Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Happy New Year!

Racing in the New Year is off to a great start.  After spending the Holidays training in Ridnaun, Italy I traveled with the team to Munich and then on to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic for more IBU Cup racing.  That area of Czech reminds me of the rolling terrain of northern Minnesota.  There are far fewer lakes and of course a higher population density clustered in towns full of uniquely Eastern Bloc architecture, but even so it can be surprising where Déjà vu strikes.  Most of the country heats with coal still so the heavy hanging, distinct odor of combusted coal adds to the sensory experience.

Training in Ridnaun, Italy
Central Europe has had a fantastic snow year so far and the tracks in Nove Mesto were better than the two previous seasons.  Additionally, since the organizing committee is hosting the World Junior Championships this week, they made copious amounts of snow in preparation for all of the forthcoming events; just in case warm temps and/or rain struck.  When we arrived there was a pile of snow ready for transport onto the trails that filled an entire parking lot.  The crews ran dump trucks full of snow onto 1.5 kilometers of the race trails for an entire day and hardly made a dent in the stockpile.  The result was a base of snow nearly a meter deep and 5-8 meters wide.  That's a lot of snow any way you break it down or pile it up.  Needless to say, training was fantastic in the days leading up to the races and superb through the weekend.
Nove Mesto, Czech Republic
The 20k was a really good ski race for me. I started on the conservative side in the first couple of laps and was able to ski fairly even laps.  I unfortunately had some trouble on the range and had a few too many penalties on the day, but it was great to see my ski times being competitive with the field.  There's always work to be done, but I'm gaining ground on the red group.  The following day we raced a 10K sprint and I had a much better day overall.  I again skied strongly and added a good day on the range to post my best result of the season.  

Last week the competitions moved to Altenberg, Germany, site of last year's final round of U.S. Olympic trials.  The town and race complex both sit only a couple kilometers from the Czech border and are in the middle of one of the most uniform forests I've ever seen.  If you've ever been in Oregon or someplace similar where clear cutting is a common logging method, you'll perhaps have an idea of what thousands of new growth trees look like all clustered together and stretching off to the horizon.  Like in Czech, Altenberg had nearly a meter of snow pack when we arrived and they hadn't needed to blow any snow.  Little did they know what was in store though.

Altenberg is a fun course to race even if the range sits in the middle of Nowheresville.  I think the planning committee completely forgot to look at the weather patterns in the area because they located the range in a geographic depression that is extremely susceptible to fog.  Now, fog isn't necessarily a problem in sports like Nordic skiing, but it severely complicates Biathlon training and competition because one has to be able to see the targets in order to hit them (on purpose).  Last year, one of the women's races there was canceled due to fog and this year we couldn't shoot during a training session and were unsure about our first race for the same reason.  Luckily, the first race was run and we ended up dealing with a torrential downpour rather than fog.  So much rain fell that portions of the trail were at risk of washing out.  The wax techs did a great job with our skis and soaked as we were, I posted the best result of my season.  Still not perfect on the range, but my ski times continue to get faster relative to the field and I qualified for the pursuit (top-60 of 130) the following day.  The rain continued throughout the night and by morning nearly 2ft of snow pack had melted away.  The race was sloppy wet again thanks to continued rain and several inches of slush.  I had another good race, moving up several spots on the result sheet.  

I'm back in the states now getting ready for the NorAm Cups next weekend in Lake Placid.  New England and other parts of the country have been in a deep freeze for several days.  Temperatures are supposed to climb a little in the coming days so here's hoping...