Sprint races are a relatively new addition to the World Cup circuit and are supposed to cater to the audience and by virtue of the length, to more powerful athletes instead of the lithe endurance champions of the longer events. The standard format is to start on skins, approach a section of kick turns and then transition to a boot track. From there athletes put skis back on for perhaps 20 more meters before entering a skins off transition to ski down through GS panels. I wish that was it, but at the bottom of the course, there is a short up hill section necessitating a skate finish. The total vertical gain is supposed to be around 80 meters.
We were seeded in reverse order with the slowest countries or those with no experience starting first and those with a world ranking or perennial powerhouse countries starting last. My number was 5 (out of 62) if that signifies anything. The Russian Federation was to start first, then the US, and on and on. We were started at 20 second intervals and it was on to try and put time into the guy in front and not get caught by the one behind.
The above format was solely for the qualifying heats. The top 30 people would move on to the quarter-finals and the top 12 from there to the semi-finals, with 6 making the final. Each of these subsequent rounds would start 6 at a time with the racers in a full battle up hill and then a skier cross frenzy on the down. No male US skier has ever made it past the qualifying round so that was to be considered a victory. On the woman's side, Nina Silitch (who currently resides in Chamonix) has been on the podium multiple times at World Cup events so she was expected to perform strongly.
After a really flat warm up that I credit to our three hours of racing yesterday, we were called to the line. It was snowing and I was feeling the usual dread that comes with the intimate knowledge of what the impending anaerobic metabolism would feel like.
The official counted down from 5 on his fingers and Tom took off.
After an eternity that lasted 20 seconds I was off, trying to do my best Manfred Reichegger impression by kicking and gliding across the low angle approach to the kick turns. I could see Tom ahead and was glad that he was passing the Russian in front of him at the boot pack. I pulled in here as Tom was leaving and had a perfect skis-on-pack transition. I ran the booter, passed the Russian, and then pulled into the last transition before Tom left. With numb fingers and leaden arms, I feel this last transition was particularly good and I skated out to try and attack the GS panels.
Unfortunately, in between the warm up and the actual race, all the soft snow had been scraped away by the French military who had been setting the course. Concerned I might lay the skis down while hearing what I thought must have been sparks between my skis and the ice, I skied this upper few turns conservatively before entering a full tuck for the bottom few gates.
Rounding the final bend, I made another ridiculous attempt to skate the finish. A few herring bone steps later, I was done. Tom and I congratulated each other and then watched Luke and Max finish.
It's a funny thing waiting around for the results to be posted to see if any of us moved on. Then we got word. Tom (who had botched a transition) was 37th. Luke and Max were given the same time and placed 35th and 34th. And I was sitting in the unfortunate spot of first man out placing 31st. My hope was that one of the guys in front would be assessed a penalty so I could advance to the next round but this was not to be. I had done as well as I could have hoped but the "what ifs" linger...
Meanwhile, on the women's side Nina was CRUSHING! She won the qualifying, won the quarters, won the semis and was winning the final. First to the top of the climb, she was one transition, 80 vertical meters of skiing, and a short skate away from being the World Champion. Unfortunately, she looked like she was deeply hurting and just wasn't able to transition cleanly and this ultimately cost her first place.
Luckily, a silver medal at the World Championships is still incredible and a first for the anyone from the the US.
Most photos again provided by a very patient and long suffering Dom Maack. Thank you!
|About to start with Team USA stacked up behind me|
|Luke beginning the sprint|
|Trying to tuck to the finishing skate|
|Results from the qualifying round|
|Andrew McNabb from Canada put in an incredible round of performances and made it all the way to the semi-finals|
After watching the subsequent rounds and cheering on friends from around the world, we skied down to Vallouise (2.5K) for the daily athlete lunch and then skinned back to our hotel up valley in Pelvoux.
|Scott and Luke heading home through some fresh snow|
|Today's new snow! Unfortunately, this ruins our grand adventure aspirations...|
|Nina Silitch, a proud silver medalist!|
Also, here's a video of the ISMF from yesterday's teams race: