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Skiing Down Under #4 - Kangaroo Hoppet 2005 - "When the world comes to Falls Creek"
By:  Andrew Wynd   (2005/09/01)

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This year's Kangaroo Hoppet saw more than 1,000 competitors take to the ski trails of Falls Creek in either the 42km, 21km or 7km events. The race is part of the World Loppet series and is the only event in the Southern Hemisphere. Like previous years, skiers were welcomed to Falls Creek, the home of the National Team, and greeted by brilliant blue skies and balmy weather.

Luckily the night skies were clear and a good, solid freeze set the tracks up nicely, otherwise the intense Aussie sun would have turned the already transformed snow to knee deep slush. The course for the 42km event was modified this year due to a lack of snow, meaning competitors had to ski two laps of the 21km loop and hence ski up the gruelling "Paralyser" hill not once, but twice.

Personally I love the Kangaroo Hoppet. For me it signals the end of an intense, hard fought ski season and allows me remember why I ski. To enjoy myself!

Standing on the front line is a great feeling and one that I rarely get to experience when racing overseas against much faster skiers. One truly feels fast when one thousand people are itching to ski over the top of you the minute the gun goes!

The roar of a large cannon signals the start of the race, and the author got off to a shocking start, getting caught up in traffic and fearing for the safety of those two thin shafts of carbon fibre that are so crucial for skiing the rest of the race. Hence the lead pack soon gapped most of the field and I was left to lead the chase pack.

Behind me in my group was about 10 skiers or so, all unwilling to take the lead and tow us up to the leaders, so I set about the task of bridging the gap. Up ahead, a pack of 8 skiers had formed including Raul Olle (winner of 200 VasaLoppet), Ben Derrick (National Champion and 3 time winner of Hoppet), Ben Sim (our freakish junior who is ranked top 30 in the world for juniors), Cameron Morton, Andrew Mock, Mark Raymond, Chris Darlington and some French ski instructor who could accelerate faster than a red Ferrari!

As I was closing on the leaders at around 8kms, my Australian Team mate Chris Darlington made the mistake of poling between his skis and ended up spinning on the icy track and breaking a pole. Barely avoiding becoming entangled with him, the French skier I was pursuing took off and rejoined the leaders. I was left in no-man's land between the two packs of skiers and there I stayed all the way to the finish! It was a lonely ski by myself, as I could see the athletes just ahead of me, but couldn't quite pin them back and of course 4 other skiers were breathing down my neck the entire time. I felt like stopping and telling the skiers behind me just to "back off" and just let me enjoy the awesome weather, but of course that wasn't an option. Hence, every corner I went round, I tried to put in some sneaky speed bursts without wasting too much energy and the tactics worked, and I kept my pursuers at bay.

Back up the front, Ben Sim had made a decisive move of the other athletes, choosing the "questionable" time to attack at a drinks station when everyone else had slowed to take on liquids. This of course caused some criticism, but the 17 year old argued he was at the front at the time and hadn't realised everyone has slowed to drink, as he didn't need to. In fact Sim skied the entire 42km without drinking once. While the course was fast, the ambient temperature was around 7 degrees and dehydration was surely a factor. Who knows how fast he could have skied had he drunk something? Either way, Derrick and Olle were taken by surprise and struggled to catch back up. Despite a gallant effort by the two, Sim kicked again on the next climb and was then out of site. The chase obviously slowed Derrick, who then dropped back to 4th place as the French skier moved into 3rd. There the positions stayed the same, and I finished in 8th place whilst skiing the last 2 kms with my head turned backwards watching for the attacks coming form behind!

All in all a great day, great race and great weather. This signals the end of race reporting from Australia as our snow begins the melt badly and the weather starts to warm up.

I look forward to bringing you more reports over the next few months of dryland training and then I will be moving to Ottawa to begin training in somewhat "colder" conditions than I am used to. I look forward t seeing you all then.

Photo courtesy of Hoppet Office www.hoppet.com.au


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