Sunday, February 1, 2009

City of Lakes Loppet report

On Friday I'd said that barring a major catastrophe, it would be the best Loppet ever. (For the record, I've skied every non-lake Loppet save 2007, when it was something like -10 with -30 wind chills: not the Best Loppet Ever.)

And Saturday it was 45 out. Thank goodness for a 8 inch base, which stood up to the sun (and thanks to the Loppet folks for closing the course—the Mac ski team had a nice day of shirts-off skiing at Battle Creek, and the course stayed good). I thought the snow would firm up overnight, but it actually stayed rather soft, not icy, which was good for my softer skis. We did the bus thing this year, which is always fun (school buses are made for kids, and people my size—higher than six feed—don't fit, not to mention skis). The bus rolled in to the start as the classic race hit the trail, and we watched out the windows.

One of the very nice things about the race is that it started in rather warm weather. Up until last year, it had a track record of being cold or canceled. The aforementioned freeze in 2007, around 10 in '06, canceled in '05 (51 the day before melted everything), 0 in 2004, and cold and on-lakes-only in 2003. So being able to lounge around at the start watching the classic race come through the start hill (a great new addition, fwiw) was fun.

The main event started on time, with temperatures nearing freezing and brilliant sunshine. The snow was still somewhat powdery, not too wet or icy—just fantastic conditions. The gun went off, I went out not-too-hard from the second row, and made for the top of the hill—I'd been doing some intervals on the hill and knew it, as I know the entire course. Zach Handler, with whom I go way back (when I was in high school in Boston we worked together at the ski place there—he having just graduated from Carleton, and he helped sell me on the Midwest for college), had fallen and passed me at the top of the hill. "Hey, maybe I can stay with Zach!" I thought. Nope, he got ahead of me in three of four strides. Oh, well. It's definitely his home course, he lives a couple blocks away in Bryn Mawr.

I was in line up the first big hill on the course when a skier started calling "on your left" and passing everyone, skiing half "in the rough." I said to myself, "well, I'm getting girled today." Caitlin Compton must have had a crap start, but managed to finish in 10th, overall. And way in front of any other women.

The course was great and of course I knew it like the back of my hand, but I didn't feel particularly strong. I did manage to catch Collin (from Macalester) who is a far better skier than I, but had returned from South Africa a week earlier and had been on snow for all of six or seven hours. He had gone out very hard—top 10—but looked to be fading. Once I got in front of him, I wanted to keep him behind, as it might be my only chance, ever, to beat him (and he had guaranteed me he'd kick my ass, and I'd agreed), although I think I may have out-sprinted him at a race at Telemark, back when he was a young punk in high school.

In any case, I skied with a pack in to Butler and decided, in the Bog, to catch the folks about 25 seconds ahead of us who we'd seen. Over the next four or five kilometers, I laboured to make up precious seconds and finally, with my last bit of strength, caught the group as we hit Brownie Lake—not a moment too soon. There was some lake winds and I didn't want to have to ski alone.

I stayed with the group across Cedar and then after we took the shore for a while (It was the only snow-issue area, there were a couple very icy sections. It's a nice idea to hit the shore, but a) there are a couple narrow sections, not great with 5k to go and b) there were a couple nasty, icy sections.) I decided to break the group and catch the one in front of us. So I did. I hit the lake and broke, after almost losing a couple guys on the sidewalk, I made the time back up. On Isles, with about a k to go, I realised that there was another pack about fifteen seconds in front of us. So I jumped.

But there wasn't quite enough distance, and I didn't have quite enough gas. That pack had broken up, and I almost caught the end of it, just missing catching one guy off of it (Danny Kueffer) but gaining some time on folks I'd been skiing with. One of them is a (female) olympic biathlete. To her credit, she is in med school.

So I came 52d. Not horrid, not great, but about where I'd expected, and less off the lead than in the past in the Loppet. Just 17% off the lead, which is nice, and just 25 seconds out of 42d, because of that pack in front of me. Oh, well. At least it was a very nice race. And I did beat Collin, although he recovered and only was about a minute back. And, heck, in six years they have built this up in to a great event. There's nothing like it in the country.

Some linkiness:


A pretty sweet video of the race:

About the best start around. Birkie might be better, but lacks the Minneapolis skyline in the background (there's something about skiing the Front 9 with downtown Minneapolis behind).

In the bog, the pack which I caught, displaying good downhill technique.

Me, displaying bad downhill technique (tired from clawing my way back to this pack).

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