Sunday, February 10, 2013

ISMF World Championships: Teams Race

Today the races got underway with the Teams event.  The course consisted of approximately 8500 feet of ascending and covered over 15 miles and was AWESOME!.  The overall competition was unbelievable with all the heavies in attendance (France, Italy, Spain, the Swiss, and on and on).  For anyone who has attended a race in the US and thinks the way we start out sprinting is stupid, you would have thought this start was ridiculous. 

From the French command for "start", we were all chasing Manfred, Killian, Matheo and co up the first long climb from the valley floor at 3800 feet.  Racing as a team was a unique experience as we were constantly looking out for each other and trying not to get lost in the crowds.  Pretty soon, we were strung out with the the four US teams within shouting distance of each other and some Austrians and Slovanians trying to split us up.

The first climb was 810 meters (2657 ft) through the forest, across roads, past a church with a commanding view of the valley, through the lower Puy St. Vincent resort, and back into the trees.  A short descent to a transition zone choking with racers (who were all skiing over poles and skis to get positions) led to another long 900 meter climb (2952 ft).  The lower section of this was technical with numerous kick turns and was going perfectly.  We were all yelling at each other and I was psyched to be climbing with the whole US team while pulling back the #1 Canandian team and a couple other respected countries.

Then Tom and I were stricken with misfortune.

Out of the trees and into the high alpine, Tom suffered a skin failure.  I watched our friends skin away and took the time to drink.  Back on track, we passed a couple teams only to have Tom's new skins fail.  He fixed them and they failed again.  Visibly frustrated, I told him it wasn't a big deal and gave him one of my spares.

Scott Simmons had told me the night before to make sure I look around, enjoy the cowbells, and realize our fortune to be racing on the biggest stage our sport has to offer.  Not that we were happy to be losing ground but we were racing and dealing with bad luck the best that we could and I was enjoying the suffering.

By this time, we were obviously racing with the wrong group.  We passed a couple teams a few times after each skin failure and I wanted to gun them all down.  Blood was in the water.

A short traversing descent along the ridge led to another transition for a down hill boot section through some rocks.  Tom told me to set the pace and I ran with reckless abandon to the transition for the descent.  Out quickly, I was skiing in front of Tom through great soft snow but I must have buried a tip in a careless moment because suddenly I was air born, performing an involuntary front flip while leaving a water bottle and pole up slope.  I grabbed the bottle and Tom swiped my pole and we pulled into the next transition relatively unscathed.

Here, we battled snowy skins and took extra time to make sure they'd stick.  Tom was on his third pair and I was down to only one set.  1000 feet later, we launched off a glorious powder run.  I was with a great friend and training partner on a sunny day in the middle of the Alps.  It was amazing.

For our next short climb we were facing a series of switchbacks to a steep boot track (crampons mandatory).  Fighting cramps while pulling on my spikes, I thought it might be a sign of bad things to come but the next descent was also a nice mix of a steep choke and more powder and trying to keep up with Tom was all I could think about.

Other than one mild crash on dead legs, this long descent was relatively clean and coming into the transition for the final 100 meter climb, I was surprised to see Scott and Greg just leaving.  Through the first 5000 feet of climbing these two were the top American team so I assumed they too must have faced some misfortune.  It was too late to have a perfect race, but honor was now on the line.

We skied fast and well on the final descent to the valley floor having been aided by scouting this section the day before.  Tom and I managed to pass the other guys while Greg was getting up from what looked like a spectacular crash.

On a traditional course with a downhill finish, we could have relaxed and enjoyed the finish.  But this race ended with an 800 meter skate to town before a final skins-on transition and a short 100 meter sprint to the town center.

I have very little skating technique and although we got a good jump on our friends, I was let down when both went skating by with what looked like effortless V2.  Sticking with my own inefficient version of V-weird, I pulled into the transition well behind.

Luckily, I nailed this one and we all got out together and what ensued was the ugliest display of skinning/running/duckwalk sprinting the world has ever seen.  4 big Americans were trying to gun each other down over the last 100 meters after over 3 hours of racing.  It hurt but I was laughing at the spectacle while trying edge out my US teammates.

It's pretty funny that we traveled all this way to end up racing each other.  After finally finishing, it turned out that Tom and I barely edged out our buddies for 20th place.  Overall, I think everyone was pretty pleased with the day considering jet lag, the competition, and some stupid mistakes.  We put together a respectable day as a team, taking 10th, 17th, 20th, and 21st.

And some pics (mostly courtesy of the ever patient Dom Maack...Thanks!)

A colorful gather of spandex and many nations

Look closely and I'm in the USA suit to the right of centetr

John Gaston (and Maxwell Kai-Ming Taam not pictured) about to cross the finish line for a tenth place finish at the World Championships

Luke Nelson and Marshall Thompson with a dorky high five after a solid 17th place finish 
This is a photo of the very ugly sprint finish between my team (with Tom) and Scot and Greg.  We edged them out by the slimmest margin for 20th place.  

Tom, Andy (looking especially goofy), Scott, and Greg 
The finishing chute to the clock tower at the city center
Men's podium with France, Italy, and the 2nd French team taking places 1-3 respectively 
Women's podium with the French on top, Italy in second, and the Swiss in third
These are some prelim results as people were still finishing.  Just to soothe the ego, I'll point out that the women's course was shorter than the men's...but not by much!

Tomorrow is the sprint race so hopefully I'll get some pics and results up after...


  1. Congrats on a strong showing by Team USA! The atmosphere looks amazing.

  2. Exciting race, great description, Go USA, Go Micah

  3. Congrats on the strong showing! How much time do you suppose was lost due to skin issues?

  4. Thanks guys! I'd guess that we lost 3+ minutes due to skin changes and then 3 more due to excessive diligence in cleaning skins to prevent further failures. Perhaps we could have improved our place a few spots but probably not much more.