Sochi World Cup Report

The third day of World Cup competition on the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic tracks has just come to an end. The highlights for the Australians were an impressive performance by Phillip Bellingham in the Freestyle Sprint, gutsy efforts by Callum Watson and Esther Bottomley in the Skiathlons, and survival of the suffer-fest by Mark van der Ploeg and Phillip Bellingham in the Classic Team Sprint. Read on for more details…

Day 1: Freestyle Sprint. Phil bounced back quickly from a bout of gastro at the start of the week to record his second best World Cup result, 62nd out of the field of 84 starters, 15 seconds behind the fastest qualifier. Phil was just over 5 seconds outside of qualifying for the top 30, which on the long 1.8km course with a winner’s time of 3:47 was really not very far. Not such a great race for Callum and Mark in the same race, 81st and 83rd, 25 and 29 second back from first. Callum was in a world of lactic pain and had to be looked after by team medical support for a good 1/2 hour after the race. Mark felt flat and was way off the good form he was showing on Swiss Cup just two weeks previous.

In the women’s 1.25km Sprint Esther had a day to forget. She had some difficulties with dizziness and tunnel vision, and ended up 18.8 seconds back in 68th place out of 69 starters. It’s not the first time this has happened to Esther in a World Cup sprint, however this was the worst occurence since 2005.

Day 2: Skiathlons. Determined to rebound after the sprint Esther made her World Cup Skiathlon debut the next day. She had a solid classic leg during dumping snow, yo-yo-ing back and forth with 3-4 other skiers, before changing over to freestyle just ahead of a Lithuanian girl. The Lithuanian overtook and held a slender lead at the start of the final lap, but Esther fought back and held on to take 50th place out of 52 starters, 18.4 % behind the winner Steira from Norway.

Callum lost contact with the main pack relatively early on in the 30km skiathlon, then steadily began to pick skiers off on the last two laps of the classic leg. A pre-race goal was to  have a fast changeover, and Callum posted the second quickest change to head out onto the skate leg just ahead of a couple of Spanish skiers. At various times he battled with each of the Spaniards, before making a break on the final lap and overtaking a bonked Japanese skier along the way. The final result was 59th our of 65 starters, just on 10% behind the winner Cologna from Switzerland. Not quite as good as his 7.5% in the Canmore Skiathlon in December, but heading in the right direction.

Day 3: Classic Team Sprint. This was always going to be tough race on the 1.8km men’s sprint course, and waxing conditions weren’t easy. Phil fought hard on the first leg with not quite enough grip, which put him into the hurt box for the rest of the event. Mark’s first leg was solid though also slipping a little, and he changed back to Phil just ahead of Slovakia and behind Ukraine, but from then in it was just plain hard work for both guys. Grip became better as the race went on thanks to the guys in the waxing box, but the hills didn’t get any flatter and muscles any less fatigued. The boys ended up 30th out of 32 teams. Callum’s remark from the side-line: “I’m just glad I’m not racing this one”.

So that’s it, a week in Sochi (well, near Sochi at least) over. Some good results, some less than ideal, a lot of hard work and some fun. All up, good experience before the Winter Olympics next year. Now the team heads to Davos in Switzerland for a couple of weeks.

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