Thursday, December 27, 2001 - Perspective
Phil's XC Journal #14

- By: Phil Villeneuve

Hi Everyone,

Two weeks away and besides a few new houses that have sprouted up and the commercial projects getting higher, not much has really changed in Canmore.  The snow is still as patchy as when I left with the exception of a huge extra 2km of newly laid concrete (man made snow) around the Nordic Centre.  But hey,  itís better than nothing right?

I have to admit that I have been a bit spoiled with my travels in Europe.  No, Iím not talking about crazy extravagant hotels or fine dining establishments, but rather on the awesome skiing I did while in Switzerland and Austria.  Unlike other parts of Europe where we witnessed ski races being held on a strip of snow surrounded by a sea of green, the locations I skied at were well covered and offered fantastic terrain to train and race on.

The goal of the trip was to attempt to qualify a menís relay team for Canada in order to have representation at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.  That didnít happen.  I accept the decision from Cross Country Canada and the arbitration committee and hope that this whole situation will help to change things down the road.  Besides, I think it has been way too stressful for both sides.

Iíve been jumping across the pond to race the Euros for the past 10 years.  This was the first trip where the athletes had to do part of the organizing.  Now I realize how much planning the coaches have to do when they haul a van load of skiers on a trip.  However, I think that part of the reason I consider this to have been my best trip was exactly for that reason.  Landing in Zurich without a clue as to how we are going to get into the heart of the Swiss Alps, let alone finding a place to stay close to the race site (without a reservation of course) 2 days before the event was all part of a great experience.  I think I laughed the entire 2 weeks.  Actually, I think I cried a bit after my 15th pasta meal in a row!

Even though we didnít get a shot a racing the relay we got a chance to race in 3 European Continental Cups which are the next step of racing below World Cups.  Our first weekend of racing was held in a small village in the very isolated but beautiful Goms Valley.  The temperature dropped from +10C to Ė12C overnight transforming the already thin race course into boilerplate conditions.  Europeans tend to have a different mentality than North Americans in terms on where to build a race course.  The one in Goms looked like someone drove the piston bully (big track setter) up and down the valley side to make up a 5km loop.  The community came together to build a stadium on the flats and made sure to include the remnants of WWII bunkers to use as waxing rooms. 

Even though most of our time is spent traveling, preparing and racing, I try to make it a habit to tour the local trails and enjoy new sites.  The Goms Valley offers about 35km of skiing from one end to the other while crossing almost a dozen villages.  It really is quite amazing.  This is very typical of most alpine valleys.  I guess that the best way to describe these ski trails is to the maze of ski-doo trail systems across North America.  The masses of skiers you meet on any given day makes you realize how much xc skiing is a part of their daily routine.   

After having relocated in Davos (still in Switzerland) for a week of preparation in anticipation of our would be World Cup relay attempt.  We were notified of the arbitration committeeís decision not to let us race.  In a last minute change of plans,  Guido and I raced Formula 1 style across the Autobahn to Ramsau, Austria for the showcase race of the lot.  The World Premiere of the Cross Country Skiing Duathlon.  This race style has been talked about for a few years now in order to spice up the sport and entice the spectators to come out and watch the action.  As far as the race in Ramsau was concerned, it worked.  A good size crowd came out to watch the racers blast off together for the first 7.5km which was to be done in the classical style technique, ski through the transition where we switched into our skating equipment for another 7.5km of racing to the finish line.   This race style was definitely a crowd pleaser and will undoubtedly be part of the normal racing calendar in years to come.

The racing done, we quickly burned back to Davos to catch the start of the World Cup relay and watch the women race to a very impressive 7th place finish!  The menís relay followed, cheered on by a huge crowd lining the valley bottom part of the course.  Of course, I was happily watching this race in the warmth of our apartment on Eurosport...ahhh, now thatís luxury!

Thatís it for today.  Enjoy the Christmas Holidays.


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