Last weekend, we departed from beautiful sunny Italia to the double classic weekend of World Cup racing in Otepaa, Estonia. Last year we had Junior World/U23 Championships there, so it was sweet to return to a venue I finally recognize. Unfortunately we skid an "easier version" of the world cup course last year, so little did I know how hard the Otepaa classic course was. Everyone always talks about how it's the hardest course on the World Cup... and now I understand why.

Otepaa Stadium Scene
Saturday was a classic sprint, with lots of double pole, and few hills. Many of the boys opted to go on skate gear, and double pole everything. Luckily girls never got to that level of hard core, so we got to do a few strides in the middle of the course with some kick wax. Once again I "just missed the heats" by a slight half of second, finishing 32nd... darn! One of these times I am going to remember to do an extra pole on the corner, take a shorter line, or lunge a little larger.... and make those darn heats!!! Last weekend was nice though, because with a much deeper field than the weekend before, I was still almost there.
Newell and Harvey during the heats. Newell had a sweet race, advancing onto the semi's, only to be stopped by a russian collision that managed to put a hole through his ski :(
The following day we had a 10k classic distance race on an exceptionally hard course. With three solid herring-bone hills, it sure kept your muscles working the whole time! To make things crazier, every downhill recovery seemed to be an alpine style, catching air type of downhill. Good fun!! I haven't gotten to do a distance race since nearly a month now, so I was looking forward to simply feeling the actual "pain" of racing again.

We stayed in a hotel with this sweet spa attached to the side. Hot tubs, pools, sauna's, steam rooms... everything. Unfortunately, I never got to try them out, but I can only imagine. Here is a hot tub, a medium heat tub, and then a pool that connects to outside... so a cold tub!!
Sunday was funny in that we didn't start our race until 3:30 in the evening for TV purposes. Being in Scandinavia means that daylight starts disappearing right about that time. By the end of the race I was skiing my warm down in the dark. It was new and hilarious in a way. The race set up similar to my last distance race in Davos- in that I had Kikkan starting 30 seconds behind me. Last time Kikkan must have passed me within 5 minutes of the start, so I went from the gun this time running from the big bad wolf. I was also trying to pace myself for the difficult course, but each new kilometer I covered without the sound of her breathing behind me turned into a bit of a game. I ended up having so much fun, and just enjoying the fact that I was back to healthy and able to race. Its funny how much you crave the actual pain of racing when you are sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else race!

At the end of the day I was stoked and excited! Finishing 34th was my best distance race of the year, and for the first time in a while, I got a real positive feeling in the race. As I told Fasterskier, sometimes it's hard to find the little positive achievements in your own races when your teammates are kicking butt, finishing in the top twenty. Thats when you have to step back, take a look at the big picture and remember that it's one step at a time, even though I would rather be skipping. We had three US ladies in the top 20, and then all of us in the top 40... so a solid day for US ladies for sure!! It's amazing how high the bar continues to be raised as each new race, someone new pops something great. What an exciting time!

Lucky for me, we now have a week off of racing where we will have the opportunity to get some good training in. Missing a month of training in the middle of the season is hard to come back from. You never get that good feeling when you are out there skiing. So, this means I am going to soak in every training moment and get the body ready again!!

Erik Flora has been over here with us since last weekend and will be until after Russia, which has been soo nice. It's always so much more meaningful to have your coach watch you and see where you are, rather than trying to tell them. Not to mention, when you feel like dirt the day before the race, he is there to convince you, "ah, you will feel great tomorrow, don't you worry". What a cool deal.

Erik getting his time to shine in the coaches race!!
Currently we are spending the week in Ramsau, Austria doing some powder training. The snow just keeps coming down!! We are staying in cute little apartments, cooking some of our own meals, having so much fun relaxing for a bit. Last night we took a trip down the hill a few kilometer to watch the Schladling world cup night slalom races along with 40,000 drunken austrian fans. The scene was incredible, it was sooo much fun!!

The view of the run as we drove down the hill from Ramsau. Check out all the people on the side... SOOO many!
THE SCENE!! It's so fun to be on the other side of an event like this, being the spectator. We are always on the athlete side, in our own zone, trying to avoid the chaos of spectators. When you stand on the other side, you gain so much more respect for the spectators with so much enthusiasm!! It's just incredible!
Yeah buddy!! Showing some American pride.
Today is Ida's birthday, so we dressed her up in a crown and pink suspenders and went for a ladies distance ski. It was sweet. We have Canadian superstar Chandra Crawford staying with us this week, so the seven of us ladies went out and had a sweet ski filled with perfect powder, lots of smiles and laughing, tons of tourists, and bit of sunshine. Life is real good here in Europe with a team of wonderful ladies!

Seven speedy ladies and one birthday girl!!
Next up will be Moscow city sprints not this weekend, but next, followed by some distance races in Rybinsk. In the meantime its some solid training mixed with a little fun and hopefully some sunshine soon!!