Sunday, February 5, 2017

City of Lakes Loppet: Race Report and World Masters Preview

Many thanks to Rune Harkestad for sending us this report from the City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis, coincidentally the site of next year's World Masters.  If you're thinking about going to either event, read on for all the details!


Two weeks apart, the only thing in common between this year’s classic pursuit in Winthrop and the City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis is they were both classic technique and the same distance (slightly above 30k).  Other than that, they were polar opposite races.  While the Winthrop race started out with a 45-minute continuous climb, there were no hills longer than one minute in Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis, venue of 2018 World Masters and this year’s National Masters.  

Plenty of snow around here in the Northwest, not so much in Minneapolis.  Actually, the Loppet is supposed to be an A to B race of 42k, but due to the almost complete lack of snow, the race was shortened to 5 loops on a 6.2k course on mostly man-made snow and snow brought in from other areas.  Driving around Minneapolis and only seeing a tiny pile of frozen snow here and there, I really wondered how the organizers would be able to pull it off, but they sure did and managed a thin but perfectly adequate cover of snow which made for a great race.  Skiing on the course the day before was blistering fast and I seriously wondered how this was going to work, given the number of skiers (200+) on the course at the same time and some of the fast downhills and sharp turns.

As it turned out, no need to worry and it worked out perfectly well.  Temperature was in the low to mid 20s and just a perfect day for a ski race.  If there was a way to measure the amount of skiing done per snow crystal, this course must set the record, with high school meets during the day and lots of skiers at night, the same 4 inches of snow being groomed over and over and over.   Still, the organizers managed to set great tracks, which held up well on the first lap, but quickly deteriorated thereafter and on the last few laps, every uphill was pretty much 6” of sugar snow and the downhills plowed out down to the bare ice (cross country ski edges don’t catch on black ice). 

Most ski races I do are about the exhaustion and how to properly dispose of energy.  This was very different in that it was such a technically challenging course, which totally changed my mindset.  I got off to a decent start, in the top 20, and the field stretched out rather quickly, maybe because Matt Liebsch (former overall winner of the Birkie Skate) was up front setting the pace.  In places it was faster in the track but for the most part, it felt faster outside the track, which meant constantly going across the tracks to cut corners as the course winds itself throughout the park.  After advancing a few more places, I ended up skiing mostly on my own, which was perfectly fine with me; it allowed me to fully concentrate on finding the fastest track and cut corners, and as I got into the later laps, figure out where to pass about 100 skiers or so and avoid any crashes.

I ended up in a 16th overall, won my age group by 4 minutes, and had just a great experience coming away with many important lessons in preparing for next year’s World Masters.  As long as the temperatures stay below freezing, I have no doubt the organizers will pull it off with man-made or natural snow.  Logistically, it is a great venue with lots of quality hotels nearby, very well organized with shuttle buses to/from a nearby parking lot, and just a really cool stadium area.  The hills are shorter and less challenging than I would ideally prefer in a classic race (probably makes for a really fun skate course) but should be more than challenging enough for a Masters event.  With proper preparation and the right conditions, there is an outside chance I would choose all-out double pole, but we will see what the snow conditions end up being next year, and subsequently which courses they have available before making that decision.

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