passed Hanna Falk of Sweden on the homestretch to take the win.
After two months on the road, I now get to head home for a short break and then training camp to prepare for the World Championships in Oslo next month.
The Full Story:
After two solid months in Europe chasing World Cup races through different six countries, I was finally down to my last few days before I would get the chance to go home. The last stop would be a skate sprint in Liberec, Czech Republic.
This post-Tour week has been a bit of a haze. Without the stimulus of daily racing, my energy took a dive and for the first few days of the week, all I really felt like doing was sleeping and watching movies. I managed one short ski and a couple walks.
On Wednesday, Andy and Grover and I loaded up in the cargo van and made the 8-hour journey northeast to Liberec. Upon arriving, we found a very different scene than the one we had left two years ago at the World Championships. Warm temperatures and rain had taken all but a little bit of the natural snow.
We had a couple days to prepare for the race and I hoped that I could wake my body out of its stupor. The conditions on the course were challenging, reminding me of my summer training time on Eagle Glacier and we were limited to a 2km loop.
The morning of the race I definitely had butterflies in my stomach, but this time for a different reason. Having never done a Tour de Ski before, I wasn’t sure how much the high load of racing was going to affect my sprint speed. I had confidence from my solid sprinting earlier in the season, but would that extra gear be there this week?
It was pouring rain as we headed out to the venue on a big shuttle bus. My buddy Chandra Crawford and I shared a seat and rocked out to some new Swedish stuff she had just found. As we pulled into the venue we could see that it was not only just raining, it was windy too. We braced ourselves for a wild day.
The race organizers were spreading salt all over the course to keep it firm. The snow was so fast that it was hard to tell which skis out of the three pairs we were testing were actually the fastest. So we went on the pair that just intuitively felt the best. I made sure to get in a hard warm-up to get my body as awake and ready as possible, but it wasn’t easy. My legs felt heavy and my balance a little awkward.
For my qualifying lap I was pleasantly surprised to find the heaviness in the legs gone, replaced by a lightness in my stride. I made it up and over the first climb feeling good and dropped into a low tuck. I carried good speed into the next climb and made it through the hodge-podge of hard and soft snow. On the final climb and into the finish stretch, I still had plenty of power in the tank and charged to the line. I crossed with the third fastest time. A nice surprise!
The sun had come out briefly during the women’s qualifier, but soon after the rain returned. I threw on my running shoes and jogged my cool down.
The Canadians were nice enough to let Andy and I crash in their wax cabin between the rounds. I changed into some dry clothes, downed some Powerbar Recovery drink and Gel Blasts, and drifted off into a semi-comatose state while listening to my iPod. A little less than two hours drifted by and it was time to get going again.
The heaviness in my legs returned for my second warm-up of the day and I wondered if it was just a trick of my nerves like earlier. I did some harder skiing and hoped for the best come race time.
Thankfully the rain stopped and the sky actually cleared a bit.
Third qualifying position put me in the fifth and last women’s quarterfinal. As the other heats went out, there were less and less women left in the start pen. I noticed Petra Majdic and Arianna Follis were both still around. “Ha, wouldn’t it be funny if they were BOTH in my quarterfinal,” I thought. Turns out, they were!
In my quarterfinal I got off to a good start and going up the first climb, I held back a little bit hoping someone else would want to lead. As we got to the top of the hill, Hanna Kolb made a break for it and I tucked myself into second. I made sure to stay low off the downhill and pulled up alongside her going up the gradual section and took the lead over the top.
When we hit the final climb, Majdic pulled out of my draft and put on a big surge. I countered but she got a little ahead and then slowly drifted into my path as she made for the corner. I didn’t panic and just slipped in behind her until we got on the home straight. With 100m to go, I knew Follis could be attacking, so I picked the wide lane and turned up the speed. Just before the line I could tell I was solidly in 2nd, advancing to the semis.
As we lined up for the second semi-final, the first women’s semifinal was underway. Marit Bjoergen had handily won her quarterfinal by skiing from the front but appeared to be taking a different strategy and was hanging back in 2nd. Midway through the course, she bumped skis with another racer and dropped back to 5th. She tried desperately to get back up to the front but couldn’t find the space and ended up third in her heat, unbelievable! She would now have to wait to see if she would make the final as a lucky loser.
We lined up for our semifinal next. When the gun went off I reacted a little slowly and got out of the lanes a step behind. Everyone seemed to drift left towards the best line, so I decided to stay right and got a clear lane up the first climb. I was able to tuck myself into third over the top of the hill.
I made sure to stay nice and low, and came out of my tuck with good momentum. I stayed to the right again and used clear snow to move myself up into second over the top of the hill. I shadowed Falk of Sweden into the final climb and this time I used the slingshot to get around (like Majdic had in the quarter) and was able to get past Falk before the turn. I put it into high gear and hammered to the line unchallenged.
Our semifinal ended being over three seconds faster than the first, meaning Bjoergen was out of the final. I was actually bummed. I had been looking forward to another chance to match up against the Queen!
Finally, I was down to the last race of the day. Just three more minutes and then I could head home for a nice break. Just three more minutes!
In the final would be myself, Falk, and Majdic, the Norwegians Brun-lie and Falla, and Barthelme of France. The camera came by for our introductions, I gave one last smile, and then crouched for the start.
Bang! I had a slight delayed reaction again, and as my poles slipped a bit in the soft snow, I came out of the lanes a little behind. Falk charged to the lead with Brun-lie in tow. I worked my way up the right side again, using a quick V1 to move up and get into 3rd over the top.
My skis were running really well and dropping down into my best alpine tuck, I came zinging up on the girls ahead and steered right into the open lane. I could feel Majdic going for the same lane and made sure to throw in a few free skates to keep my momentum. We V2’d madly up the next climb and I slipped in behind Falk going over the top.
I pushed hard into the downhill and got the draft. As we came flying into the final climb and I made a mad dash on the outside and narrowly pulled even with Falk before the corner. Once onto the homestretch I veered left into an open lane and turned on the jets. I felt the power transfer directly into my skis and poles as I came by Falk and went into the lead. This is where I had lost the gold medal at World Championships and I wasn’t going to lose it this time.
A couple meters before the finish line I realized that I had the race and threw my arms up in celebration. As I slid to a halt, I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I almost didn’t even feel tired. I was filled with exhilaration. After a three-year drought it felt incredible to take another World Cup win! What a fun race!
I exchanged hugs and high fives with the rest of the racers. Falk had held on for 2nd and Brun-lie took the bronze. Then I got to celebrate big hugs with Joqui, Randy and Grover, whom I have to thank for my great skis!! And most special, I got to share a big embrace with my husband, who was on site working with the Australian team. What would a victory be without those to share it with!
While the men’s final took place, there was a whirlwind of TV interviews and chasing after some dry clothes. Then we got to do the flower ceremony, press conference and the mandatory pee test for doping control. All the while, I couldn’t stop smiling!
After two months, time was suddenly in hyper drive. We came back to the hotel and had just an hour to shower, throw the wet clothes in a ski bag and grab a little dinner before catching a shuttle to Prague. Despite my excitement to get home, I was a little sad not to have that evening to hang out and celebrate a little. I said goodbye to my husband (luckily just for a week this time), wished Grover a safe drive and boarded the shuttle.
(Thankfully, we did manage to get in a champagne toast at the airport hotel before hitting the pillows for a short night of sleep.)
As I write this I am now on my way back to Alaska for a three-week break and training period at home. I just heard that my win yesterday has put me in the lead of the overall Sprint World Cup, yeehaw! It’s too bad I won’t be racing in Otepaa next weekend to actually get to wear the bib!
It will be hard for sure to miss the next two weekends of World Cup racing, but my focus now turns to the World Championships in Oslo. The win in Liberec is a great confidence booster and I am feeling more motivated than ever.
Thanks to everyone for all the wonderful emails and posts. It’s really special to share all these moments with you.
I’ll be back in a few weeks with the final tune-up races at the World Cup in Drammen in mid-February. Until then, enjoy winter!