Jessie tells her thoughts and stories from the Tour de Canada!
Whooooooeeee! That was a big, big end to the season with 8 races right in a row like that! I won’t recap each race, but here are some highlights from the tour…things that really stood out for me. I’ll be letting the photos tell most of the story.
The energy from each stage of the tour was simply amazing. It was so weird for us to be the fan-favorites for once! But when they’d introduce each athlete in the start gate of the sprints, especially in Gatineau, the roar that would cover the stadium whenever a US or Canadian athlete was in the gates was enough to give me goosebumps! And in Canmore, it was such a rush of adrenaline when the entire sprint hill started chanting my name during the final. That was, at the risk of sounding totally cheesy, a magical moment for me.
And after the races! Seeing so many junior skiers out on the trails, getting to meet their favorite athletes from all over the world, you could actually see the inspiration painted on their faces. That was so cool for me, seeing these skiers set their sights on racing World Cups someday. What they don’t know is that that kind of inspiration flows both directions. It makes me want to ski fast and show them that it’s possible for a North American athlete to podium in a World Cup. So while we may be getting credit for inspiring young athletes, it should be noted that their eyes on us inspire us to race well, too!
That was so much fun, having friends and family there to see the races! Both my parents were born in Canada (I’m a duel citizen) so it was really special to be racing in Canada! I got to see my aunts, uncles and cousins that I haven’t seen in way too long, and they finally got to see just what it is that I do (since I usually have to miss family events for training camps and races). My boyfriend also came up from Boston to watch me race in Quebec city, which was very, very cool for me!
Girls breaking into the points for the first time during this tour: Chelsea Holmes and Katharine Ogden. This is SO COOL! And Erik Bjornsen qualified for the sprint heats, which was awesome as well. It was awesome to have so many people scoring points, but a special highlight was seeing new people have outstanding races and take this opportunity to race so many world cups in a tour, and make the absolute most of the races.
I had some breakthrough races as well, getting my first world cup podium in a classic race on the final day. I had the 3rd fastest time of day and I largely have Krista to thank for that, since we skied together and she won time of day!
THINGS NOT GOING TO PLAN.
People got sick during the tour. Not just our team – people from nearly every team got ill and had to drop out or battled through sickness but didn’t have the races they wanted. This is really disappointing and heartbreaking, but there’s nothing you can do except get healthy again. And my teammates on the US team that got sick handled it so admirably – they were super careful to wash their hands all the time and keep their distance from the rest of the team so they didn’t spread germs. It’s so hard to be isolated when you really want company so this is even more impressive than it sounds, that they were able to do this and still be cheerful.
Also under the category of thing not going to plan: I fell during my sprint quarterfinal in Quebec city.
Sometimes, the best laid plans are thrown out the window. I felt ready to win that day. I was in the best shape of my life, I liked the course, I had the energy from the crowd keeping me going…and I tripped going round a corner about a minute into the race while leading and immediately shot to the back of the pack. I immediately jumped up and caught back up, but because the course was fairly narrow with a lot of turns I wasn’t able to get through when people were blocking me, and I missed going to the semis by a few seconds. It’s always hard when you feel ready and things just don’t work out, but the important thing is to be able to get over it, learn what you can and then simply move on. Was I mad at myself for falling? Yeah, sure I was. But I was also proud of myself for doing everything I possibly could to catch back up the moment after I hit the snow. In the end, that’s what I will remember more than falling down.
RACING ONE LAST TIME AFTER 7 STAGES.
The last day was…pretty brutal. It was fun, too, because of the crowds screaming and cheering and waving flags and that kind of atmosphere is what makes a world cup such a special event! But racing in the slush at 1pm made the race much longer and slower, and to top things off I had been feeling pretty off the previous afternoon and woke up with the start of a cold: sore swollen throat and stuffy nose. I decided I could tough it out through anything for one last race, and oftentimes the very start of a cold isn’t terrible to race through – your body can actually feel pretty awesome since it’s fired up trying to get you healthy again! I was feeling quite a bit of pressure (most of which I put on myself) to hold onto a top-5 finish in the Tour de Canada. I kept reminding myself of all the hard work I’d put into my classic skiing over the years and told myself that I had the fitness to have a great race. I also knew that Krista (FIN) was starting just 7 seconds behind me, and she’d come blasting out of the gates to catch me. My plan was to ski smooth and relaxed and when she caught me, we’d work together to trade leads and make up time on the field if we could. I mean, even when you’re duking it out with someone for a final place, you can work together the first 8km of the race to ensure you both have fast times! And that exactly what we did. Krista was much better on the climbs but I had fast skis and I would lead the double poling parts and some of the downhills. On our last lap we caught up to Astrid, who was having a tough one, and at that point I could no longer stay with Krista. But I was able to hold onto 5th place for my best tour finish ever! When I crossed the line I was totally and completely exhausted in every way possible. My body was fried. My stomach had been hurting almost nonstop since halfway through the tour, and I was simply tired of eating food for the sake of getting enough fuel to power me though the races. Mentally, I was so ready to be done racing. It’s tough to get fired up over 40 times in a season to push yourself THAT hard in each race.
And to the people who make fun of athletes who collapse at the finish line: I feel so sorry for you. It makes me sad that you’ve never pushed hard enough at anything in your life to understand what it feels like to have absolutely nothing left in your body but fatigue. Contrary to what you might imagine, it’s an extremely powerful feeling to have used all 100% of what you body has to give, because you know that you mind is stronger than you ever thought.
There isn’t any way for me to possibly say “thank you” enough to the coaches, wax staff, volunteers and team supporters that have worked so hard all year to give us our best chance in each and every race…but I’m going to try. Especially to the crew that travels with us all winter long, hopping from country to country and living out of a suitcase, putting their lives on hold so that they can coach us and wax our skis (often doing both things simultaneously, because budgets). That’s no small thing. On race day they get up before the athletes do, and they’re out testing skis, working so hard to find us the best possible wax combination so that we have a chance at competing against the best in the world. Then after we race and have headed back to the hotel to shower and rest up and get a hot meal, they’re still out at the wax cabins prepping skis for the next race, or packing up the wax boxes to put back in the cargo van and drive to the next venue. They are the most under-appreciated, hardworking people in the world, because when a race goes badly so many athletes seem to think it’s ok to blame their techs, and never think to thank the wax techs when they have a good race. But they’re out there working hard every day, even when they never get enough credit for the work they do! These guys are in it for the love of the sport, and I am so honored to have the staff that we do on our team. Thanks you guys!
So, we have one last series of races to go, and then that’s it! The season will be over! I’m so happy to be back with my SMST2 teammates and we are ready to kick off Super Tour Finals here in Craftsbury VT tomorrow. Wish us luck!