Let’s get right to it – racing on the World Cup is awesome.
The World Cup is unlike any other race experience. The venues, the crowds – and the competition – are all incredible. It’s definitely a learning experience, and very different from racing Supertours in the US. The little things, like timing your warmup to fit the (narrow) course openings, take a bit of practice. That said, once you get over the grandeur of it all, World Cups are still just ski racing.
We’re four races into the Ski Tour Canada now, with four more races to go. We started the tour in Gatineau, Quebec with a city sprint. The qualifier was an awesome experience – there was so much noise I felt the the crowds propelled me up each hill. I got a little excited and didn’t execute the race super well, but was happy with the experience and learned a ton that I could carry forward to the next races.
After the Gatineau sprint, we immediately boarded the buses for the three hour drive to Montreal for Stage 2 of the Tour, a 17.5k Classic Mass start. Because of low snow, they had to run the race on their backup course, which was interesting to say the least. The course featured three extremely steep and narrow herringbone climbs. The biggest climb was really only wide enough for one skier.
Needless to say, the pack got bunched up, and starting toward the back meant you got the worst of it. In the first 5 minutes of my World Cup Distance debut, I found myself at a complete standstill, waiting in line, three separate times. It was an experience! The narrow hills caused the pack to spread out quickly, and once that happened the real racing got underway. I was happy with how I skied. I found a pace and stuck with it. I skied much of the race with Canada’s Michael Somppi, and together we were able to pick some people off and gain places.
The race also featured some uncharacteristically challenging descents. With the new snow on top of manmade, we faced a dust-on-ice scenario, with alternating shin deep berms of fresh snow and patches of ice. In the pack, snow was flying everywhere and it was all I could do to stay on my feet. Reese Brown did a fantastic job capturing the action.
After the race, it was back to the busses, and immediately on to Quebec City. Quebec is a beautiful city, and one of my favorite places to race.
The races in Quebec started out with a skate sprint. Sadie Bjornsen had an amazing day and won the sprint qualifier!
For the Quebec City sprint, I used what I learned in Gatineau to make a plan for my warm up so I wouldn’t have to figure it out on the fly. I also planned out exactly how I wanted to ski each section of the course and how to pace it so I could finish strong. I felt like I skied it really well, with the exception of one bobble over the bridge and into the finish. I finished in 48th – only 4 seconds out of qualifying! It was the first time I feel like I can see a path to really make it happen. With the right execution, a little more speed, and a bit of luck, qualifying for the rounds is totally doable. And once you’re in the rounds, anything can happen.
The final race of the week was a 16k skate pursuit. A pursuit race means that you start with a handicap reflecting your overall time back in the tour. One thing that I’ve learned is that if you’re not winning races, you quickly lose time in these tours. Every race comes with time bonuses of up to 1 minute for the winners, and those really add up!
I started the pursuit really well, and was super happy with how I skied. I was feeling so good that I got a little excited, and started leading the charge on closing gaps to groups of skiers up ahead. On the post race analysis, which lists your ranking for segment times against the field, I skied the 9th fastest time on the first part of the second lap. I sure paid for those bursts later in the race, and really came apart in the final lap. APU teammate Scott Patterson had a stellar race and skied the 38th fastest time, +58 seconds from the winner Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway. For a 15k that is a really impressive effort.
After the races it was straight back to the buses to drive to Montreal for the flight to Calgary. When the entire WC checks in all at once, with an average of probably 30 pair of skis per athlete, it goes about how you would expect. Next stop – Canmore.
Thanks to Reese Brown from SIA Nordic and Steve Fuller from Flyingpointroad.com for sharing their amazing images. Also thanks to my dad, Reed Packer, for taking some great images as well.