The racing season has sneaked into March yet the winter conditions are just shaping up in Davos! The last set of Continental Cup races took place in Arber, Germany, March 5-6. It is only 20km from the border with the Czech Republic but a 5 hour drive from Switzerland. The Saturday of racing was a 10km individual start classic race and Sunday a 15km mass start skate race. I always struggle with classic skiing on warm Klister days, but I was happy with how I skied and was able to ski with some of the leaders as the 2.5km loop meant that there was lots of overlap between racers. Although the result lacks any lustre, 26th, I actually thought I skied it quite well. A bit of a bummer when your result doesn't reflect your interpretation of the race! Although the field wasn't huge in Germany, the strength of the women racing here is always impressive to me. Coming from Canada, where the NorAm circuit is the mainstay, the facility of athletes to drift from COC to World Cup is logistically possible and means that we are always racing at a high level of international competition.
March 5th, Saturday 10km Classic Results
Sunday's mass start race went well, for the second half of the 15km. This season, I either haven't had the shape to back up the pace that I set out with in distance races or the confidence to risk it when I am in better shape. The first half of the 15km was a typical women's start, complete with screaming Italians and broken poles and even an Austrian passed out on the side of the trail (I heard afterwards that she is thankfully OK!). Once I found a rhythm, I was able to start picking off skiers in front of me and ended the day in 16th and felt like I had room to dig and fight at the end of the race. The weekend also included OPA races which meant our team was massive and included the up and coming (or already arrived!) talent from Switzerland. It's so fun for me to hand around the minors. I get such a kick of energy seeing how excited, nervous and giddy they are! Makes me feel like an old Hag at times, but reminds me of my giddy and awkward days. Just checked. Still giddy and awkward.
March 6th, Sunday 15km Skate Mass Start Results
It was back to Davos after the weekend for a quick spin of laundry and then off to St.Moritz to join the Engadin Ski Marathon. A Marathon Event in more ways than one. The famous 42km Skate race from Maloja to S-Chanf is a given, but the marathon of hours devoted by sponsors, hosts, participants and spectators to complete a weekend festival was impressive. I raced the night sprint on Friday evening and the crowd and night atmosphere was so fun to be a part of. Although I hadn't skied the course before (missed the time window when it was open!), I think it was actually a good exercise to go into a sprint prologue more or less blinded. Just attacking anything and everything with the hopes that the finish came around soon. The course was directly in St.Moritz, in a closed off park and crossed over some streets. I didn't ski the final as smart and tactically as I needed to on a tight, fast and windy course, so 4th place was the best I could manage. A great exercise in being fast off the start and working the positions throughout the heats.
Saturday being the day before the Marathon, meant that there was a lot of excitement and Swiss sunshine fuelling the atmosphere in St.Moritz. The Engadine valley is absolutely beautiful and I was constantly shaking my head in awe. Testing skis and learning the finishing 5km of the course from Zuoz to S-Chanf was the Saturday morning agenda. I spent the afternoon using my best body language and broken German to instruct a school class of children. It was really cool to see how excited and motivated they were to learn about cross country skiing and all of them competed in either the half or full marathon.
The real show began on Sunday. Skiing across Silsersee in the morning Alpine glow to start the marathon with 13 000 other participants was insane. So. Much. Fun. What I considered mass start carnage the week before in Germany, was reduced to kittens and baby talk in comparison. I was seeded in the second set of Elite racers, but we started at the same time. I felt like I was on a pilgrimage or migration of some sort. I tried to keep an eye on the pink deckled bibs as best as possible to figure out where I stood in the women's field, but it was almost impossible. My only strategy was to ski in a draft as often as possible and to stay on my feet. Skiing through small villages and across the massive expanses of Silsersee and Silvaplanersee as well as the 'Flugplatz' flats was such an experience. There was no shortage of top level athletes, yet the passion and aggression of the 'loppeters' out there was next level. A fair amount of spandex aggression and a lot of 'Hopp Heidi's' later, I was finding my groove and skiing in a pack directly into a head wind, but making good progress and taking turns pulling. It wasn't until a group of three women skied by me that I realised I wasn't as far back in the women's field as I thought. Once I looked at results after the race, I realised I was actually in third until the half way mark. I skied with Elisa Brocard (FRA), Aurelie Dabudyk (FRA) and Rahael Imoberdorf (SUI) until the last 2km when Aurelie started to push the pace. I stayed with the two French ladies until the last 1km but had no groove left in the tank and little wax left in my skis to make the final push, finishing in 6th. Anouk Picon of France won her second consecutive Engadine Marathon and Seraina Boner followed in second with Czech racer Klara Moravcova in third. Aside from when I was sloshing Coke down my throat, the smile never left my face from the Alpine glow in the morning, to the time I crossed the finish line. An amazing experience.
This weekend, March 18-20, Zweisimmen BE will host the Swiss National Championships. A weekend of skate events with a Skate Sprint on the 18th, 30km Skate mass start on the 19th and finishing off with a 3x5km relay on the 20th. The following weekend, March 26, is the final Swiss Cup and race of the season in Langis OW. Incredible how quickly the race season end is coming into view, but my flight back to Canada in April is definitely on my mind! Allegra (meaning 'greetings' in Romansch, one of the four official languages in Switzerland) and see you soon!