Rinks & Racing
I’m a big hockey fan. Not necessarily a big NHL TV watching fan, although I am running a fantasy team in a league I unintentionally got into. It’s filling the void left after NFL fantasy season is over… My point is, I love to play hockey. I love to skate; I’ve been skating since a young age. I remember my power skating lessons back when I was too young to play in a league. Then I spent a few years in a recreational league for younger kids before moving up into the more competitive league.
It was a fun environment. Being part of a team, meeting new friends, trash talking with my buddies at school who were in the same league but often on different teams. Mostly though, I loved to skate. The feeling when you start at one end of the rink with the puck on your stick and make it to the other end slipping the puck past the goaltender was incredible. Not saying I did it often or anything, but the few times I did were memorable.
Last week those memories resurfaced when the Alberta World Cup Academy men’s team rented one of the local indoor rinks, strapped on our skates and helmets and played a wicked exhibition game. Habs vs. Oilers. Habs took the game 11 – 10. I was on the Habs, just saying haha. It was an awesome time, I hadn’t been on an indoor rink in 5 years! I always get out a number of times each winter on the outdoor rinks for some fun games, but an indoor rink is a whole other experience. It brought back lots of childhood memories. I’ll definitely be joining a men’s league when I’m done with ski racing!
Ski racing, right, that’s what this blog is about!
This past weekend was the final NorAm circuit event of the season, Western Canadian Championships. The stakes were high with plenty of NorAm points on the line and lots of guys close in the NorAm standings. The races kicked off with a skate sprint, followed by a 15km classic individual start before finishing with a 30km skate. I know I’m capable of throwing down a solid skate sprint and 15km classic, but my bread and butter is skate distance racing. Since it was a mini-Tour format I knew I needed top 5 performances in the first two races to be within striking distance on the final day if I wanted to contend for the overall mini-Tour victory.
The sprint qualifier didn’t feel so great, but I guess I was moving pretty well because I qualified 4th place. I felt much better in the heats and won both my quarter-final and semi-final heats. I still had good feelings in the A-Final, but unfortunately the course was narrow and twisty, making it very difficult to pass. Off the start I was in third place and despite a good attempt to pass I was still in third coming into the finish stretch. Instead of waiting to see what lanes the guys in front of me would take I jumped wide early, vying for the outside lane in an attempt to win. The plan backfired when Brent veered left into the middle lane and Jess jumped around him into the outside lane, cutting me off in the process. I lost my balance momentarily, jumped into the middle lane and did my best to regain my finishing speed. While all this was happening, my Lappe teammate, Andy Shields, snuck by in the wide open inside lane and grabbed third place from me in a photo finish. I was shocked and upset. As I’m quickly learning, that’s the way sprint racing goes sometimes.
The classic 15km started well. I skied a strong opening lap, with the 3rd fastest lap time. Unfortunately I couldn’t hold it together. I faded on the second time up the climbing section then crashed on the final downhill of my second lap. I skied the final 5km lap as best I could to finish 5th on the day. 5th wasn’t a bad result, however I lost big time to the winner of the day, Graeme Killick, who crushed the field with a commanding win.
I started in 4th place for the 30km Skate Pursuit, 1 minute and 4 seconds behind the mini-Tour leader, Graeme. It felt like deja vous from Eastern Canadian Champs when I started in 4th on the final day. The difference was this time I was much further behind the leader; however, it was my preferred technique, skate. As the race unfolded I realized I wasn’t going to catch the top two guys anytime soon so I opted for the strategy of pacing. After blowing up yesterday I didn’t want to do it again, plus I had a teammate, Kevin, to ski with so I kept it in control and bided my time. I started to push a little more on the 4th lap but decided I couldn’t hold it to the end and backed off again. By the end of the 5th lap I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to at least try to pull some time back on the top two guys. I attacked and emptied the tank in the final 6kms. I started getting splits that I was reeling them in. Then I caught a few glimpses of Jesse, the second place skier. Pretty soon I was right behind, only metres away from catching up. I was also running out of time, we were only about 1km from the finish line. I quickly thought through tactics and knowing Jesse’s sprint capabilities I decided my best chance was to blow by him on the final short climb a few hundred metres out from the finish and hope he couldn’t hold on. I executed and managed to get a small gap, but it wasn’t enough. He tailed me into the stadium and it was a drag race to the line. I did my best to turn it over and make my lactated legs move quickly however I was outmatched and lost in my second photo finish of the week.
After the dramatic finish, I was 3rd in the mini-Tour and had the fastest time of the day. Another good skate distance race in the books. The NorAm standings are closer than ever. Jesse and I are actually tied after counting our best 9 races and Graeme is only 5 points behind. It’s practically a three-way tie. The good news for me is in a tiebreak I come out on top and am declared the NorAm leader for the period 5 World Cups. So, I’ll be travelling this Friday to Lahti, Finland to join up with Canada’s World Cup team and race some World Cup events! I have three weekends of racing ahead of me including World Cups in Finland, Norway and World Cup Finals in Sweden. The stoke level is HIGH!
Next update will be from Scandinavia!