If you read last year's missive, you should know that I have a raging love-hate relationship with the Stowe Derby, because it comes this close to completely ruining the most awesome 5k in cross country skiing (the first descent) with the worst 14k in cross country skiing (everything after that). Be warned that this year's experience did nothing to change my feelings, and I will nevertheless be back next year. Curse you, adrenaline rush!
This year's Derby took place in optimal conditions for descending, steady snow showers all week, and more snow on the morning of the race. Sure, 600 nordic skiers throwing 'em sideways will still scrape that down to ice in no time, but at least the berms were a little softer than usual.
My plan to become an e-celebrity was to run a rearward facing boot cam, since doing that off my seatpost during cross season nearly doubled this blog's traffic. After several bad ideas about how to construct this, Linnea came up with the idea of using a coat hanger attached to my regular mount, and this worked great, as you probably saw.
On the start line I made sure to tell everyone within earshot that I was running a boot cam because a) I'm an attention whore and b) I wanted people to want to ski behind me. I ended up with the holeshot off the line, so this may have worked. Possibly.
I was bib #38 this year, that's 273 places better than last year's seed, but the first corner was still a huge scraped-off mess! I was confused, because I'd been expecting to rail fresh powder all the way to the bottom, but apparently the 35 people ahead of me had already cleaned it off. In any case, the first corner was as sketchy as always, as was the second corner, and also the third.
But don't take my word for it, ask this guy.
After the first three switchbacks its onto the first fast straight section, where I overtook a snow-covered Dartmouth kid who was still in the process of putting himself back together from the previous corner. I hit 39 mph on the straightaway last year, this year I could only manage 35, thanks to the fresh powder.
Unlike last year, though, I knew that the straight ended with a monster hairpin and an assembled crowd of alpine skiers, whom I disappointed by staying upright while flying sideways around the turn. Exiting it I looked back to confirm that I had, in fact, dusted my heat, and I was very disappointed to find #37 trailing me closely.
This guy must've had fast skis or an impressive "weight-to-drag" ratio, because you can see in the video he was half-tucking and skating after this corner while I pulled away slightly on the long straight. I was pulling away slightly because my chest was nailed to my knees, Bode-style. As soon as I skated the next, slower turn he caught and passed me, after taking a moment to wave to the camera.
Once he was in front I could draft him, which negated whatever advantage he had, but I also had no way to get around now that we were getting into the easier part of the course. The fresh snow had only been skied in one narrow groove, so as soon as you stepped out to go around the brakes went on, and you dropped back. So my attempts to re-pass (purely for camera-based reasons) were totally unsuccessful.
Instead, I spent the rest of the downhill wondering just how bad of an idea it was to tuck three feet behind someone at 30 miles an hour. On the last straight pitch, where I hit 45 mph last year, I finally chickened out and hung a foot out into the powder to back off a bit. In retrospect, giving him the pole-push at 40 mph would have been sick.
And then you hit the bottom, and it's all over! I was through the corner at the bottom in 7:50, yet wasn't going to finish until 52:03. Time to ski a soft and narrow 14k!
The big difference in seeding this year made this part of the course really lonely. Last year I spent the whole time being angsty about having to pass 150 people, but this time I only saw seven in the same stretch. It was basically an interval start 15k, not exactly my specialty. Three guys from waves behind me were apparently "real skiers" and thus had no problem closing the gap over the "real skiing" portion of the race. Alas. I did overtake two more people during these extremely unpleasant 45 minutes, so it wasn't a total loss.
The biggest bummer, to me, is that the Stowe Derby doesn't have a split time just after the bottom of the downhill. There's so much regular skiing after the downhill ends, that it's basically just a 15k skate race, with ties broken based on descending ability. Any competent racer can get down the Toll Road within a minute of the fastest descender, so you don't really lose much ground on the awesome part, or at least you can make up a lot more ground on the lame part.
I can accept that part of the draw of the race is the tradition, which requires skiing all the way to town (even though it sucks), but come on, give us something to race for on the downhill!
So... yeah. You can tell I'm still grappling with the fact that I hate most of the Stowe Derby because this post has no flow, kind of like their course! Ha! Anyway, if you want to do a proper downhill-nordic race, head to the Inferno on March 15, it's a scant thirteen minutes of all-out descending and I didn't quite kill myself last year.
After the race I headed home in a growing snowstorm, in a 2WD roller skate without snow tires. I'd been up since 4:30 AM, but I successfully combined abject terror with a large coffee to stay awake all the way to New London, NH, where I discovered that my stupid little car could barely start moving once stopping on the highway. Unable to face three or four more hours of creeping along while nap-jerking, I bailed for a hotel.
The whole reason that I got up at 4:30 (instead of heading up the night before) is that 1) I like bad ideas and 2) Linnea and I did a bitchin snow ride with MegA and JD. If you like pictures and bikes, instead of yapping and skis, you should go read about that instead.
One final whine, because this post is already impressively discontinuous -- holy crap, the road crossing in this race suck. I may have to email the organizers some constructive criticism on that one, as opposed to just vaguely carping about it here.
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