You’ve probably heard of the Tour de France. Maybe even the Tour de Ski. Maybe you’re even got up at 0-dark-hundred to watch it live! My goal is to give you a little behind the scenes information as to what actually goes on during a Tour event when the athletes aren’t racing on camera.
The TDS schedule looks like this (girls distances):
- Jan 3 – Obersdorf, Germany: 3.2km skate prologue
- Jan 4 – Obersdorf, Germany: 10km classic pursuit
- Jan 5 – day off, travel to Val Müstair, Switzerland
- Jan 6 – Val Müstair, Switzerland: skate sprint, travel to Toblach, Italy that night
- Jan 7 – Toblach, Italy: 5km classic
- Jan 8 – Toblach, Italy: 15km skate pursuit
- Jan 9 – day off, travel to Val di Fiemme, Italy
- Jan 10 – Val di Fiemme, Italy: 10km classic mass start
- Jan 11 – Val di Fiemme, Italy: 9km skate pursuit hill climb
It’s 7 races in 9 days, spread across 4 venues in 3 different countries. Pack your passports, people! This tight timetable is especially hard work for the coaches (who are also our techs) because each venue we go to they need to build the wax room, prepare test skis, determine what the race wax will be and then prepare skis for their athletes to test on race morning. This means that none of them get very much sleep, and I am totally amazed at how they can keep going day after day. People think a Tour is hardest on the athletes, but that’s probably the easiest job of all!
Salomon Nordic photo of me racing stage 1
That said, racing that much is still not easy. It does funny things to your body and your head, and just to finish is a huge accomplishment in itself! The TDS for me is like one big adrenaline rush. You’re racing almost every day, and when you’re not racing you’re working to help your body recover or traveling to the next venue.
So happy about all the snow in Obersdorf! (Sophie photo)
After stage 2, I enter this weird complex where I almost always have a bad stomach ache from the stress of racing, but I’m also always hungry. So I need to eat but really just want to lie down. As the tour goes on I end up eating more and more bland food and less fruits and vegetables, and by the end of the tour I just want a new stomach altogether!
Not quite so happy about all the rain we got right before the race…
In terms of sore muscles, bumps and bruises…if I can start the tour with somewhat of a clean slate, it’s
a total miracle really awesome.
As it ended up this year, I came into this thing without any soreness but some bruises on my legs, and after a training crash and then a race crash in Obersdorf my legs look totally destroyed. They still feel ok though!
Luckily for me, I have had lots of help dealing with all those bruises and sore muscles! We have Meg and Anna, Massage Therapist and Physical Therapist respectively, and they have been rockstars. Besides helping us with body work they have been in the start and finish pen for the races, helping us get our warmups off and then on again and keeping track of our skis while we’re jogging around. A big thanks to them for coming on board for such a crazy and intense 2 weeks!
Kikkan starting the recovery process with food, drinks and dry clothes right after the race!
It’s amazing to watch what happens to my body as I progress through the tour. One day I might have an awful race and feel like I’m at the end of my rope, and the very next day I could have one of my best races all year. Last year I remember having a lot of ups and downs, just like a regular season but compressed into one intense week. For me, a big part of staying in the game and riding out the good days and the bad is simply mental.
While being consistent is obviously the goal, there will inevitably be a bad race or two, and being able to keep each race separate from the TDS as a whole is key. I like to tackle it each day at a time, not thinking about how much racing is left or how I need to get “x” results to achieve “y” goals. I just think about what I need to do that moment, that hour of that day to take care of myself, be a good teammate, and make sure I can race as well as possible. Now that I think about it, the Tour is great life practice because it teaches you that nothing is the end of the world and you can also come back from anything.
The TDS gives you patience and humor when you get situations like a glass shower in the middle of a hotel room!
So, what happens once the TV broadcast for the day is over? For most athletes, it probably looks a little like this….quickly cool down from the race and keep it as short as possible while still flushing the lactic acid out of your body. Change into dry clothes and get in some food and drink, even if you feel like you’re going to puke, because your body is going to need that fuel the next day. Get back to the hotel and shower, throw your clothes into your duffel, and pack into the team vans. Eat lunch on the road. Answer media questions via text, call, or email while trying not to get carsick.
Matt brought a 6-pack along for the ride. 6 pack of Boost, that is.
The beautiful floating church on our drive from Obersdorf to Val Müstair
Drive a few hours to the next venue, where you’ll all pile out and check into a new hotel, find your rooms and half-way unpack. Then, if you’re lucky enough to have Massage and PT on the road, you take turns with your teammates getting body work done to help your legs recover. Go for a short jog, foam roll or stretch, and have dinner. Go to the team pre-race meeting, meet with your tech, come up with a game plan for the next day’s race. Climb into bed and hope that your body isn’t too jazzed up from the previous race so you can get some sleep. Wake up and do it again! Wow, doesn’t that sound like fun??? Oddly enough, it actually is.
Having a little look out our hotel window! (Sadie photo)
I had a solid start to my TDS with a 14th place finish in the skate prologue, only a couple seconds out of top-10. This was a great sign for me because on such a hilly course it meant that I was in good race shape and ready to go! I definitely paced it a little too conservatively, but I was happy with how my second lap of the race went and I felt like I was able to push hard over the tops of the hills. And I was definitely proud of our techs and my Salomon skis, as I later found out that I had the fastest split time from the top of the course to the stadium on both laps! We had a good laugh over that one as I’m known for falling down, not killing the downhills.
A rare graceful moment on classic skis! (photo by Marcel Hilger)
However, the next day was…well…not disastrous, but pretty close! In testing I picked my race pair of skis and we dialed in the wax, and I could kick easily up the steepest section of the course with good glide to boot. I was psyched and we called it good, and I took my warmup skis off to finish skiing. However, conditions were rapidly changing (it also started very lightly snowing) and I started getting worried as my warmup skis stopped working. I should have run back to the wax cabins and re-tested, but we don’t have a huge staff and we were stretched thin as it was, and I was running out of time. During the race my skis were crazy slick, and it wasn’t just that it was hard to make them work, as I kept playing with my technique to try and get grip. I was slipping 5, 6 strides in a row and loosing so much time on every hill as I had to start herringboning up everything. I don’t blame my skis (they were crazy fast yesterday after all, and my glide was good!) and I don’t blame the techs, but it was nothing short of frustrating to move back so quickly and have it be totally out of my control. I was proud of myself for keeping focus in the race and still searching for every second, and holding my own on the flats. To top it off, I caught one of the ruts on my last downhill and crashed, but at that point I only lost 2 places from falling and I wasn’t injured, so it wasn’t the worst thing ever.
My awesome roommate Sadie can always find ways to make me laugh.
So what do you do when things don’t go your way? Because chances are, not everything will always work out as planned. Do you give up? Do you look for excuses? Do you doubt yourself? Or do you take a deep breath, remember that you still have what it takes, and put your energy into moving forward? I’m choosing to move forward, get my chase-mode on and see what I can do!