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The Italian Tour - Uno

Updated: Feb 16

In honour of the Giro, a grand cycling race in Italy, I had dubbed my trip the Wiro (winter Giro). Much like the Giro, I spent nearly a month touring around Italy. Now, I stayed predominantly in northern Italy, touring four different venues. Each venue had distinct focuses for me, and only the first was an area I had visited before; the others were new adventures.

The Wiro started with flying into Munich and driving to Tesero, or Val di Fiemme. A training camp, climatizing to the European time, hopefully with plenty of Italian sunshine and good food. Both were true. The additional focus for this week was to get familiar with the site set to host the para-Nordic events of the 2026 Paralympic Winter Games in Milano-Cortina. The team even took an afternoon walk around the town, which was planned to host the athletes' village. If all goes well, we will return next season for a proper test of the venue, courses, and range. I had visited the area a few times, years ago. We used the area as a pre-camp before the Sochi Games 2014 (and tested the concept out in 2013) and returned for a third trip a few years later. The catch was that the snow conditions at the valley bottom (the host site for the Paralympics) had been non-existent each time I've been there. I had never skied at the stadium or its courses. I had

Passo Lavaze, ITA

only skied up higher at Passo Lavazè. As a nod back to my earlier trips, I asked for one of our sessions to be up at Passo Lavazè. To our luck, it was a spectacular day for a long ski. Near perfect conditions, hardly a cloud in the sky. It's one of those memorable skis that are hard to forget. Throughout the ski, there were several moments of familiarity and difference. There had been a lot of logging in the area, and what I remembered as woods or forested views now looked out to the surrounding valleys and mountains.

For the Val di Fiemme venue itself. It's an iconic venue, but with significant construction planned for this Summer, it's hard to tell what to expect the next time I go there. There are rumours of entirely different courses and layouts, including sit-ski trails and a refurbished range. That will be part of next year's excitement and intrigue.

The second stop on the Wiro tour was Toblach—another iconic Nordic venue in Italy. Mind you, no matter which direction you go, you stumble upon an iconic venue in this region—with Antholz and Cortina, just naming a few. For various reasons, the World Cup season was starting late, like the last week of January late. Unusual, not preferred, but that was how it had worked out. The first stop of the World Cup season was Toblach, where four cross-country races were held in five days: back-to-back 10km classic races, a freestyle sprint and a 10km freestyle.

Photo credit: NewsPower

I had not competed in an international classic race since my Beijing Games Relay leg. I had some nerves going into this first race. I wondered where I would stack up. I was confident enough that my classic skiing was decent, but how strong was it? I have had a few tastes of classic racing in Canmore but never a full test of what I could do. I believed I was back, close to where I left off, maybe even a little improved. I got to test it out immediately with an interval start of 10km classic. I had a plan and executed it well on a course I liked. I wanted to start with intent, but the starting section had to be somewhat respected. I did so, but I felt I was exactly where I wanted to be as I completed my first lap with a lead of a few seconds—each lap, I built onto my lead and crossed the finishing line with a significant winning margin. There are not many better ways to kick off the WC season and return to classic racing than with a big win. I don't know if it was my first time, but I earned the Leader's bib for Cross-country. The next day, we would repeat the race (sort of). It would be 10km in the classic technique, but this time, the start was hunting, pursuit, or class start (there are several names for it; we don't even know what to call it yet). Regardless, it was set up so that whoever crossed the line first won. Those with more significant impairments would get a head start, while those with a lesser impairment would chase. But the classic technique has its days. The slightest shift in weather or snow conditions can make classic skiing frustrating. The conditions did just that on the second day. I didn't expect it, but I was feeling better the second day, stronger, snappier and more relaxed than I had the previous day. I believed I could repeat a strong performance. Not that I executed a poor performance; looking back, I would say I didn't shift my mindset, thinking, tactical or technical approach during the race. I started well, aggressively, but relaxed through the first half of the course (the flatter section) before reaching the climbing section. The combination of the wax I had on my skis and the snow conditions was in such a delicate balance, working or icing up. This means you start snowballing under your skis, and that's not a fast way to ski; more often than not, you fall flat on your face if your ski ices and you don't expect it. I had felt my skis start to ice. I could shift my technique enough to prevent any serious issues, but I began to lose my confidence, or more specifically, I was afraid of suddenly icing and falling; as a response, I became tentative in some sections. I was skiing okay, but I couldn't apply the same power or drive in those sections as the day before because I didn't trust the grip. My biggest mistake was not recognizing that fact and making the shift during the race. Change the mindset or tactics. I closed the gap by quite a bit. I couldn't catch the Leader and eventually had to settle for second. As for the Leader's bib, I was now in a tie for the WC lead, but by virtue of his slightly lower points overall, my competitor earned the right to wear the red bib.

Standing Men 10km Classic Podium - Toblach, ITA, Photo credit: NewsPower

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