It is always nice to get the first few World Cup races under the belt. Work out the bugs and get a feel for where you stand. What parts of your performance are good enough and what still needs improvement. There are the unknowns, but most of those are also out of your control; therefore, there is no need to spent time worrying about them. That said, there is always that feeling of nervous wonderment before the first World Cup race of the season.
I watched the FIS World Cup from Lillehammer on Saturday morning, and it was amusing to think in less than two days I would be there as well, preparing for my World Cup races. The FIS tour was in the snowy Lillehammer Saturday and Sunday, before moving to Davos on Monday. That same Monday, I, along with the team, arrived in Lillehammer. Three days later, Thursday, I kicked off the World Cup Cross Country season with a 7.5km Classic.
I started the season, satisfied with the result, but unsatisfied with the performance. I was in a great position for the first two laps. I was running in second, only seconds behind the leader. The final lap, though I tried to push, I just know it wasn’t as sharp in focus as I needed it to be. The short turnaround between arriving in Europe and the race was catching up with me. I bled time throughout that lap, not able to pick it up as much as some of my competitors. The gap to the leader was growing, and the gap to third was shrinking fast. I couldn’t hold on, so slipping from second to third, by seconds. That is why I say, I’m happy I could finish on the podium, but I’m upset that I let a second-place finish slip through my fingers.
I skipped the race the following day while preparing for my next race, which was the Relay. It is always great to go to the start line and compete as a team. After the race, I again felt needlessly unsatisfied. This time, I know there is very little I could have done to better my performance. I ran the best leg that I could and did exactly my role within the relay team. But I left feeling disappointed I couldn’t have done more. Give my teammates more time going into the final leg. We finished a close fifth, in sight of the second, third and fourth. I felt I was still missing that piece, that element to my performance.
Next up was the Classic Sprint. I wanted a lot from this race. It has been a strength of mine, but I was struggling so far to find top-end speed. That was somewhat the same for the Sprint. I was overall happy with the day; I lacked that little bit of speed to contest for the win, but I was pleasantly surprised but the speed I had. In the past, I was never a great qualifier, but I seem to have learned how to better start the Sprint day off the way I want to. I struggled a little in the two heats to find that perfect balance of speed and grip that would have allowed me to race the course the way I wanted truly. I was building in my performances, and that was all I could ask for at this time of the year.
Now that Cross Country was done, the final two races were Biathlon. First, an Individual and then a Sprint. It was different but kind of neat to see that I was very comfortable going into the first Biathlon race. I was more nervous about skiing and pacing for the course. In the range, I felt great. I knew exactly what I could control on the range and had very little nerves regarding that part of the upcoming race. When I crossed the finish line for a fourth-place finish, there was very little else I could have done. My only mistake was I didn’t have a final lap matching that of my competitors. They had much stronger last laps. Even though my previous four laps were well-paced, I didn’t have the body to throw down for the final lap. On the range, I was clean, but so were most in my field. The top positions were very tight, but I didn’t have the last little bit to put my name in the hat for a podium finish.
That day did set me up for a great final race of the Lillehammer World Cup. With the confidence I had from my performance the day before, I was ready for the Sprint. There was not much I needed to change on the range, but I felt better in this second race and put myself in a position to go for it. I skied well, and after a few races now that the body to push into that next gear I needed. With a final lap fought my way to a second-place finish — a fantastic way to cap off this first World Cup.
Lillehammer is one of the toughest stops on the circuit. It was great to see it as in just over a year; I will return but then for the 2021 Snow Sports World Championships. Medals will be won and lost on those same trails. It was one of the more beautiful places I’ve visited. With the amount of snow that had fallen and fell during my time there, not many places could rival Lillehammer for an astonishing Winter wonderland. Skiing in Norway has something special to it; I’m not sure what it is, but you feel it and see it all around! I returned home to an abundance of snow in Canmore, maybe Lillehammer does have a rival after all!
I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May good tidings meet you in 2020!