March 25, 2014

A Slice of Heaven

I have always said Italy is my favorite place to travel and race, but I have also always assumed that one day, racing in Italy would be horrible. Instead, I think I found my most favorite place yet. I can't say I was anywhere near excited for the 12 hour drive that took us from Rogla to Isolaccia, but I knew when we arrived it was going to be worth the drive. Even in the dark I could feel the mountains around me and we were greeted to some amazing Italian food served by some friendly, funny Italian waiters. The morning did not disappoint as we woke to warm sunshine and massive mountains. Isolaccia is between Livingno and Bormio and the amount of skiing in this area is unbelievable. I have to say, I was a little sad to not have downhill skis as I think you could ski a different mountain everyday and still have some you didn't get to by the end of the season, but the cross country skiing was nice to as the trails all meander in the valleys and climb up the base of the mountains.
Our hotel had a funny ice bath that we hit up for recovery
And a hot tub to go with

OPA Finals consists of a mini-tour, meaning that all the races are important as they all add up and the last day you start based on your time back the other 2 days. The field is also quite deep as all the World Cup skiers who weren't quite fast enough to make World Cup Finals attend OPA Finals. The first day was a skate prologue which is the always brutal 2.5km distance. I can't say this is my forte and this day was no exception as I had a rather mediocre race, placing around 20th. I was excited that the next two days were both 10km meaning the classic and skate portions of the tour were more equal in time. I think my classic skiing tends to be stronger so I felt if I could make up time in the classic portion I might fare better in the overall. But, I guess things don't always go as planned and I struggled with my skis as well as my body, making for a disappointing day. The unfortunate part about this was that I couldn't just accept a bad race and move on as I had to feel the effects of the bad race the next day, starting 3 minutes behind the leader. To make matters worse, we arrived at the venue to find it hadn't frozen and the snow was mushy and wet, something that is not easy to ski in. Luckily, I still started near quite a few others and found myself moving up quickly over the first few k. I caught my APU teammate Becca and from then on, we stuck together taking turns leading and catching quite a few people. I can't say it felt good skiing in slush, but I was surprised by how well I was handling it so I kept pushing along. I crossed the line having moved up 6 places in the overall, which I was quite satisfied with. I don't think I have ever moved up in the skate portion of a mini-tour. Then, the results came out and I learned I had the 10th fastest time of the day! While it is hard to say that means I would have been 10th if the race had been a normal 10k skate, as tactics do play a role in pursuit start races, I can say that is far better than I expected, especially given the conditions. It was great to end on a happy not and leave with the confidence that I can ski with these girls.
Patrick racing through the slush
The boys skiing together
A look at how slushy it was

Then we embarked on the massively long travel back to AK. I am still extremely jet-lagged and not sure what time it is, but nevertheless, we are all racing tomorrow in the end of the season US Nationals and SuperTour Finals. It's a little more on the wintry side of things in Alaska but the days are long and the sun is shining!

The view of the stadium

Some amazing scenery. Thanks to the NNF for supporting our trip!