So, today was the 15km classic race here in Vuokatti. The morning opened overcast, but a tiny bit warmer and more humid than yesterday. It was -7C at breakfast, and the forecast for race time was -6C and warming towards the evening. In the warm-up I think my skis were pretty good. I had reasonable kick, and good glide even in a bit mushy, worn-out snow of the warm-up trail. Here the snow on race trails is completely manmade. There is some natural snow too, but to play it safe, the organizers have spread a foot thick layer of man-made snow on all the race trails. Just think about the effort as we ski a 15km in one loop! The course is really enjoyable with rolling hills for the first 5km, then a roughly 500m stretch over a lake to the side of a bigger hill where there is some nicely skiable continuous climb before dropping back to the stadium in the last 2km.
All the racers of my age group showed up in the start. Most were finns and russians with an addition of one lady from Kazakstan and me. I felt really small at the line between huge, strong ladies. Once the little “beeb” told that it was time to take the first push, it was pretty obvious that my skis, even if they felt good to me, did not glide quite as well as those of most others. I skied the first 3km with someone who had a better kick than I did, but worse glide. Then dropped her finally in once the hills got a little longer before the lake. I had no chance even trying to keep up with the front group right from the beginning. They just started far too fast for me. But saw two ladies some 50m in front of me all the time. At the lake crossing I used my double-pole and was able to get slightly closer the those two and after the lake one of them was dropped. In the climbs I caught her and passed, and felt pretty proud of myself, but the 2km downhill showed again where the trouble for me was. She caught me and just blew by. It probably was the skis to some extent, but she was also quite a bit bigger than me. And I could not catch her again as there was just a small climb over a bridge before finish. So, I placed somewhere towards the end of the pack. But I actually think I had a good race. I felt strong all the time and could really hammer it without getting tired. My skis and wax worked alright for what they are. They are not made for man-made snow… Maybe I could have raced a bit more to develop the ability to push more as I had no lack of oxygen here at sea-level and could have done one more loop with the same pace. But as to the goal of having fun in the race, this was completely fulfilled. I have seldom enjoyed the effort of racing as well as I did today, and am looking forward to the next challenges. The weather forecast is for warming up, and the next race (10km on Monday) might be in temperatures well above freezing, which means tricky waxing. But I could try the other pair of skis and see it it works on the man-made wet snow.
Here a few pictures Paul took from the start and along the course. In one of them you see a Finnish lady (#306) ahead of me. She is the one I passed in the uphills, but who passed me in the long downhill.
Hope Alley Loops is as much fun as it always is there. Here the atmosphere is great and I have met a few skiers I met in Asiago. As long as I say away from the up-tight Finnish groups, with the more relaxed americans and more experienced skiers, I’m having a blast.