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The Cliff Notes:

This past weekend was the final World Cup races before the World Championships begin in Oslo on Thursday. On tap were a 10/15k classic and a skate sprint, both events that are on the schedule for Oslo.

I opted to sit out Saturday’s classic race to prepare for the back-to-back skate sprint races this week.

After a month away from racing I was happy to find that my shape was still intact and my sprint form was really coming around. I laid down the 6th fastest qualifying time and then used strong surges on the finish stretch to advance to the final.

In the A Final, I came from behind once again on the final stretch to pull past Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway to win the race.

Now in just four days, I am looking forward to the World Championships sprint. It’s a great opportunity and I can’t wait to test myself against the best in the World. Stay tuned!!

The Full Story:

Hello again everyone, it’s been a while! My last report came to you over a month ago, just as I was returning home from the World Cup in Liberec. While I had been looking forward to going home after a two-month stint in Europe, it was a little hard to leave Liberec as the new World Cup sprint leader, knowing I wouldn’t get a chance to don the red jersey in the next race. Yet, I knew I needed to come home, recharge and get ready for the World Championships. Fast-forward four weeks and now the World Championships are days away.

I had a great 3 weeks at home in Anchorage. The head cold I got my first week back ended up being a blessing in disguise as it forced me to rest for a few days. Then I was able to rebound for a solid training block on my favorite Anchorage trails. The skiing conditions were awesome! I also got to fit in some fun community events including the third annual Alaska Fast and Female ski day, and the 2011 Induction ceremony for the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. It was great to interface with the community before heading off again.

Life was pretty busy those last few days at home so it was a nice change of pace to escape away to the little town of Sjusjoen, Norway, located in the hills above Lillehammer. For six days we were able to ski right out the door and ease back into the 10-hr time change. It was the last calm before the storm…

On Wednesday, the small group of us from Sjusjoen rendezvoused with another part of the US team that had been racing in Beitostolen. All together we numbered 14 athletes, five coaches, 2 ski techs, 1 doctor and 1 massage therapist. A big happy family! Our first challenge would be the final World Cups in Drammen before the World Championships.

The Drammen races (this time being held at the Konnerud venue instead of in town) featured a 10/15km classic race on Saturday and a skate sprint on Sunday. It was a hard decision for me, but given the short span between Sunday’s sprint and the World Championship sprint on Thursday, Erik and I decided to skip the 10km. The conditions were epic for a classic race and it was really hard to watch the race on TV.

Sunday morning gave way to clear skies and cold temperatures. As we hit the course just after 11am to begin warming up, the temperature was still hovering around -13 C (that’s about 8 F). Thankfully the sun came out and by race time, the temp was up around -9 C.

I was definitely anxious coming into the sprint race. After taking a month away from racing, I was eager to see if I had made the improvements I had focused on during my Anchorage training camp, and also to see if the form I had felt in Liberec was still there.

The sprint course was pretty unique. It was on the shorter end at 1.2km, the climbs were pretty gradual not allowing for much rest and the finish stretch was about 200m long and gradual uphill as well. With no major climbs, I was curious to see how I would fare.

The prelim was fast and furious. I felt like I had to keep the pedal down the whole time, working every section and then hold it together down the long finish stretch. It definitely felt hard and I was pleased to hear that I had laid down a fast time when I crossed the line. I ended up being 6th fastest, about 2.5 secs of the lead.

After a cool down ski and a rub down from Steph (our massage therapist), the time before the rounds began flew by and soon I was back out on course. My body felt sleepy and I had to force myself to put in a couple hard efforts to wake back up.

This time I ended up landing in the third quarterfinal heat. It was a tough heat, including the overall Sprint leader Petra Majdic. After a good start, I tucked into second as we headed out of the stadium and then pulled wide up the main climb. I had to ski the widest line, but I could at least ski in my own rhythm. I took the lead over the top and held it all the way to the line to advance to the semis.

The semis included another stacked field and this time I had to fight for position off the first downhill. I was able to tuck into 2nd by the time we hit the hill, but this time I chose to stay on the inside and just follow. Genuin of Italy took the wide line and got into the lead over the top, dropping me to third. I didn’t panic however and patiently waited until I got an open lane on the finish stretch. I increased the pace and pulled into the lead by the line, advancing to the final. One more to go…

There was just thirteen minutes between the semi and the final. I jogged around just enough to stay loose. The final was going to be tough!

In the final I would be up against the top Norwegians Maiken Caspersen Falla (the winner of the prelim), Marit Bjoergen (introduced by the announcer as the best skier in the world), Swede superstarts Ida Ingemartsdotter and Charlotte Kalla and the defending world champion, Arianna Follis. This was going to be fun!

Off the gun, Falla got a fast start and charged to the lead. I immediately tucked in behind her. She set a furious pace up the climb, and I had to really focus on quick movements to match her tempo. This time no one challenged on the outside and so we went 1-2 over the top. I stayed in a low tuck coming off the high point, just trying to conserve the last bit of energy for the final stretch.

As we came off the final turn I made sure to drift far to the outside to get some clear snow. After a few strides I was able to pull up next to Falla. I expected to see Bjoergen and the others come out of the shadows about the same time. Falla put up a good fight for several meters and we were neck and neck. I focused on staying relaxed and then with 50m to go, I upped my tempo. As the line came closer I could feel myself pulling ahead slightly. But I kept charging all the way through the line to make sure. At last I slid across the finish and got the confirmation from the announcer that I had won. I lifted my arms for a moment and then stopped and hung over my poles. Yeehaw!

The next five minutes was a whirlwind. After congratulating my fellow racers and posing for some photos, I was whisked away to do some TV interviews before the men’s final began.

Jeff was in the finish area too and it was great to share a big hug with him.

The excitement didn’t end with my race. Fellow North American racer (and friend) Alex Harvey took the silver in the men’s race. The Canadian staff went wild.

We did a quick flower ceremony. I got to be in the middle of a Falla-Kalla sandwich (Charlotte Kalla won a 3-way photo finish for third). Then we did a short press conference. Erik, my coach, got to be here for this victory and it was cool to show him all the behind the scenes stuff.

Winning the sprint in Drammen was definitely a nice confidence booster and assurance that the last month has been productive and on track. Now, with just four days until the World Championship sprint, my spirits are high and I can’t wait for this fantastic opportunity that I have before me.

Sprinting is a unique event and anything can happen. I am looking forward to showing up on Thursday ready to give everything I have and see where it can take me. It’s going to be an exciting day and I can’t wait to share it with you.

Thanks for all the encouragement!

arthritis

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