Sunday, March 20, 2005 - Perspective
Phil's XC Journal: Ping-Pong Fever!

- By: Phil Villeneuve

Ever played ping-pong using your body as the ball and the country as your table?  I’ve been playing for the past 6 months and I’ve finally taken control of this game…but not without some good rallies along the way!

The last few stops have been difficult on my body and yes, they have taken its toll on my race performances.  It’s pretty much inevitable with the type of game I’m playing.  But then again, what doesn’t kill you will only make you tougher!  Right?  What can I say…I like riding that thin red line!   Here’s a recap of my latest travels.

First stop…Smithers, BC.

Beautiful British Columbia, like much of the West, has been omitted on that “places where snow should normally be found” list in North America this year.  However, if you thumb it far enough North, you’ll run into the little town of Smithers, gateway to the Coastal Mountain range and one of the few places in BC that got peppered with enough snow worthy of dusting off your scraper.  The local bike shop (McBike), was anxious to satisfy the local masters’ hunger for skiing knowledge and called upon the X-C.com Racing Team to organize a camp for them.  Team tech and superstar coach, Eric  (dis-guise) de Nys and I hopped on our private jet to Prince George and drove the rest of the way via limousine for a 3 day technique-nutrition-strength crash camp to a great crew of eager master skiers.  Smithers is awesome.  It definitely has ‘the works’ if you’re one of those that just can’t get enough.  (Check out camp details at www.x-c.com then click:  “team events”).

Second stop…Mt. St-Anne/Mt. Orford for the World Championships selection races…ouin, ouin (that’s Philly French for ‘oui’).

I flew back from Smithers in time to blast home (forgot my toothbrush) for the evening, sleep 4hours and drive back out to Calgary for my 7:30am flight to Ottawa.  “Hi Mom, hi Dad!” a quick home cooked ‘what would you like for dinner’ meal and off the Quebec the next day.

The selection races went well but not well enough to make the cut.  Some could argue that my preparation wasn’t the best but I felt (and still feel) that my body was as good as it could be at the time.  I gave it all and fell short…they took six men and I was number 7.  Life goes on…as do my travels.

Third stop…Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival, Edmonton, Alberta...wasn’t I just here?

With the Worlds out of the picture, my secretary quickly rearranged my schedule and sent me back to Alberta for  “Birkie Week”.  This is one of the X-C.com Racing Team’s busiest time and most important week of the year with lots of events to organize with local clubs and ski groups and of course the race itself, the “Canadian Birkebeiner”.  This is by far one of the most amazing classic courses you will find anywhere in the world.  Thirty kilometres of twisty-turny double-poling on rolly terrain  followed by another 25kms of hills for a total of 55km!  This course is challenging and unforgiving…trust me I know.  I’ve raced this event 4 times, finishing 2nd twice, 3rd once and this year I finished in grand style by crossing the line on a snow mobile!  Yep, start with half a tank of gas and you’ll run out much quicker than you think!  At 48k, after having been struggling to stay alive for too long, I stopped at the aid station requesting cookies and “anything sweet”.  After a few minutes of stuffing my face with sugar I started skiing again only to pull a slow U-we back to the aid station.  The first aid attendant took one look at me as I fell off my chair and requested a snow mobile to come get me.  I didn’t argue.

Fourth stop…Keskinada, Ottawa-Hull…déjà vu!

A quick one day stopover through the “Man-made snow belt” (Canmore) and I’m back in the air…headed for Ottawa…again.  So, how do you recover from a bonked 55k and get ready for another 50k the following weekend?  Take Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday off, ski an hour on Thursday, race the Sirius Sprints on Friday night, ski easy on Saturday morning and race again on Sunday.  Simple really.

Ottawa redefined the meaning of the word “wind chill” for me last week.  Friday night’s Sirius Sprints were held under the lights in front of Ottawa’s city hall, dodging and weaving the snow sculptures around a 300m track.  A definite improvement over last year’s ‘figure 8’ course.  Unfortunately, the -25C weather didn’t help that spectator participation thing.  Some brave ‘parents’ endured the co-cold to watch me get nipped at the line by a Yankee inch.

Sunday’s main event the 50k skate wasn’t much different.  The temperature on the start line was –22!  It didn’t get much warmer than that…especially going down hills at 50+km/hr.  Even my greasy Dermatone face didn’t help Mr. Frost from going to town on my face.  Two big red triangles burned on my cheeks after the race.  A wonderful feeling.  Lucky for me that was the extent of the damage.  Here’s a funny.  I found myself showing off my wounds to Richard Weber, an ex-national team member from the 80’s and famous polar explorer having multiple visits to the North Pole under his belt, among other things.  As I stood there massaging my cheeks, I could see a slight grin on his face.  I knew what he was thinking… “You call THAT frostbite?  How about you come with me to the North Pole, THEN I’ll show you some frostbite!”  I stopped rubbing.

This got me thinking… How many times do you have to freeze your butt (or bits) before you learn to wear more layers? Here’s a scenario, play along for fun.  It’s –20 outside, with wind chill it’s –30.  You’re going to be racing for over 2 hours.  How do you dress under your race suit?  Do you A) Where normal underwear because you’re tough or B) Double and triple protect your ‘tender’ areas?  I just don’t understand how some skiers still manage to freeze their body part even after multiple –20 skis.  Incredible.

Well…I’m still in Ottawa, enjoying some R&R before the Nationals in the fabulous Duntroon metropolis.  I seem to remember some pretty crazy weather the last time Nationals were there.  Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself!

That’s it for today,
Phil

Ps.  Oh yeah, the Keski was painful, but I finished the sucker.  Check out www.keskinada.com for results.



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