North America 2003/2004

Whirl-Wind-Wyndy Report - Andrew Wynd

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Eight weeks leave from work, seven races, three major FIS competitions and a burning desire to lower my FIS points. That made for a crazy, whirlwind trip to Canada and the USA and plenty of stories to tell.

This trip was planned to trial a new training program that involved settling in one location and training for a given period, followed by some travelling and racing. This was to be repeated so decent quality training could still be attained and the risks of over-racing and over-travelling were not as likely.

The trip started in Silver Star for some altitude training on the world re-known, early snow resort with good friend Glenn Bond. The trails were perfect, temperatures mild and the training exceptional. Some of the epic sessions included a 50km classical ski without ever once crossing my tracks, followed by a 10km race pace session against Glenn on the World Cup course. Training at Silver Star also included hot-tubbing, nude runs and hallway skiing made famous by a certain Tim Retchford and Frank Lundeen!

After one of my biggest training weeks ever I headed to nearby Kelowna for the first FIS race, the Telemark NorAm and Canada Cup. I managed to tee-up some accommodation with the Thunder Bay Training Centre athletes and their coach, Jussi Piranein. Also staying with us were some XC Ottawa skiers and various other Eastern Canada racers.

Race 1 - Kelowna NorAm, BC - Canada, Wednesday 17th December - Freestyle Sprint

This NorAm event also doubled as the selection trials for World Junior Championships, so the best juniors from all over Canada were in attendance, as were the entire men's Canadian Team, preparing for World Cup.

The sprint course was dead flat, with only a tiny "bump" known as "Hypersonic Hill" courtesy of event sponsor, Madshus skis. Despite the flat nature of the course, it was quite technical and had some fast 180o corners. I started conservatively and skied smoothly; intent on maintaining good form, something that always seems to escape me in sprint racing.

I was quite content with the result, especially as I didn't fall over or poles between my legs (also another common occurrence for me!) Chris Jeffries from the Canadian National Team posted the fastest qualifying time of 2:06, with FIS points of 71.49. I was a little way back with a time of 2:23 and FIS points of 205.80, not great but did the best I could. Some saving grace was the fact I beat the "racing coach", Jussi by 1 second! Thank heavens I didn't get beaten by the coach!


Me at Telemark coming into the finish

Race 2 - Kelowna NorAm, Saturday 20th December - 10km Freestyle, individual start.

After a few more days' recovery from the massive training I had put in the previous week at Silver Star, I was finally feeling fresh for the 10km race. Snow conditions had altered slightly and humidity had risen, making the course damp and hard packed with a slight glaze over the top.

I knew my skis would be faster in these conditions due to the aggressive grind they still carried from Australia. Ski grinder, "Bolt" from Oz had done a great job on the grind and sure enough, after testing I was content that they were going to be as fast as most. The course was very undulating with no huge climbs, but many short, steep hills followed by gentle climbs that allowed for no recovery (no surprises here!)

The race went well from the start and I caught 3 skiers in front of me in the first 3 kms, and was feeling stronger as the race went on. A helpful split from friendly coach Mike Neary, put me in 2nd place going into the second lap, but the fastest skiers were only just starting.

Finishing strongly I crossed the line in 3rd place and was hopeful of a top 10 finish, but as is often the case, most of the skiers after me posted faster times and I finished in 23rd place, some 3:18 back on winner Ivan Babikov of Russia. Gordon Jewett of Canada was in 2nd place, although 30 seconds back on Babikov. My FIS points of 124.65 caused some cause for celebration, a new PB. However I was a little annoyed Ivan Babikov had to blast the field by 30 seconds and ruin the percentages. Some time later I calculated even if Babikov had not won by a 30 second margin, I would still not have gone under the 100 FIS point barrier. I needed to make some more time from somewhere on the course.

After these 2 weeks of hard training and racing, it was time for a small break, some Xmas egg-nog and some travelling with my girlfriend Victoria.

Places we visited included Vancouver, Lake Louise, Whistler and Canmore, all with some interesting training sessions in all the cross country ski areas at these locations. It's always amazing whom you bump into on overseas stints and this was no exception. Daniel Patterson from Melbourne happened to be walking round the carpark in Canmore, dropped a casual "G'day Wyndy" from 10 metres and invited me for a ski!

After New Year's celebrations had died a slow death, it was time for some more serious training and working out how to make it under the 100 FIS points. I then headed down to Salt Lake City, where Frank "The Man" Lundeen met me, and we headed up to his house at Heber City. Now this was a great place to train: 15 mins to Soldier Hollow, 30 mins to Park City, 35 mins to Sundance Ski Area and various other great venues within 45mins. The only downer: bloody Mormons and their ½ strength beer (no offence to any Born Again Christians or similar!). Most days I trained in the morning by myself at Soldier Hollow and in the afternoons with Frank and his boss from Toko, Ian "mono-speed" Harvey. These two always kicked my arse with their 1-hour level 3 skis, with the warm-up consisting of heated debates regarding the benefits of Toko products.

Race 3 - Wasatch Series 10km classical, Sundance Ski Area. Saturday 10th January.

This race was held at the awesome ski trails in an area founded by Robert Redford. The tracks were narrow and set in soft, dry powder and the field was quite large. Frank had my measure out of the blocks, but I soon hit a rhythm on the first uphill and went steam-training straight past him and many others to move into 4th place. I was being pressured from behind and had already lost the leader, John Aalberg, so was happy to consolidate my current position. The end result saw Aalberg with an easy win and myself in 4th , not too far behind 2nd and 3rd places.

Race 4 - Citizen Race 3.5km freestyle, Salt Lake City. Tuesday 13th January.

As I was leaving the following day, this was to be my last ski in Utah. The racecourse was 15minutes out of downtown SLC and was over an undulating golf course. As I was explaining to Frank on the way there, I was really keen to actually win a race, as I have never, ever won a cross-country ski race. I decided tonight was the night, as the field was going to be tiny.

We were met with only about 25 competitors and cold temperatures, around -23o C. After much protesting it was decided that it would be a Le Mans style start to "practice" for the American Birkebeiner, in which you apparently have to sprint to get on the front line of your wave. Not being a very good sprinter, I was a little bemused by this prospect, especially since I wasn't even competing in the damn Birkie! Oh well. When in Rome!

Some random bloke said, "go" and I hit the lead in the "run leg", straight up a steep hill and then back down to the ski area. I took my time, and was still in the lead when I came to the first turn and had no idea of which way to go. I decided to stop and wait for the next competitor, a skier on Team Rossignol. He seemed quite surprised to see me waiting to ask directions and was even more pissed off when my response was to blast away from him again. In the first km, I had a 200m lead and was getting faster and faster. However not knowing the course, I had to slow a little and was soon caught, blowing up badly from racing at sprint pace for nearly 3kms. With 400m to ski, Mr.Team Rossignol overtook me and once again the race win had eluded me. Damn it!!!

Race 5 - Mt.Itasca, NorAm. Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Saturday 17th January - 15km Classical, mass start.

Now in Minnesota, I had met up with Dave Hunt and Belinda Phillips for the business end aspect of my trip. I needed to ski under 100 FIS points or at least come close, just to prove to myself I was capable of such a result. Our accommodation at Grand Rapids was nothing short of luxurious, with a huge open living area complete with cable TV, fireplace and full cooking facilities. The only thing against us here was the cold and with an accompanying wind, temperatures hovered around -20 degrees C most of the time, without considering wind chill.

Race day arrived and we were met with very dry, powder snow with only soft tracks cut into the course. Again the course was very undulating with no long climbs except for one hill aptly named "the wall". This short hill was certainly one of the steepest climbs I have skied on, including various Olympic and World Cup course. Being only 2.5kms from the start, this was going to be interesting considering it was a mass start event……

Lining up for the chevron shaped starting chute, I was a little nervous with over 100 skiers right behind me and not exactly happy with the amount of grip wax on my skis. Soon after the gun went, I learnt my first mistake: don't double pole out of the start, when you are allowed to stride!

I went from 30th place to about 70th in the first 100m! Next up came "the wall" and skiers went everywhere, typical of the stupid aggression shown by North American skiers. While there was a huge pileup on the hill, skiers towards the back of the pack attempted to straight line through the blockade on the hill and gain an advantage. I counted at least 6 broken poles in about 30seconds and about 20 people screaming at each other as they all tripped one another up and let the lead skiers increase their already huge gap.

This was not going to be a good race for me and I simply raced as fast as I could with slippery skis and trying to hold some form together. The results:

1st Ivan Babikov - 39:30 - 42.53 FIS points
2nd Dave Chamberlain - 39:55
3rd Chris Cook - 40:09
36th Andrew Wynd - 48:23 - 267.06
37th David Hunt - 52:14 - 364.50

As you can see, not a great race and up there with some of my worst points. The conclusion, one very annoyed little Wyndy and very fired up for tomorrow's skate race! Dave also had a bad race and was feeling the effects of a virus that would really take hold in the days to come.


Slowing down after a sprint finish in the 10km skate ( I won by a binding!)

Race 6 - Mt. Itasca NorAm. Sunday 18th January - 10km Skate, individual start.

We awoke on Sunday morning to clear blue skies and -27 degrees C temps, way too cold to race today! The race organisers delayed the start to 12:00pm and were confident it would reach the required legal temperature of -20. Apparently they were correct and the race went ahead right on the cut-off, although with a slight breeze, I swear it was the same temperature as before!

The course was altered slightly to avoid the long downhill sections and we were now skiing 4x 2.5kms. However "the wall" was still included and after skiing up it many times in the warm-up, I decided I was going to herringbone that damn hill, as there was just no glide on the cold snow whatsoever.

An interval start suited me and I was in a good position, not too far in front of the fastest skiers.

I went out hard with the main goal of catching Canadian coach, Jussi Piranein, who started 15 seconds ahead of me. One lap down and I had caught Jussi and was now reeling in Dave, who started a few minutes ahead of me. After passing Dave, I knew I was skiing well and just had to hang on for strong finish. With my bright purple balaclava encrusted with frozen snot and spit, I crossed the line in 27:02 mins and hoped for the best. The results were as follows:

1st Chris Cook - 24:11 - 46.18 FIS points
2nd Ivan Babikov - 24:31
3rd Chad Giese - 24:38
21st Andrew Wynd - 27:02 - 116.65
26th Dave Hunt - 29:17 - 172.70

My new best FIS points gave me something to smile about and now I knew it was just a matter of time until I went under that 100 point mark. My skis were not exactly fast in those cold conditions and I felt I skied within myself on the hills, trying to save some energy for the flats and downs, where I am traditionally weaker. I needed to find 35 seconds on that course that would have put me under 100 points. Onto Wisconsin and my last few chances.

Race 7 - Telemark NorAm, Telemark Ski Resort, Wisconsin. Thursday 22nd January - 1.2 km Sprint Freestyle

Dave, Belinda and myself travelled straight to our new accommodation at Telemark, which was called the Pilot Fish Inn, and was located just down the road from the racecourse. Our accomdation was "cosy" compared to our last residence and sharing a room in this instance wasn't such a great idea as both Dave and Belinda became progressively more unwell.

I managed to stay healthy until the Wednesday evening before the sprint race and unfortunately I developed the same sore throat and headache that Dave was complaining of. In a desperate attempt to fight off the infection, I could be seen sucking back honey and lemon drinks as well as the odd garlic clove or two. A warning to anyone trying to stay healthy with this method. DO NOT burp or go within 20m of any female after chewing on a garlic clove!

The sprint course was different, with an elevated start/finish area and some quite soft, man made snow on the entire course. I skied the sprint conservatively, not feeling well at all and not really finding any form whatsoever. Dave decided not to race and Belinda was also not in prime form, despite making it through the top 16.

Qualifying:

1st Andrew Newell - 2:20 - 87.71 FIS points

26th Andrew Wynd - 2:37 - 209.05
(30 Starters in race).

Once again I was happy to not come last and actually was closer to Andy Newell than normal, so that wasn't so bad. Straight back home after the race to try and stay healthy for the weekend's races.

Race 8 - Telemark NorAm, Saturday 24th January - 10km Freestyle, individual start.

Warming up for this race I was very worried about how I was feeling. Even though my sore throat had cleared up, my legs felt like jelly and I knew deep down I was not in good shape. I tried to tell myself it was all in my mind and today was the day for going under 100 points.

I started hard and concentrated on just catching the skier immediately in front of me. The course wound its way up some gradual hills until it hits a climb known as "the arterial bypass"! It was here that I started to struggle and my climbing was sooo slow. Coming through the stadium for my second and last lap, I still had only been passed by one skier and I hoped I was going fast enough. The second lap was brutal and my legs turned lactic at the 7.5km mark and I struggled just to stand up. Prior to the race we had been informed that the course was closer to 5.6km, giving us an 11.2km race and I was cursing the race organisers at this point.

I finished in good form and checked the clock and waited for the faster skiers to come in.

Unfortunately the best skiers arrived not long after I finished and the outlook was not looking good.

1st Ivan Babikov - 27:38 - 44.74 FIS points
2nd Chris Cook - 28:27
31st Andrew Wynd - 32:59 - 161.03 FIS points
(37 starters)

This race was a complete mystery to me. Sure I wasn't climbing very well, but I skied the rest of the course full tilt and was sure I was doing OK, as only 2 or 3 skiers passed me. Yet it seemed everyone else just went a lot faster. In retrospect the virus I was fighting all week perhaps had taken more of a toll on me that I was willing to admit. Dave reported after his race that he was dizzy and almost falling over for the last few kms, although I'm sure it was from his illness rather than a Bjorn Daehlie re-enactment from Nagano 50km!


Dave Hunt and I, "shattered men!" after the 10km skate.

Race 9 - Telemark NorAm, Sunday 25th January - 15km Classical, mass start.

After the previous day's disappointing race and now feeling more fatigued than ever, I was not confident going into this event. There was no way I could go under the 100 point mark unless I somehow managed to stay with the top guys.

Again the field was enormous and I had a top 30 starting position that needed defending. The race plan was to go out full tilt and just see how long I could go at that pace, even just to get a good photo shot as I went past the stadium! I had a solid start and held my spot nicely in the top 30 for close to 2.5kms! That was where the first major climb appeared and coincidently, where I discovered I didn't have as much grip as nearly everyone around me.

I was still desperately hanging on to the tale end of the lead pack when disaster really struck on the first downhill. I was coming around a sharp left hand corner with skiers either side of me, when a skier in front went down heavily and blocked my path. With skiers either side of me, I had no choice but to brace for impact and try to stay upright. I hit the poor guy at full tilt and his skis collided with my shins. I spun him around at least 2 times and I almost managed to stay up, but alas also went down hard. I still have the lump on my shin, some 6 weeks later and it still appears to be bruised. Also coming off 2nd best was my new Toko 232 pole and the plastic part of the handle was completely shattered. This became apparent soon after ½ way up a climb where I was forced to step off into the woods and do some quick repairs. 20 seconds later I was back into the race and now just happy to finish in one piece.

The next few laps went by and I would be lying if I said I didn't consider pulling out, but I certainly didn't want to ruin my record of never pulling out of a race. The last downhill came and somehow my skis crossed one another, one of the cardinal sins in skiing and down I went again, this time on my coccyx on a piece of icy track. That one really hurt. All I could do is get up and try not to yelp in pain as I double poled to the finish. Even an old guy complete with Discman and Camelbak passed me as I gained momentum again.

Dave and Belinda, who incidentally didn't race, had only 2 words for me as I limped away from the finish line. "You sucked!" Believe it or not I was aware of that fact and had to laugh at the comical race. The results are not complete as I wasn't even bothered to look them up. All I know is Babikov smoked the field again and I had a long plane ride home without being able to sit down!

1st Ivan Babikov

Andrew Wynd (not last!)

That concludes the Whirl Wind Wyndy Race Report and all I can say is that it is only a matter of time until I go under that 100 FIS points and never fear, there will be more race reports to come.

Until next time,

Andrew Wynd
Australian XC Ski Team
Team Lake Mountain

 

 

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