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Ringkollen Utopia

March 20, 2011

Taking Stock

The week after big G was spent with some serious restitution. A homeostatic imbalance had to be corrected and the body was doing it’s best to do it asap with hypothalamus going into overdrive. This meant 6 super size meals a day for a week. Inbetween constantly troughing, I was able to get some skiing time in with Engelski juniors, plus get some skate skiing in before the whole of Oslo was consumed by World Championship hysteria.

Second Place, First Loser 

Whilst the rest of the world asks “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” the equivalent in Norway is “Where were you when Oddvar Brå broke his pole?”. Back in 1982 whilst the rest of the world was focussed on the Falklands war, Poland banning Solidarnosc, Lebanon turning into civil war and Italy winning the football World Cup, all Norway could focus on was how elite skier Brå had broken a pole on the last leg of the relay and had come back to tie and jointly take gold with the Soviet Union.

Where were you 25 years ago?

My first appreciation of how hysterical Norway becomes during the big skiing events was back in 1993, 3 weeks after arriving in Norway. The World Championships were taking place in Falun, Sweden and the whole of society shut down to watch the championships. Even supermarkets were installed with televisions and everything ground to a halt as shoppers, workers and shoplifters alike crowded round the grocery section to watch the ski action. 1993 was the time when Dæhlie pipped Smirnov at the line of the 15km skate and people went absolutely berserk. Dæhlie was to prove to be Smirnov’s nemesis thoughout his career and Smirnov became incredibly popular with the Norwegian public even though he went on to race for Sweden. Smirnov was embraced by the Norwegians since he was the ultimate first loser, placing consistently second, and often to the Norwegians’ ski king Dæhlie.



Holmenkollen Hysteria

By the time the World Championships had come to town ski fever had long kicked in. Fortunately the little people (Engelski juniors) were still able to train in the evenings on the World Cup trails. There was no escape from the World Cup as wherever one went radios and tvs blared out commentary. The little people were really getting into the skiing and were absolutely ecstatic when ski queen Marit Bjørgan skated by in slow motion and skated over my son’s skis! This was followed by my daughter getting a high five from the Northug Express as he collected his gold medal for the relay and the juniors were on cloud nine.

Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You

 The British skiers weren’t expecting to do much at the World Championships. However, they are a young team and I was anticipating a top 20 finish from Musgrave. This never materialised and towards the end of the championships a potential disappointment was on the cards. With the relay coming up on Friday and the British men lacking a solid opening leg I was hoping for a call. To be able to compete in the same

Musgrave & co: a missed opportunity?

tournament as Usain Boit (sic) from Kenya would be an honour I thought, and if given the chance to qualify for the 10k I may even have kicked his butt. Boit has become a folk here in the same mould as Eddie the Eagle, as back at the olympics in Nagano when Dæhlie refused to accept the gold medal until Boit had finished. Unfortunately the call for team GB never came meaning  that Musgrave, Smith and Platt were left without an anchor man and hence no entry for the relay.

Out of the Blue

A few days befor Ringkoll-løpet I received a correspondence out of the blue. It was an invitation to join the United Bakeries second string. I’d trained on and off with the bakery boys for some time and was delighted to accept. They’d had a recruitment campaign and although I was probably going to be the oldest, and more than likely one of the weakest, of the team the environment and people are great (though no prisoners are taken during interval training).

Interlude

Ringkoll-løpet Geek Fact: Filip Gjerdalen won Ringkoll-løpet in 2004 almost 7 years to the day. On this day his waxer in chief and race support was his brother Tord Asle (with gold jacket above). Diverging careers have seen Filip become Mr Grenader with 4 victories out of 4, whilst TA had to settle for World Cup glory 7 years after his brother set a new record for the Ringkoll race.

Ringkollen Utopia

Ringkoll-løpet for me is the highlight of the year. It is only a 25k race, but has some spectacular scenery in a great part of the world. The race is wedged inbetween Holmenkollen skimarathon (sic)/Grenaderen and the Birkebeiner and is a great way to give oneself a confidence boost.

Ringkoll-løpet: it doesn't get better than this

 The conditions are usually great and the tracks fast, often giving rise to delusions of grandeur. A super fast time in the race means nothing when standing on the starting line of the Birkebeiner, as the Birkebeiner always brings one down to earth with a bump. Having done the Grenader two weeks earlier Ringkoll-løpet was going to be more or less a sprint in comparison.

Double Agent

 The atmosphere around Ringkollen prior to the race is always relaxed and enjoyable. With only approx 200 participants, people mix freely in advance of the race and exchange stories of races gone by and waxing tips. Today was no different. However, I had been transformed from a nobody into an expert in the eyes of my competitors.

Agent Engelski with a good overview of the field

How could this transformation have occurred I hear you ask. Quite simply, by walking around the car park dressed in United Bakeries regalia I’d suddenly metamorphosed into team boss Thomas Alsgaard’s colleague and waxing chief supreme. I was approached by many asking me all kinds of stuff about the professionals in team one, none of which that I could answer since I am about as remote from them talent-wise as the North Cape is from Oslo (part of the same country sure, but distance-wise miles & miles apart). However, the greatest embarrasment was to come as strangers sought out waxing advice in advance. “Shit, now my cover will be well and truly blown and people will see me for the charlatan that I really am”, I thought. Fortunately there are a few skiers out there who know even less than I do, so when a few people came over and asked if I was going to use Klister I suddenly gained in confidence. I retorted that I thought that mildly hard waxes would be good enough and was going to start testing skis with VR45, possibly opting for VR50 as the race started at noon. Fortunately I’d got it spot on and my fellow Norwegian competitors had swallowed waxing advice from an Englishman without detriment.

The Midas Touch

I wasn’t the sole Team United Bakeries representative and met Jon from the cycling team at the start. Jon was itching to get on with the cycling scene, but was dabbing his hand in with a spot of competitive skiing. Ringkoll-løpet is a low stress start and I opted to start near the back of the field. 

Flopsy & Mopsy in action: going down for the count, skis & poles akimbo

Why I hadn’t learnt a lesson from previous poor starts I don’t know. Today was to be no different. As the starting pistol went off it took about 10-15 secs to reach the starting line being at the back of the field. However, Flopsy & Mopsy in front of me decided to go kamikaze and had a spectacular collision and wipeout landing on top of my skis. Great! It took about 20 secs for Flopsy & Mopsy to extracate themselves from my skis and by the time I crossed the starting line I was already 30 secs behind the field. Never mind, it was to be a sprint in any case. However, I was to spend the first 10k of the race battling my way through the field and expending unnecessary energy.

Tjolahopp tjolahej tjolahoppsan-sa

One can enjoy Ringkoll-løpet and the surrounding nature very much in the early stages of the race. The race takes one round the beautiful Øyangen lake, central to the Ringkollen area. Though initially there is much up and down a 70m climb, takes us to Borgersetra after about 5km.

Ringkoll-løp race profile

Some downhill takes us back down to 580m over sea level at 7 km and Vambutjerna. 50m of incline is then followed by some breathtaking downhill and vicious turns to Spålsetra, the lowest point of the race at 479m at the 11km mark. It was at this point that I started to get into a good rhythm. I’d hunted down many of the back markers and was now with a group at approx the same level as myself. In the group was Pippi (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Longstocking, it was the pigtails and freckles that really did it) and Herr Nilsen (a guy bearing an uncanny resemblance to Pippi’s monkey, it was the furry physiognomy). I remembered Herr Nilsen from last year. He is about 20 years my senior and pipped me at the line in 2010.

Zorzi Reprise?

With me vested in Alsgaard’s colours I began to feel I was getting the same kind of treatment from my fellow competitors, ie too much respect. Little did they know that I was an Englishman in disguise, yet nobody in the group wanted to take the lead, re Alsgaard-Zorzi 2002. Team chief Alsgaard was so riled back in 2002 that he gunned it and blew Zorzi away before slagging him off at the finish. With no alternative if we were to catch the group in front, I took the lead and led from the front over the next 10-12k as we double poled and caught ground on those in front.

The End Game

At Store Sinnera after 14km, gradual ascent starts and the ascent continues to virtually the finishing line. I was motoring away leading our group and when we came to Mosjøen I could see fellow bakery boy Jon in the distance. Without a doubt I had been gaining some pace on many of those including Jon in front. After double poling over the lake, the serious climb begins. I was able to lead my group up most of the climb, until at about 22km my pace started to dip. Leading the group over 10k without exchange had taken it’s toll and Pippi and the gang slowly picked me off over the last few km before heading in to the stadium. I was able to recover some ground and almost did for Herr Nilsen at the line. I’d set yet another PB and furthermore, as Ringkoll-løpet pretty much guarantees, set my fastest ever pace in a ski race. I crossed the line in 1h 36m, just under 2 min behind team-mate Jon and within a minute of Pippi and her crew.

Ying & Yang

As always Ringkoll-løpet had been a tremendous experience. It had been a good work out and a great confidence boost in advance of the Birkebeiner, about as polarly opposed as one can get from Ringkoll-løpet as an experience. It had also been a fantastic debut for the bakery boys and I was intent on continuing the good work in two weeks time at Rena for the Birkebeiner.

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