Annika Taylor kicked off her European race career with strong perfromances in the classic and freestyle distance races
2015/16 race season gets off
to a great start in Beitostolen
After months of summer and altitude training, the senior British Nordic athletes got stuck into race action at Beitosolen, Norway this weekend. With Classic, Freestyle and Sprint races all taking place over the weekend, it was an ideal platform to launch the new season. Andrew Young, Andrew Musgrave and Annika Taylor all put in great perforemances and our roving reporter Sarah Young managed to capture a few thoughts from the team on their Friday race performance.
Friday the 13th, unlucky for some, but not the British Nordic Ski Team as the 2015/16 season kicked off in Beitostølen, Norway earlier today. A 7.5km classic time trial for the ladies and 15km for the gents was the first of three races to be held over the weekend in southern Norway.
Beitstølen is a mountain resort within easy reach of Oslo and a popular destination from the city. “Beito" is the traditional season opener in Norway. The Norwegian team race here every year and bring all their officials and equipment to entertain their sponsors. It also gives the team a major race outing before the start of the World Cup and provides all the budding skiers an opportunity to catch the eye of the Norwegian coaches. This makes these races extremely competitive with many Norwegians peaking for this weekend. Some see it as make or break for their season; although it has to be said that there is no certainty that someone who goes fast here will go fast at any other time, nor indeed that those not going great guns now will not get going later on in the winter. In any case it does make for battle on the course at these first races. Both men and women’s fields are big - 70 women and 137 men. This also makes the life of the coach exciting when trying to give splits! With two laps of the 3.75km course for the women and four for the men, that’s a lot of iPad tapping and information to communicate with the athletes.
So all the Norwegian stars are on show – and all with the exception of Marit Beorgen racing hard. Marit is the women’s world number 1 (and has been for 5 years), but is here only as a supporter as her first baby is due next month. From Britain we have Andrew Musgrave, Andrew Young and Annika Taylor – the three ‘A’s! (There are a lot of ‘A’s in the British Team - Alex, Asmund, Thomas…). As both the Andrew’s are working with Norwegian professional teams who are in attendance, Beito is a great choice for the seasonal opener for the British Team.
With the racing being held over three days there is some opportunity to mix it up a bit. For Annika the aim is to get used to the standard of the races so she is looking to compete on all three days. Meanwhile both Andrews plan to miss one race each and concentrate on the other two. Muzzy is concentrating on the distance races and Youngy the Classic time trial and the Classic sprint.
The aim for the team over the weekend is to race hard and to attempt to gauge the effectiveness of the off-season training. Can the athlete perform the techniques and tactics they have been working on when under the pressure of intense racing? What still needs work to be ready for World Cup? This year the team has been experimenting with a change to the use of altitude training as a build into the season. The athletes have arrived here directly from an altitude camp, the effect of which is being monitored. Youngy had a very disrupted arrival as a strike meant he spent six hours in Vienna before flying to Oslo. He arrived in the wee hours of the morning of the race! He says that Vienna airport is quite relaxing.
Today’s race went really well for Annika. At various times she sat in behind some very experienced World Cup skiers from Germany and then from Norway and finished 37th, which is impressive for the first time here. Annika said; “ It was great to go fast and not just in intervals, I’m now really looking forward to tomorrow’s skate race.”
It has been a very warm autumn and despite the use of farmed snow (snow collected and stored over the summer) the track here is the minimum that it has been in the years the team has been coming here. With only a 3.75km loop, the long hill has been cut from the racecourse. In turn this means that the there was an opportunity, in the men’s race, to double pole only - where they don’t bother to put wax on the base of the ski, relying only on the power generated by their arms and trunk muscles. With a new crack-down on skating within classic races, those without kick on their skis must be extra diligent not to accidentally push off to the side, which is what led to the controversial disqualification of the men’s world number one, Martin Johnsrud Sundby who was penalized for skating in the deteriorating tracks.
The Andrews were among the many, maybe half the field, that double poled the 15k. Both were impressive finishing in the top 20 with Youngy edging the result (with his first top 20 at this level) in 14th and Muzzy in 20th. Youngy is looking forward to getting to his bed for the second time today while Muzzy is hoping to build on today’s result tomorrow.
After a promising first race of the 2015/16 cross-country season, British Nordic Headcoach, Roy Young, provided a summary of Saturday’s skate time trial and Sunday’s classic sprint.
The course was the same as the day before; a winding course through the forest for 3.75 km. The lack of snow that resulted in the large hill from the 5km course being cut from the weekend’s racing meant that Saturday’s skate race heavily favoured the use of skate two technique – also known variously as double dance and V2.
The lady’s 7.5km opened the racing on Saturday with some fine snow falling. Annika started bib 43 as she had the day before. After successfully using other skiers to pace her race on Friday, she again managed to slip in step alongside non-other than Astrid Jacobsen the eventual third-place woman. Annika went off fast and ended up in 41st, but closer to the winner than she had been classic.
In the men's race Muzzy was well seeded in among twelve World Cup podium applicants. The fine snow of the lady’s race had been replaced with fat wet flakes. Andrew said he didn’t feel to great on the first lap and the lap time was a little off pace. However he picked it up in the second lap and his third was superb moving him into the top five. When he arrived at the coaching point for the last time the coaches had him in first place as he went past, but there was still Sundby to come who had been moving easily and quickly throughout the race and had a point to prove after his disqualification the day before. In the end Andrew had to settle for sixth place, which included a prize-giving appearance.
Sunday brought the sprint races. Waxing was more difficult with the new snow being affected by a rise in the temperature to +2 or +3. With three seconds making the difference between being in the quarter-finals and packing up, getting the right wax was vital. At this stage in the season the support team are trying to learn about the athletes skis and the way they ski them. The more the waxers know, the better they can prepare the skis. As a small team, the changing conditions put the Brits at a disadvantage compared to the Megacorp that is the Norwegian support team, but Asmund, the team’s main waxer rose to the challenge.
Annika went into the sprint looking to experience racing in such a high-quality field. The aim was to feel zippy on her skis and she was pleased with her performance and 47th position. Andrew Young fresh from his great result on Friday was looking to inspect the quarter-finals, however whether it was slightly slow skis or the result of his travel difficulties earlier in the week he was a little off the pace and missed the quarter-finals by three seconds.
The three Brits are all pretty please with how they performed this weekend. They feel the markers they put down encouraging and are looking forward to pushing on into the World Cup's. Annika and Muzzy are going to continue to train on the good snow in Beitostolen before heading to Finland the first World Cup race of the season. Andrew Young we will be training in Lillehammer and racing nearby before flying to Davos for his first World Cup where he will also be joined after Kuusamo by Annika and Muzzy.
The support team at this event was our main waxer Asmund and Roy Young. Andrew Musgrave was supported by his pro-team, lease plan go. Andrew Young supported by his pro team Synnfjell. The British team tries to work closely with both of these Norwegian teams when the guys are racing in Norway. (There was also support of friends from the British biathlon team, and their coach Jacko).
Both Andrews put in impressive perfromances over the weekend. Andrew Young came 14th in the men's 15k classic on the Friday and Andrew Musgrave coming 6th in the freestyle on the Saturday - a great start to the new season. Photos: Eirik Lund Røer