Europe 2003/2004

"Skarverennet 2004 - Duane Butcher"

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Skarverennet - April 2004

Well, yesterday was the Skarverennet as you probably know- a big day, huge actually, with over 11,000 entrants and 38km of mountain to cross! After umming and ahhhing for two weeks before the race about whether I should do it or not (then deciding I wouldn't race), the morning before I suddenly changed my mind and entered, bought a ticket, collected a start number, all in the space of 25mins. So luckily, after a week or two of rain and almost flood-like conditions on the trails, it was all clear skies and sunshine the morning of the race.

But first - the train ride from Geilo up onto the mountains to the starting point at Finse, which was a bit of a battle in itself to actually get on and find a seat. I managed to squeeze in amongst a smelly, rowdy mob of norwegians, and once seated noticed a few familar faces. Sitting beside me was Jens Arne Svartedal, across the aisle from us was the trio of Aukland brothers, in front of them was the german contingent and behind us the crew of biathletes- Bjørndalen, Andresen, Berger and Hanevold. So, after an interesting conversation with Mr. Svartedal for most of the trip (there definitely IS some rivalry between the skiers/shooters), the train stopped and we piled out onto the start line.

The small Aussie contingent of Ken Orr and myself tried to stick together. We went for a quick warm-up ski on the lake and then surveyed the course. In our race pack the instructions said: "Tour skiers on the right side of the trail, racers to the left." However, there seemed to be no sides at all, just skiers all over the course for miles- and the race hadn't even started yet! In Norway there is this strange category called Trim-Klass. Basically, if you are entered in the trim class, you can rock up whenever you like, start whenever you like and finish sometime during the daylight hours. This was the reason for the chaos- about 8,000 people 'just takin it easy'. It looked like most of them had already started, but maybe not, who could tell? The announcement came for the race class to come to the line, so Ken and I met to discuss tactics- "Don't break your poles, 'cause it's gonna be a long ski without them."

The start gun fired and the madness began! From my 2nd row position in the 5th paddock, I managed to blast my way through skiers, poles and other obstacles and out into some open track, skating for at least 35secs until the first uphill traffic jam, then it was all herringbone and yelling at people to get off my poles! The first uphill climb lasted 4km, and as I skied over the top I looked down into the valley- a column of thousands of people were in front of me, like a line of ants winding their way over the horizon. It turned out to be by far the most people I had ever passed in a race, although just as I was feeling good about it all I noticed it suddenly got very tough. It turns out the weaving in and out of tourers had a price to pay, with a good sized dollop of stray klister securing itself under my right ski ceasing any decent glide I had and making for a rapid fall off the back of the pack. So, the ski from around the 12km to 28km was pretty tough going to say the least, especially given the plus temperatures (hoppet snow) and the immense traffic. There were also increasing numbers of drunk norwegian spectators alongside the track, complete with cosy tents, roasting barbeques, banana lounges, squeeze-boxes and cheery smiles. I resorted to double poling, focussed on the trail and pushed on.

After regaining a bit of strength in the legs and wearing off some klister, at around the 29km mark I felt good again, and started picking off fellow race-class competitors. In particular, one american who had been 'taunting me' for at least 20km's (looking back and then kicking away every so often, staying always a few hundred metres out of my reach). I skiied past him on the final climb like he was Leon Spiller... enough said! From here on in to the finish was all flat and downhill, so I kicked in with whatever energy I had left. The last 3km descent reminded me a little bit of skiing back down the hometrail to the carpark at Lake Mountain, with that lovely beer n' barbeque smell in the air, and a narrow, muddy trail with hundreds of tourers all over it to weave in and out of! After several near-hits/misses myself, and witnessing some truly awesome stacks between other skiers, the finishing lanes appeared and the sprint finish was on! It lasted about 5secs until I looked around and realised I was all alone, so I stood up, relaxed (my legs were toast anyway) and took in the sight of a few thousand people cheering, waving and dancing around in the finish area. Crossing the line I realised what this race is really all about for most skiers- getting out into the mountains with some good company, doing a bit of a tour and enjoying yourself along the way (basically the concept behind most of the norwegian outdoor lifestyle). Compared to the top few guys I knew I was going to be well off the pace (I think I placed 7th in my class, with a time of about 2hrs), but after finishing I was happy anyway. It had been a long, tough season of racing (November 22 - April 24th) and this was a great way to cap it all off! For the record- Kristen Skjeldal won the duel in the end, taking 1st by a good margin (40sec) in front of biathletes Lars Berger and Ole Einar Bjørndalen. Frode Andresen won the first sprint-prize (4km), Berger the second (19km) and Skjeldal the third (29km). In the womens class, retired Norwegian national team skier Elin Nilson won all the sprints and the overall crown (after breaking away on the first hill), taking her 11th consecutive victory in the event. So, that is the season over (aside from a few tele trips perhaps), and looking forward to putting the skis in the bag and bringing out the bike, kayak, fishing rod...

Vi ses,

Duane Butcher.

Australian XC Sprint Team.


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