Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gatineau Loppet - Point to Point

Excited to ski the new point-to-point course at the Gatineau Loppet. I ski raced the formerly named Keskinada Loppet ( : race story) back 2005, 2006, 2007, winning the classic race in 2007 (love the horse wreath around the neck!), 3rd in the other years. At that time, the skate race was the money race.

All racers were bussed out at one time, a 40-min drive away. The start was in the middle of nowhere with no shelter to keep warm.

After getting off the bus, there was 30 min to start time. Huddling in my down jacket, I gave in my bag to shuttle to the finish with 5 min to go. Little did I know the women were allocated the far right two lanes, the men had 6 lanes. I was close to last in the lane, not knowing if any woman would let me squeeze in. I did not know where to seed myself amongst them.

narrow startline tracks for the 55km classic loppet
- photo Gatineau Loppet
Up ahead, I saw that the narrow track climbed immediately. Doh, that is my strength. Fortunately, at the start most everyone could keep the hard pace for awhile. Though, I really needed out of my lane. It was challenging to cross-over and over to crawl my way forward as everyone was a decent athlete in this first wave.

After a km, there were only two set tracks (definitely room for a third one like the American Birkie) and then flattened path. To pass, one needed to briskly double-pole around slower skiers to jump back in front on the tracks. It was tiring to continually do this, I hung back for a few minutes for a breather.

Early on, the tracks were slightly glazed and the first thought was "this will be a fast ski - awesome!". Not soon after, the tracks were more snowy, reasonable glide though not a "fast" glide.

Wicked climbs came that were not too steep though herringbone was the best option. They were pleasantly long! (that's a Marg-specific definition). The scenery was brilliant on these trails. Interspersed, were long twisty narrow descents that looked safe with the snowy trails.

I was ready to take the descents full on when the person in front began to "snowplow"! I slowed to prevent catching them when a skiff of snow caught a ski off guard and I snowballed two full revolutions. I was amazed everything was in tact, poles and skis and me!

It took many kms to catch and pass that crowd. It was a game of catch-up the rest of the way. Cool, that I saw at least 10 women throughout the course, rare in most events.

On an out-back section around 27 km, I was only 5 minutes back of Karen Messenger from Canmore (winner of 2013 Cdn Birkie pack), then 2 more women before me. Not sure of my placing, I knew there was at least Shelia Kealey, Tara Whitten ahead and a few others.

This section of trail was fun, twisting in the trees, with quick lefts or rights. Then came the toughest part of the race... the open rolling Gatineau Parkway route... a.k.a. boring for the next 15 km.

The Parkway hills were a little too steep to conservatively double-pole single-kick up and a little too gentle to efficiently diagonal stride up. I stormed up with whichever technique worked best and would slowly gain on skier after skier. Only problem was I could not keep my lead for long on each following descent. Nor could I keep up in their draft. My weight or my skis (?)

Bonus for the Camelbak, I passed skiers at each feedzone. I just came upon a strong woman double-poler. I wondered how long I would stay ahead of her on the Parkway.

For the last half of the race, I continually passed a French speaking skier with bib number 49 back and forth. He had the most wicked glide descending, and I would race by him on ascents. Later on one descent, from behind he said "I will push you", and he did. It was awesome to pick up some speed. Great comradry, though not so great from the racing perspective. Only happened once.

Unfortunately for me, the uphills ran out with 4 km to go. I worked hard this latter half of the race double-poling on the descents to keep away. Darn it with all the double-pole only track at the end, that same woman strongly glided by me at the 1000m sign. Oh well!
Marcus Boyle and Marg at the expo, pre-Classic race
Came in 11th woman overall, 3:41, 26 min after the lead woman. Managed 3rd in my age category with one 55-60 year old ahead yet.

Comrad skier Number 49 gave me a hug at the finish. He told me he was wowed by my ascending though my double-pole needs work - ha, funny!

Need better Startline Provision for Women Racers

Article mentions the lead woman saw no other woman, and that Sheila Kealey had to work her way up. Not the best start for a competitive field. It is a disadvantage to have the women line up in a line.

Need to revise the women's startline!

Possible solution is to have the women start 1 min after, or even 10 sec after, and use all the lanes. Allow the women to intersperse amongst the men like in most races. Will provide the Gatineau Loppet feedback.

Skate race - Sunday
After an awesome potluck Sat night dinner with local skier friends of Marcus, attempted the 51 km skate race the next day. Super freezing temps with a killer windchill had the organizers postpone the race start.

I bundled up, went with the plan to ski for mileage, skis barely moved as if on sandpaper and a strong headwind was cold and blustery. When we were on the fun trails in the trees my skis and I worked well. Soon back to the open freezing Parkway. Made a wise decision to turn around after 18 km. Trudged back to the start in a  frozen state for a total unofficial 25 km ski.

Saw previous Vancouver roomie Carolyn Daubeny who had a fantastic race up until 45 km when a man bowled her over (and unnecessarily on the open Parkway). Part of her ski boot broke making it impossible to ski. She was willing to run it in, though not official in the rules. She would have been top 5 of the women.

Heard Sheila Kealey had a similar incident though only her pole was clipped by a follow too close man skier. It took her time to grab her pole and glove, and possibly put her out of contention for a win, not sure.

As I was skating a chill pace, I saw neglectful etiquette amongst a few of the men skaters. I threw out the odd comment if I could like "we HAVE the whole parkway" as they would swoop in so close by. Saw one man ski over another skier's pole which snapped. Thought a fist fight would occur!

I prefer classic racing - much safer!

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