Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Master's World Cup 2016 in Vuokatti, Finland: Relays Day

Hi All,

the dicey lake passage
Today we had the relays. The morning started in slight drizzle at temperatures hanging around +2C as on so many days already. The constant drizzle (and occasional pizza-size snow that acts like glue on the track) had made the snow completely soaked and with no day-night difference in temperature it just stayed that way. The water puddle next to our cabin door was the biggest it has been. It’s actually hard to get out of the house without getting wet feet (where are my rubber boots!), and under the water there is solid bumpy ice. So, walking is a very dangerous activity at the moment.

This all has given the race organizers some headaches. The man-made snow on the course is now man-made slush. In the woods that still works, and actually glides surprisingly well, but all the courses rely on crossing the lake before coming to the stadium. There is no other way of going, but the lake ice, even if 1.5ft thick, is getting a bit sketchy. It holds skiers fine, but there is some cracking and seepage so that the surface is just a puddle of water and slush. The slush glides surprisingly well, but that grossing just kills any wax. Yesterday, for the relays and to keep the lake passable for the last races the organizers changed the lake crossing and made a new passage piling up some 2ft of snow in the hope that it the layer would be thick enough to keep the water surface below the trail surface. They worked really hard on it until the ice started cracking under the heavy gorging machines and they had to stop. So, for that section we had a snow passage (that held it over night) in the middle of water pools on lake ice. The passage was not groomed. It was pretty bumpy and class track pretty much non-existent. But we were just above the slush layer as of the end of the race. The last leg skiers said that when they passed, the white snow was only 2 in thick above the such, so we’ll see how it’s going to be tomorrow for the long distance classic. But for the relay it worked.

All the women teams started at the same time at 11:30am. There were a total of 24 teams with 5 of them in my age group. In our team I was on the first leg (classic), Inge on the second (classic), and Cyndy and Sara did the skate legs. I pretty much spent the morning testing glisters as the relay classic course was a bit different from what we have skied so far with a couple of really nice skiable climbs in the beginning, and I really wanted to have some kick too finally. But the snow was so soaked that anything I had tested the day before that had worked, was not kicking today, and I had to go a whole set softer with the glisters. But finally I got kick. It was maybe a bit too thick a layer and maybe could have been spread out for a slightly shorter wax pocket. But I could ski some hills.

team at the finish, happy with 4th place against some tough competition!
At the start, I managed to go pretty well, but soon realized that my skis could have glided a bit better. I ended up asking with one Finnish team from an older age group, a german team from a younger age group and the italian team from my age group. The russian and Finnish teams of my age group had just disappeared to the distance pretty much from the start. I was stronger than any of them in the uphills, but especially the italian always passed everyone in the downhills. So, I decided to stay behind her so that I could use the draft in the downhills without too much effort, and hopefully pass the finn and german. That way we went until the last uphill before a long downhill to the lake at ~3km (the whole leg was 5km).  In that uphill I managed to get ahead of the finn and the german but the italian passed me again in the downhill. The lake was alright. I did not notice any huge cracks, even if others said they were there. The italian was double-poling in the front, but despite her better glide I was catching her and easily staying with her because the surface was bumpy, the poles were sinking through the snow to the slush, and I had a much better technique to deal with all this than she did. Thanks to my background in ski-orienteering, I know how to pole low and under my own skis to avoid sinking poles. So, that was where the tactics were finalized. There was a short but steep climb to the bridge after a drop to the stadium. My only way of trying to be ahead of the italian and give any seconds good for Inge to fight for a 3rd place was to attack the hill like and use all the hill bounding we have done with Dina and Clay to get as far ahead as I could and hope that she won’t catch me in the downhill. So, in the beginning of the hill I pushed past her, tried to ski nicely in the track but it was too mushy, moved to the middle and ran up as fast as I could. Then full on double-poling the whole down hill and flat, and right at the last corner the italian flew by… Anyway, I was right behind her when tagging Inge, and panting really hard. 

Inge did a good ski, but the Italian ladies had phenomenal skis and we were some 10s behind after the second leg. Cyndy skied the best she has ever skied (according to her own words), and pretty nice it looked too especially on the last hill, but the italians were clearly ahead. Sara skied really well too, but we had no chance catching them. So, we ended up 4th. 

Check our facebook page for the two videos from the start, one from the start and one from the exchange between me and Inge (you see the big strong Italian lady in pink/blue suit) - will find a way to add/post those shortly. I’m now off to celebrate with the team-mates, and then to clean and rewax the skis for tomorrow. 30km classic in slush will be interesting. The weather is supposed to get a bit colder, but only on Friday with some new snow also forecast. So the classic long race will be what it has been the last few days.


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