I noticed that XCOTTAWA wanted to have a series about people's Keskinada experiences and I figured I would contribute since I experienced a different part of the race than previous contributors.
Two weeks before Keskinada, I won the Canada Cup Pursuit at Nakkertok and then travelled to Sudbury. This seemed like a good place to be given its proximity to Ottawa. I was fortunate to be met with lots of snow and frequent grooming on a network of very good trails. This allowed me to train effectively and I began to skate really well in about 4 days before the race. Being in Sudbury helped avoid the hype surrounding the race and meant that others did not see how well I was skiing (a consequence of being in a town with few elite skiers and no one else who would challenge in this loppet). I travelled to Ottawa on the Friday and only went to the race site to ski and pick up registration kit on Saturday morning. The high school gym can be an exiting and imtimidating place with a lot of talk about the race and it is probably best to avoid spending a lot of time there. It seems better to relax, eat and prepare skiis in a normal environment without dealing with the boasts of others or displays of fancy new skiis you don't have (That said, if new ski designs interest you, it can be an interesting place after the race). I travelled entirely on my own and the only race support I had was some very useful wax testing from former Nakkertok coach Al Mortimer. I waxed my own skiis that evening, ate a lot and went to bed early.
I showed up Sunday morning and skied slowly for 30 minutes to warm up. I probably warmed up slightly slower than usual because I felt good and was confident I could race fast regardless. It was interesting to note that many people were passing me in warm up who would never be near the lead pack. As we warmed up, many top contenders seemed intidated by Steve Cyr after his dominating performance in a loppet in Kamloops last month. Went to the start and put myself in the front row. I got a good start and was about 5th at the first corner. The start seemed quite civilized and the front of the pack was not going that fast around the field. As we approached the parkway, Steve Cyr came up the side of our group followed by Cyrus Kangerloo of x-c.com. I jumped in behind them and ended up third as we hit the parkway, remaining there until the first downhill. The whole pack re-arranged on the downhill and I went to the front in order to avoid trouble on trail #5. While here, I decided to push the pace and start reducing the size of the lead pack but it did not work even though I led at a fairly hard effort until 200m before we lapped through the stadium. At this point, I pulled over and let Gord Jewett lead. As I tried to jump into second, I accidentaly poled Cyr's ski causing him to fall. I was surprised to look back in the stadium and notice 13 men still in the pack, it was looking like a long tactical affair. Cyr came back to the front in the field behind Relais Plain Air with Jewett in 2nd, me in 3rd and a Frenchman in 4th. It stayed this way until trail #15 when the Frenchman could not hold Cyr's hard pace and only 3 of us were left. The 3 of us now formed the lead pack with Gord ending up on the front when we all took a left hand turn towards Pink Lake Parking lot 10m too late. In the parking lot, I dropped my bottle trying to drink and left it even though I knew I would need it later. When the pack is being formed, you must be there regardless of the consequences. Steve Cyr than took a long pull on the front until Notch when he motioned for Gord to lead and then I came through on the long parkway climb. Soon after Cyr came by on my left and it appeared we had a gap on Gord. The pace was solid up the climb and by the top there were only two of us left in contention. He got a slight gap on the downhill and increased it when I accidentaly took a cup of chocolate covered raisins at the feeding station. I pushed and caught back up on the little uphill into the Penguin picnic area. The pace was fast up the climb as he tried to break me and our skiis made a lot of noise edging on the ice. At the top I tried to push the pace, he stepped on my pole (it came off) and I stopped to retrieve it. He is a true sportsman and slowed down to wait for my return. Since it had become obvious he would not break me easily, we now began to share the work on the front. At one point on trail #3, he was leading and fell, causing me to go down as well and both elbows went through the ice layer on the side of the trail. We got up, asked if the other was okay and kept going. This seems to work like a bicycle race where the break works well together and exibits sportsmanship once it is formed. Also, we both knew we needed the other coming back on the parkway since a pack is a lot faster than an individual there. As we hit the parkway, he came up next to me, asked my name and introduced himself on a downhill. In sport respect gets earned through strong performances and we had each earned the others respect in the first 35 km. Soon after, XCOTTAWA coach Steve Bursey gave me a spare bottle of e-load being held for a racer who did not start (Thank you Steve for your help).
We continued to trade the lead until he passed me on Black Lake Hill and I decided to sit on and prepare for an attack (I did not trust my sprint). I tried to attack on the last little parkway climb but could not get a gap (the hill was too gradual and I two-skated a lot of it). I then led through trail #24 and into the stadium. He came by around the outside of the baseball field and got a small gap with 150m to go. He then picked the inside finishing lane, forcing me into the middle one. His lane was soft from skiers in the 29km having skied over it while mine was still hard packed and I started making up ground as the finishing line approached, passing him in the last 3m. Apparently, he also stumbled over a 29km skier in the last 5m but I was gaining ground due to smoother technique and harder snow until then and it would have been very close regardless. After 53km of near flawless tactics from 2 of us, the race got decided by him picking the wrong finishing lane and I won Keskinada.
About the new course: I liked it and thought the extra climbing and technical terrain of trail #15 was a big improvement on the parkway section it replaced. There was enough wide trails to sort things out somewhat before it and it was groomed fairly wide. My only concern with the new course is that there are now no climbs in the last 20km, which seems designed to promote sprint finishes rather than allowing attacks that were possible on #5 before. Also, the grooming of non-parkway trails was quite good and they were all wide and skate only but the parkway should not have had 4 tracks the whole way around (only tracking one-side would allow recreational classic skiers and a proper width for a race with 500 skiers).