This post is a bit behind schedule but that’s alright – I’ve had a few days to decompress from World Championships in Alpago-Piancavello, Italy. It was definitely a week with some ups and downs. The US brought a huge team to the championships. The biggest actually. I think the European nations bring smaller teams because they only want to bring as many as they can support. The US doesn’t have those limits because we all pay our own way and the trip turns into a bit of a vacation opportunity for some. I’m so used to being the lone American athlete on World Cups but it was awesome to have the full team there for support.
Snow conditions were definitely the worst I’ve ever competed in. The Alpago area was completely dry until about a week before the event when a meter of snow fell making the race possible. Unfortunately, in that week, the sun was strong and some rain fell which eroded the snowpack. The individual and teams courses were moved to a higher elevation and north facing aspect but were still very thin. Rocks were embedded in the slopes which were essentially just patches of refrozen snow. It was really bad. Everyone’s skis took a beating and gear was being damaged left and right. While this is definitely a bummer, it’s just one of many races I’m doing over here this season. On the other hand, I feel bad for the athletes who flew to Europe just for this!
I was the only American to qualify for all four events at Worlds (not that others couldn’t have, they just chose to focus on specific events) so I had a fairly busy race schedule even after opting out of the fifth event (the team relay).
We spent the week leading into the races scouting out the individual course. A common theme was ‘are they really going to have us go HERE??’ but we figured it out. On race day, we had a ~30minute walk to the start line. The race began on a jeep track for ~250m before it turned into the woods and a skin track. Usually races start with a climb up a wide groomed section so the athletes have a chance to string out safely. Unfortunately we were all packed in with everyone going full speed trying to be the first ones to the skin track but only room for three wide. It felt a bit like a video game dodging crashes left and right. I miraculously had a good start and found myself just behind John Gaston with a good group on the skin track. The rest of the race blurred together a bit. I was well placed on the ascents but lost places on the early descents. I realized I had to ski a bit better and pushed a bit harder. I skied into the finish in 26th – my best individual event result ever.
Reviewing my data and how I felt on the course, I wish I had pushed harder on the descents but I wasn’t ready to risk injuring myself for the rest of the season. It’s also eye opening to see just how tight the times are at the finish. I faded a bit in the final climbs but had I kept my pace up, some of those places would have been within reach.
The second event was the teams race. A bit longer than the individual and raced in teams of two, it’s usually a pretty fun one. I paired up with Tom Goth, the only other non-Coloradan and we were psyched. We got ourselves in a good position off the start but struggled with slipping on the first climb. Arriving at the technical ridge section, we made up huge time on the teams in front of us. Unfortunately on the descent, I hit a rock (hard) that collapsed an entire sidewall of one ski. As soon as I got going again, I realized something was wrong. I couldn’t get an edge on the ice so couldn’t ski. We disappointingly pulled out of the race at the next aid station. I’m not terribly bothered by the broken ski – it happens in racing – but it was a bit of a bummer that we were doing reasonably well!
After the teams race, we moved to the resort town of Piancavello. The sprint and vertical races were both held on piste so there was no more carnage to the skis. I’ve never considered myself a sprinter. In college cross-country skiing, I never once qualified to race in the heats. Same with World Cups. It’s great practice but I’ve never managed to get past the qualifying rounds. It was raining heavily at the sprint at Worlds and I was extremely surprised to find out that I had qualified in 21st position (top-30 continue on to the heats)!
Luckily, I had a good group of coaches and supporters to help me get ready for the rounds. As I walked into the start area with a Norwegian friend who had also just sneaked into the quarter-finals, we opened the flap of the warmup-tent to see the 1st and 2nd ranked athletes on the World Cup looking back at us. Feeling a bit like lambs among lions, we couldn’t help laughing.
The heat started fast and I was caught a little off guard. I pushed to keep up and jumped onto the ski tails of the top Italian. We got boxed in and I pushed hard to move up. An Austrian dropped a pole and I dodged around him after a minor collision. I pulled into the top transition and ripped my skins fast but not fast enough. With the bumbling, our heat wasn’t fast enough to allow me to move on to the semi-finals. I was ok with that because it meant I could sprint home for a hot shower and lunch. I ended up ranked 19th. That’s a bit shocking for me as it is my best world cup ranking, regardless of the event.
I felt like I raced well but I do wish I had been a bit more mentally prepared for the heats. I didn’t play it very well tactically and probably could have finished a bit better if I had actually been ready for it! I guess I’ll have to enter the sprint at the next World Cup!
This is usually my specialty and the course definitely suited my style. It was short (~25min), non-technical, and fast. I had a bit of a slow start so charged pretty hard to make up some places off the start. This may have not been the best strategy. I moved up into a good position but at about the 10min point, my legs started to protest. I was bleeding places in the middle of the race but when Mike Foote caught back on with me, I latched on and we traded off pushing each other and managed to drag back a few more places. I opened up on the flats leading towards the finish but Mike countered with a final sprint that my legs just couldn’t match. I was definitely feeling the effects of the last few days of racing. Mike and I finished 26th and 27th respectively. I’m fairly happy with my pacing in the race. While I may have started a bit fast, I think the biggest factor was the fatigue already in my legs so I wouldn’t really change anything!
Big thanks to all the support at World Champs – my parents for coming to watch and cheer, the US Team coaches, all the US Team athletes, Boulder Nordic Sports for providing the team with wax, and of course all my sponsors.
Complete World Championship Results
One thought on “2017 World Championships”
Congratulations Eric! You’re definitely tops in my book. I like how you attacked the vertical race