On February 8, Team Athletic Mentors Nordic Ski racers Alex Vanias, Daniel Yankus, Ryan Halstead and Kaitlyn Patterson competed in the VASA 50k freestyle race. The race start temperature was in the negatives, far undercutting the forecasted temperature of 10 degrees and provided cold, bitter conditions.
There were 69 racers, and as usual, Athletic Mentors racers finished on top. Alex finished second in a time of 2:29:12, Dan took fourth in 2:37:50, Ryan came in 10th in 2:46:23, and Kaitlyn finished third in the women’s field (24th overall) with a time of 3:06:30. The main heat of the race was between winner Eli Brown and Alex.
Complications began the night before when Kaitlyn and Alex stayed up until midnight waxing their skis, only to realize it had been the wrong wax. After testing their skis, however, they didn’t feel too sticky on the abrasive snow. The warmer wax they had used could have been completely removed during the race, which leads to a significant speed decline.
As the race approached, the crew did a few warm-up laps and found the start line. The race began fast, as usual, and Alex stayed in a content position in the back of the lead group strategizing a time to attack and go to the front. Daniel, Ryan and Kaitlyn settled in comfortable positions among their competitors. Eli, the race favorite, kept the race aggressive; he attacked at the 5k and created a large gap between the rest of the racers, making it difficult for anyone to close in and chase him. Alex was determined, however, and did his best to catch up and challenge him for the rest of the race.
The pain set in and the mind games began. Between Eli and Alex up front, the two skiers were pretending to not be tired, keeping things dynamic and competitive. Alex said that from prior experience, he knew Eli was a strong finisher and that he must take the lead and wear him down in order to prevent him from getting any rest.
“We would event come to nearly complete stops trying to get each other to take the lead,” Alex said.
The rest of the crew was not far behind but experienced some difficulty. Dan mentioned that his skis were not gliding well, which set him in a less competitive position.
Up front, a third racer named Milan Biac joined Alex and Eli, and closed in gaps with his fast skis. After executing a planned attack on “the wall” with roughly half a lap left, Alex dropped Milan but couldn’t rid Eli. Alex kept pushing the pace in hope of cracking his competitor’s exhaustion. Unfortunately, Alex hit an obstacle that slowed him down, widening the gap between him and Eli.
“My plan backfired when I bonked on the Jack Pine section up a giant hill,” Alex said. “I just kept pushing. All I could do now was pretend to still have strength, but I knew it was over.”
With 1/2k to go, Eli muscled up a sprint far beyond Alex’s pace and earned his first place position. Alex glided in easy for second place, followed by his teammates not far behind. The whole team had solid individual performances and is already looking forward to next year’s race.