Sunday, December 22, 2013

Skinny Santa Solstice

Saturday was the Skinny Santa Solstice 20k skate race at the Woodlands trails in Elk River, MN. This is always a fun race since the course is one of the most twisty, windy, up and down fun courses in the Midwest (and always in good shape). And since there were really not a lot of other options for racing this weekend, the competition was (as usual) pretty good.

I lined up next to fellow 2005 Gustavus grad Jon Miller, and former U of MN skier Andy Brown. Andy had beat me in the Vasaloppet 35k last year, and Jon always skis tough, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. In the field: Matt Liebsch (We heard before hand that he would be taking it out hard to get in a good workout before US Nationals, so we knew the race was for second place), but also former CXC skier Doug Debold, a resurgent Fred Kueffer, the always strong Even Pengelly, and a host of other good skiers including a few college guys home on break.

The course starts on a short, flat loop around a prairie before you head into the woods for two 10k laps. This race always bottle-necks very quickly, so it is important to get out fast into a good position. I got myself off the line in 5th or 6th place, and as predicted Matt jumped to the lead quite early and was soon out of sight.
Early in the race
By the time we hit the woods I had worked myself in to 3rd position in the what-I-will-refer-to-as-the-lead-pack (Matt doesn't count). The trails are narrow and passing is difficult, but people soon started to cycle through the lead, and I took my turn at the front. After I pulled over to let the next skier lead I found that the strung out field had an almost lead pack of 4 skiers: the now leading Cory Ellertson, Jon, Andy, and myself. Cory took a hard pull that really separated things out, but when he pulled off to let Jon and Andy by he wasn't able to stay with our pack, and we were down to 3 skiers.
Coming through the lap with Andy (6) and Jon (70)

Jon, Andy, and I shared the lead for the next 10k, trading off every couple minutes. Each of us took an equal time leading, and it was a lot of fun skiing with two skiers I know well. From our time trading off it was apparent to me that Andy was probably the strongest skier of our group, and when he went to the front at about 14k and pushed the pace up the biggest hill on the course Jon fell back and it was just Andy and I.

I took my turn at the front and kept the pace a bit higher - I didn't want to have to fight off Jon again. When I moved over to let Andy lead he put in a surge again and I couldn't match him. All I could do was watch him slowly pull ahead. I told myself at that point to stay relaxed and ski my race. There was still a bit of racing to go and I didn't want to blow up and get caught by Jon.
Bringing it home
I had a Finn Sisu fine grind with Fast Wax Green and Fast Wax Flight Cold over the top, and my skis felt good the whole way. I was able to maintain a good pace, and Andy was never really out of sight. I pushed the last bit of the race but couldn't close the gap. Matt crushed us all, winning by over 5 minutes. Andy beat me by 18 seconds, with Jon coming in 49 seconds after me. I think all of us were pleased with our race, and the loaves-of-bread-as-trophies were great too!

This was the first race of the newly renamed Cities Cup. There is supposed to be a team competition, so I am sure Vakava will put our name in the running.

Vakava Results:
3rd Nate
35th Rob
39th Dave C (age group win)
62nd Mike
4th Cheryl

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