The main part of this post is about my somewhat unusual three days of racing in the Italian part of Switzerland, which included a huge dump of snow, one of the toughest races of my life, getting an official warning from the International Ski Federation (FIS) and relying on the help of those I have met along the way. On to that first:
The races were held in a place called Campra, in the Italian-speaking Ticino province of Switzerland. The course is located next to a very long building with accommodation, a sport hall, an outdoor ice rink, ski shop, café and many other things, which appears to have been cobbled together over time to create a rabbit-warren of staircases and the feeling of a never-ending building. Apart from this complex of buildings, there is little else in the valley apart from a few huts, most of which don’t seem to be occupied in winter, possibly due to the ferocious snowstorms they get. Regular readers may remember that I was here at the end of December, but came down with a fever and wasn’t able to race. Added to this is that the only other time I was here I was sick as well, and didn’t get to race. The result was a lot of anticipation and excitement for this weekend, and nervousness that my bad luck in this place would strike again and I’d be once again bed-ridden.
The course was 1.4km of pretty steep ups and fast descents, and thanks to consistently cold temperatures the snow was pretty slow. The altitude is also considerably higher than anything else I’ve raced this year, at about 1450m, which makes for a challenging but fun course. I felt like I skied it fairly well, but such is my lack of sprinting ability that even skiing with good technique doesn’t get me up there with most of the locals, who are generally the best skiers from fairly major skiing nations. I slipped two places back from my rankings to finish in 63rd place, however some of the skiers behind my weren’t ranked for sprinting, but had much better distance rankings than me. All in all it was about the result I expected, but not quite the result I hoped for.
The day before the race I still hadn’t actually managed to find anyone to wax my skis, and approaches made to the American, Canadian and Swiss teams were all knocked back because they each had heaps of athletes to wax for, which is completely understandable. I was fortunate enough to have Simon Hammer, a Swiss athlete who came out to Australia last year, walk by, and I mentioned the fact that I didn’t own any high-end wax. Thanks to this connection, and the generosity of the Berner Oberland Skiverband, I had nice fast skis.
This one was tough. Really tough. Like not-sure-if-I-can-actually-ski-that tough. The course is three laps of 5km, except the laps are a bit longer than 5km so the race ends up at more like 15.9km, which really makes a difference. In addition to this, it is much hillier than most race courses: Falls Creek’s course has 120m climbing per lap (fact checks welcome in the comments), while the two courses currently being used for the World Championships in Falun have 168m and 183m respectively, and the second one includes a hill known as the Morderbakken (murder hill). Campra has 208m of vertical per lap, making it 73% hillier than Falls Creek, and 13% hillier than the world championship course. To top it off, there was fairly heavy snow falling, which meant that your poles sank in, and only one of the tracks was kept clear by skiers, while the other one filled up with snow and was only used by people being overtaken, which was more often than not me.
The best feeling I had was about 5km in, when I actually got to the end of the first lap. Knowing that I’d done everything once, I at least had the feeling I could finish the race, which I did, in a time I wasn’t particularly happy with. My kick wax was great for the uphills, which is extremely necessary, but unfortunately iced up a little bit during the race, which made the flats extra hard work and the less-steep hills harder to stride up. One of the extra disadvantages I had during the race was that the lens to my visor fell out when I tried to flip it down on a descent to keep the snow out of my eyes, which meant coming very close to falling over on many of the downhills over the last 8km, since I couldn’t actually see where I was going thanks to all the snow stinging my eyeballs. Ski racing really is a marvellous sport.
These two videos show one part of the descent done in fine weather. Now imagine it with other skiers, soft snow, and not a whole lot of vision.
The main people to thank today are the Bündner Skiverband, another Swiss ski team who did both glide and grip wax for the race, purely out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they felt sorry for the lone Australian battling it out at the back of the field, without a coach or any support.
Skate 15km Pursuit
This report will take a while, but the story is a good one. Before every race I have to go to the team captains’ meeting, normally held at 5pm the night before up at the race office. This means driving up from Hotel Arcobaleno in Olivone, which normally only takes 10 minutes, but on the night before this race it took 20 thanks to the rapidly accumulating fresh snow. At these meetings start bibs are handed out, the race course and weather are described, peanuts and fizzy water are drunk, and really simple things sometimes take 10 minutes to be explained. Normally it is the head coach of the team that attends the meeting, but as I am by myself I attend them myself.
Pursuit races are such that your starting time is determined by your time on the previous day(s), whereby the leader goes first and everyone follows, so that the person who crosses the line first on the final day is the winner of the whole race, even if they’re not the fastest on that particular day. At the meeting I learned that a) those more than 5 minutes behind (including me) would be starting in a wave start, and that ‘it is the responsibility of the competitor to start at the correct time’. Keep that in mind.
We awoke the next morning to a serious dump of snow, so serious that part of the course was inaccessible because of avalanche danger.
Thanks to the fact that I was staying in the same hotel as, and eating meals with, the German team, I learnt that the start time had been pushed back 30 minutes to allow more time to groom and compress the course (no easy thing with 60cm of fresh snow), and that the course was now 2.5km laps instead of 5km laps. With that in mind I rocked up to the start, got in the correct one of three start lanes, and watched the clock tick down to my start time. There were about 12 people in the wave start, which meant 4 in my lane. The two who were supposed to be in front of me had pulled out of the race, so I moved up to the second row behind a Swiss guy. 5 minutes came, but there was no beep of the clock to tell us to go. The Swiss guy in front, and Austrian guy next to me, and I, all started, then hesitated when we saw the rest of the wave start not moving. We looked back, didn’t see anyone waving madly for us to stop, so continued on and skied the 15km race in extremely deep, soft snow. In such circumstances it’s not a good idea to think too much about things like that, as it distracts you from the race, so I focussed on staying in the tracks made by other skiers on the downhills, keeping my balance on the flats, and trying not to get bogged and stop on the uphills, the latter of which was extremely challenging.
I actually quite enjoyed the race, despite getting my ski stepped on and sort of falling over, and the high degree of pain in my quads on the uphills, because the sun was out, there were Germans and Swiss and Americans and Canadians out on the course cheering for me, I was even offered a drink every lap by one of the Germans (I know you’re not supposed to take drinks when you don’t know what’s in them, but I trust that team), and my skis were running well (thanks again Bündner Skiverband).
Unfortunately, when I got to the end, I was told to keep my bib on and wait for the jury to arrive. Apparently the wave start had been cancelled and were all starting individually, and as such I was going to get an official written warning from FIS and a 30 second time penalty for a false start (by 6 minutes). It was here I was told that ‘at the team captains’ meeting it was clearly stated that there would be no wave start’ which was news to me. Apparently there’d been one that morning, where the information about the course change and 30 minute delay had been communicated, but the organisers had NEGLECTED TO TELL ME there had been a team captains’ meeting or even post up on the race noticeboard information about the changes. I had specifically gone to look at the board beforehand, but hadn’t gotten anything. Since this is a public blog I’m not really allowed to say what I feel, but that written warning can be stuck… somewhere. I accept the 30 second penalty however, as I did get some advantage over the other athletes by starting early. What I should have observed was the countdown clock, which wasn’t counting to 5 minutes, and the board which listed which start lane I needed to be in, which had my actual time behind on it. However, keeping in mind that it was my responsibility to start at the right time (even if the clock doesn’t work properly) and that the last official information I had received was to go at 5 minutes, I did what I thought was the right thing. It’s not fantastic that with all the disadvantages I have, I also get left out of the loop completely.
Since my return from Kazakhstan two weeks ago, there has certainly been plenty going on, including
- Two days of downhill skiing with parents in St Anton and Lech
- Amazing training conditions and perfect weather every day
- A visit by my parents
- A visit by a friend from Trinity College
- German Karneval
I don’t think my readers really want to read a post longer than 2000 words, so most of it will be pictures and videos. Enjoy!
Some rodelling with Alena, which is definitely the most dangerous thing I’ve done all year:
And the German Karneval parade (Fasnachtsumzug), which seems to be lots of music, lots of drunkenness, and lots of colour, including blackface (white kids with black faces pulling a cart), yellow face (white adults dressed as Chinese people with yellow faces) and brown face (white adolescents dressed as Native Americans, with painted brown faces). Apparently this isn’t considered racist in Bavaria, or maybe the 21st Century hasn’t really caught up to them yet.