I decided to let Zahan write today’s post on how the Teams Race went. For those that are getting a little sick of hearing about skinny rando skiers in lycra, I tried to get a little ChamperyAT in on today’s ‘rest day’, but morning rain, isothermic snow and socked in conditions turned our North American posse around after less than an hour into the adventure. On another note, I was walking around town today and heard some Pearl Jam raging from the back shop. I guess most skiers think alike.
Of the 8 US men that raced in today’s grueling 6500′ race few came away unscathed. As the 10:30 start drew close, the clouds parted and the temperatures climbed rapidly. As with the Team relay only the stronger teams were able to participate, the smaller teams with less manpower focus their energies on the individual and vertical races where just one entrant is sufficient to be able to race. In a teams race 2 racers must climb and descend together passing through all checkpoints at the same time. The allure of the event is that you are truly a team, able to rely on each other for support, carrying skis, helping with crucial transitions and even towing each other through a harness and bungee system.
With the thirty second count down behind us we waited nervously. The gun went off and our top tier athletes Ethan Passant and Cary Smith were first Americans off the line, in the chase. Today I was racing with Steve, and though we had decided to try to stay out of the hunt on the first climb, I knew that Steve’s pace would push mine and I was preparing for the ensuing pain. Unlike in the US where the field is thinner and the first climb is wide open, we were quickly funneled into 2 steep switchbacking tracks—sandwiched between hundreds of racers. In the fight to keep pace, tensions were immediately on the rise, skiers making aggressive moves to gain a place, I tried to stick stride for stride with the skier in front of me for fear of being edged out of the track by the skiers behind; call it uphill skier cross!
The Spanish Ski Mountaineering Team is definitely one of the more
friendlier teams to us Americans. Here, veteran racer Toti Bes
puts his skis on his back in preperation for the first bootpack.
The first skin led to the first bootpack, which gradually steepened into an icy 40 degree couloir with a rope for assistance—as we approached the midpoint in the climb I started to suffer the effects of having pushed a little too hard, lactic acid pooled in my legs my lungs burned, this was to be the first of 5 climbs. Steve led and I hung on as a team of Norwegians closed the gap from behind, as the climbing got thinner and the 2 tracks funneled into one Steve “Teton-styled” it booting to the side–beyond reach of the rope, I gingerly followed to the transition at the top. The pace in the upper section had slowed and I had my pace back.
Randosteve removes his skis at the third transition.
A moderate descent to the valley floor led to the second climb where I took the lead under a sweltering sun, as the climb wore on I found my stride and with Steve close behind we pushed to gain on the teams ahead. 2 more steep bootpacks on the ridge crests gave way to sweeping exposure over the entire valley dropping 6000′ below.
Brandon French and Scott Coldiron approaching the top
of the fourth climb with the thinning Swiss snowpack in the background.
The latter part of the course led through high alpine terrain with excellent skiing off spectacular peaks, on 2 consecutive north face we skied steeper soft snow. Late in the race I always focus on staying neutral on my skis and try to avoid getting in a defensive back seat position, which can fry my quads. It was getting late in the race in one of the more exhausting events I have done to date. When in doubt I would throw a glance behind me to check that the Teton Tigers were still racing as a team.
Bryan Wickenhauser stepping it up and towing teammate Todd Glew,
who also was feeling the heat today.
On the fourth descent I stopped to look back and realized that Steve was no longer in site—I knew that this signaled trouble in paradise as Steve is never one to be dropped on the downhill. I let the Norwegian team by and waited. In a few seconds my partner re-appeared and we rallied to the transition. However when Steve struggled through the next transition my worries intensified. Nevertheless, we charged out of the gate in the chase of the Vikings. We were now on our final and shortest climb, but within 5 minutes of leaving the gate and 600 vertical feet from the end of the climbing Steve went into fully body arrest, in a period of 60 seconds we went from being in the hunt to survival mode. I turned around to see Steve in a daze, with a 1000 mile stare. With dehydration coupled with dropping electrolyte levels he began to alternate between grasping his legs and grunting in pain and folding over his poles.
Cary Smith and Ethan Passant at the top of the fourth climb.
Cary and Ethan finished in 24rd place today. Click here for full results.
The race for positions was officially over, to arrive at the finish line was a goal by itself. We inched through the woods making a few strides before becoming immobile, in a race you try to carry as little as possible and I had no extra water. That is when I knew I would have called it quits, and I offered, but I am not Rando Steve.
Three of the top four racers, Guido Giacomelli, Florent Perrier and
Alexander Pellicier. Florent and Alexander contributed their first place finish
to working as a team. Note the tow strap.
It took about 35 minutes to do what we normally have done in 8 or 9 minutes, and it seemed at every turn we were passed by teams that we had not seemed since the start. Had I been alone in Steve’s shoes I would have struggled to stay positive, but as his teammate I felt the drive that comes from being able to move us through…as a team. We tugged, pulled, and pushed through and in excruciating pain made the finish line. In the end I don’t know where we finished—but today the satisfaction comes from giving what we had in every step.
Zahan and Randosteve reach the top of the fourth climb
Unfortunately the beginning of downward spiral for Randosteve.