This past Sunday XCOttawa team members competed in a mass start skate race “for the books” at Mont-Orford as part of the NORAM race circuit. Temperatures the morning of the race hovered around minus 19 degrees with a breeze off near-by lake Cerises making it feel more like minus 28. Needless to say, an original hat, buff, ear-bag, Dermatone,face-tape job was part of every racer's pre-race preparation. I overheard more than a couple people having long deliberations over which hat, or set of gloves to wear out on the course. The races were “medium” distance with the women doing 15km and men doing 20km on a 5km loop.
Adding to the excitement, the Orford trails are fairly narrow and gradual, and perhaps also because of the cold, almost all of the races were fought out in tight packs. One theory was presented, which I think is true, that when it gets really cold ski racers generally don’t feel like going quite as hard for the first two-thirds of the race (save the lungs!). As a result, there are fewer attacks and big pace changes so groups stick together like glue. Inevitably, this means more crashes, broken equipment, and a general “scrappy” feel for most, or all, of the race.
I will admit I did not escape this unscathed with my friend and teammate Lee Hawkings apologetically breaking my pole on the first lap. Luckily I didn’t lose too much time and got a replacement pole soon after from Craig Story who was helping out XCOttawa with waxing, feeds, etc. After a mentally difficult second lap where it seemed I would never catch back up, as I started my 3rd lap I finally got back onto the group I was with before my pole broke. In this group there were about 12 skiers including Lee, Kyle Power, Karl Saidla, and XCOttawa alumi Colin Abbott. I brought along Peter Beisel as well.
At this point I think the group started working together pretty well and we started absorbing skiers who had gotten ahead on the first couple of laps. On the final climb of the last lap Lee and got to the front of the group after yet another racer had their pole broken and jammed up the left side of the trail.
Coming into the final straightaway before the finish we were back in a reduced group of 8, with Karl and Colin still there. I think my big finishing effort was somewhere back on lap two and when Lee made his move to the front of the pack I stayed put at the back with Karl just ahead of me. I finished just ahead of Karl at the line, our whole group coming in under two and a half minutes behind the winner Kevin Sandau. Lee out-sprinted the group for 10th, followed closely by Colin in 14th, me in 17th, and Karl taking the 18th spot. Peter Beisel finished close behind in 21st with Kyle Power putting down a solid race for 29th. Andre Marchand finished hard in 39th.
The women’s race played out similarly, with lead and chase packs forming early, and staying together for most of the race. Giving strong evidence of the “scrappy” nature of the women’s race, Andrea Dupont of Rocky Mountain Racers has been showing off a superficial, yet impressive for ski racing, shin scrape after she crashed in a group pile-up on the final lap. XCOttawa skiers did well despite the challenging conditions with Megan McTavish and Sheila Kealey racing in the lead group to 8th and 11th place finishes respectively. Close behind was Ingrid Hagberg who decisively broke ahead of her chase pack on the last lap for 13th place. Vesta couldn’t quite hang on with her teammate in the final lap but finished a respectable 21st. Kyla finished close behind in 23rd.
In mass start races everyone is an opportunist, and luck can play a big role in how things play out. I broke a pole, but the relatively slower pace in the early stages of the race made it possible to catch back up, where in the final lap another broken pole, this time of someone else, gave me an opportunity to finish “right in there” with a group of skiers who I had made it a goal finish with. Needless to say, for a lot of different reasons some days of racing are more interesting than others. Thanks to our coach John Suuronen, and volenteer wax helpers Nic Clifford and Craig Story for great skis all weekend and a chance to get in (and out) of trouble out on the race course!
We raced on layers of Vauhti LF Green, HF Green topped with hfC21.
Pictures of the race can be found at this link (Photo Credit: Motion 360): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.291363144259267.70925.231252496936999&type=1
Thanks for reading!