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Just wrapped up the World Cup season this past week with the World Cup Finals in Sweden, a mini-tour with 4 races in 5 days.

Race #1 was a classic sprint on the steps of the Royal Palace in downtown Stockholm. I snuck into the rounds with a 27th place finish in the prelim. In the quarters I skied a strong race and narrowly missed advancing to the semis. I was the first “unlucky loser” this time for 15th place.

Race #2 moved on to Falun for a 2.5km classic prologue up and down the infamous Modarbocken (translation “murder hill”). I thought I felt pretty good during the race but was disappointed with 36th place, 1:09 out.

Race #3 was a 10km duathlon. It was a hot, sunny and slushy day. I skied solid through the classic portion and really came on strong in the skate to finish 14th with the 6th fastest skate leg. By far and away my best duathlon ever!

Race #4 was a 10km skate handicap start based off the total time from the whole tour. The weather changed again, with heavy snowfall during the race making for soft and slow conditions. I latched on to a few racers right from the start and hung in the pack over the first lap. On the 2nd lap I made an attack again on the murder hill and was able to break up the train. I had a good duel with Marianna Longa to the finish, where she got me by a ski length. I finished 17th overall, and 17th fastest for the day.

Last year I finished 50th in the finals, so to finish 17th this year was an exciting improvement!!

Now I’m in Fort Kent, Maine for the final races of the US season. We kick off tomorrow with a 30km skate mass-start. It’s snowing as I write this, so it’s going to be interesting!!

The Full Story:

The 2009-2010 World Cup season wrapped up this past week with the World Cup Finals in Sweden. Contested in the “mini-tour” format, we did 4 races in 5 days.

The first race of the series was a classic sprint carried out on snow poured over the steps of the Royal Palace in downtown Stockholm. We actually got the opportunity to preview the course this year the day before. I put in almost an hour of the most urban cross-country ski training I’ve ever done. The next day’s race was fast-paced and exciting.

In the qualifying round, despite slipping a bit on the course’s two uphills, I was able to sneak into the rounds in 27th position. In my quarterfinal heat I got off to a good start and was able to hang up in the top 3 for most of the race. Coming up the final gradual climb I was charging hard and almost snuck into the top 2. Unfortunately a funny bobble in the final meters caused me to lunge too early and I narrowly missed advancing to the semis as a lucky loser. I was the first “unlucky” loser of the race for 15th place.

Immediately after the conclusion of the sprint race, we all hoped on a bus for a 3 hour ride to Falun. We then got a short rest day before the next three days of consecutive competition.

The next race was a 2.5km prologue, in the classic style, up and down a hill known as the Modarbocken, or “murder hill”. It’s a beast of a climb! I felt pretty energetic in the warm-up and had high expectations for a good finish. It was pretty warm and it began to rain just before the start.

My plan was to carry a fast pace out of the start, and to build speed as I went up the climb. I felt right on as I made my way out of the stadium and by halfway up the hill I was still feeling pretty good. About 2/3rds of the way up however, the hard effort really set in, especially as I transitioned to a steep herring-bone section. I had to fight through the fatigue over the top.

As I came back down off the fast decent, I caught the skier that had started 1-minute ahead of me, Marte Kristopherson. I yelled “hup” several times but she wouldn’t get out of the track. I tried to pass, but the snow outside of the track was much slower and I couldn’t get by. I kept yelling “hup” until she did finally move, but it had definitely cost me some time. I ended up a disappointing 36th place, 1:09 back. The tough part was, I couldn’t really pinpoint where I had lost all that time. The effort had felt like a decent performance. It was a little concerning with two races still to come.

The next day the clouds cleared away and the sun came out. We didn’t race until 1pm, so by the time we got out there, the snow had been baking for several hours and the tracks were slow!! This race would be a 5km + 5km duathlon.

The pace was fast and the pack was chaotic as usual heading out onto the first few kilometers. I found a good rhythm in the middle of the pack, and gradually worked my way into a the top 30 by the end of the classic leg. I had a fast transition and was able to latch onto a few skiers that had been slightly ahead of me.

The first few strides on my skate skis, I almost fell on my face it was so slow. After a few hundred meters I could tell my legs were still feeling good and I started to move up.

Approaching the Modarbocken, I worked my way to the front of the train I was in so that I could have clear snow ahead to make an attack. When I hit the hill, I ramped up the tempo and started catching people like crazy. Halfway up the hill I was back in the mix but the trail was clogged. I danced from side to side, trying to find an opening to move up but it was pretty blocked. Just over the steepest part, I reverted to double-poling to get past some tiring racers. It was amazing to go past skiers like Saarinen and Kowalczyk.

I caught up to Smigun over the top of the hill just as she caught Olsson and Haag. I followed Smigun down into the stadium and was trying to decide whether to go around when Olsson came out of the draft and then Kowalczyk. So I came around the final turn in the back of the train. The finish stretch turned sharply upward just before the line, and I made one final attempt to pass. But Smigun stepped out in front of me and I had to try and dive through her to lunge for the line. It ended up being a photo finish. I got Olsson by .1 for 14th place.

It felt so good to lay in the snow. I was so hot from racing in the sun and it felt good to have laid down such a great race. I ended up having the 6th fastest skate leg of the day, which is usually when I start to fade in these types of races. A new distance PR for sure!

With that great pursuit race under my belt, I was anxious for the final race, a 10km skate handicap start based on your overall time.

The weather changed again for the third day in a row and snow began to fall. By race time at 1pm, a couple inches had accumulated, making the already soft snow even softer and slower. I started in 16th position, 3 minutes and 15 seconds back but right around several other top racers. We quickly banded together in a train for our 2 trips around the 5km course.

For the first lap, I just focused on matching the pace of those just ahead and staying relaxed where possible. When we hit the Modarbocken for the first time, the pace accelerated, but I was able to match the new speed and hold my place in the train. The pace was hard but surprisingly manageable.

Midway through the 2nd lap I was still feeling pretty good. So again, when we approached the Mordarbocken, I worked my way to the front of the train and attacked when we hit the climb. It didn’t feel quite as effortless as the day before, but I was able to carry a good tempo and pull away from some of the skiers behind.

There was one more climb, part way up the Mordarbocken, and a Russian caught me there. I tried to hang on but she had a little more zip in her step. Marianna Longa had stayed with me up the climb and was hanging right behind me. As we came around the final turn, she pulled out beside me and we had a duel to the finish. She got a little edge on me across the flat. I tried to come back up the last rise, but she remained strong. I crossed just behind her for 17th place. It was also the 17th fastest time of the day. Another really solid distance race for me. Last year I finished 50th in the finals, so to finish 17th this year was an exciting improvement.

With my World Cup finals concluded, I stayed out at the venue to watch the men’s race. The snow continued to fall heavily making the course even more soft and knarly. If someone was just watching cross-country ski racing for the first time, they wouldn’t have been too impressed.

After the men’s race concluded, they held awards for the overall World Cup standings and sprint and distance cups. Andy Newell finished 4th in the overall sprint rankings, so I was there to cheer him on and take some photos. Watching those guys stand up on that podium definitely made me want to be there someday soon!!

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of packing up, saying goodbye and finishing off the night with some dancing and celebrating with all the World Cup folks. It was great to let loose and dance with the best skiers in the world! Although it did make for a short night, Andy and I had to catch a shuttle to the airport at 4am.

We’ve since made our way to Fort Kent, Maine for the US Distance Championships and the SuperTour finals. I am hoping to just keep the energy rolling as I attempt another four races in five days. We kick it off with the 30km skate tomorrow!!


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