Austria....now it's time to see if the hard work has paid off. My main goal was the classic Alternatieve Elfstedentocht 200km. In the past, I lost contact with the main peloton at about the 100km mark, so I was very happy this year to make it through that distance in good position. From that point on, though, it was a matter of surviving some pretty aggressive surges. The surges would last for a few kilometers apiece and happened every lap after 100k. There were attacks all over the 13km circuit, but the ones after the feed zone were a given. You had to plan on them and to be in the right position if you wanted to stay with the leaders. With 5 laps to go, I tried to make sure I was in the top 40 or so, to protect myself from splits in the peloton. Safe for now. Then with about 30km to go, the big split came and the lead group was cut down to about 50.|
OK, 20km left, I'm in a position that I have not been in before ... with the lead pack, surrounded by the best marathon skaters in the world. Erik Hulzebosch, Henk Angenent, Piet Kleine, Jan Eise Kromkamp - they were all there. I had made the final cut - but was afraid of losing it. Then at 15km to go there was a break. Angenent, Hulzebosch and about 8 others got away. I was right there when it happened. As I watched them go, I thought to myself, "What do I do?" And I thought some more - until it was too late. I was afraid to chance what I already had - a great finish in a great race. I now think it could only have gotten better.
Several of us attacked with with 10km to go, but we couldn't get away. Time to gear up for the final sprint to the line. A crowd of about 5,000 was on hand to see the action. Passing the feed zone, about 700m to go, we were fighting for position. Spectators were crowding the edge of the track and cheering. Talk about a rush! Then the crowd charged across to the finish straightaway to see the all-out sprint. The final 200m were lined with people five-deep on both sides of the track, cheering. Legs burning from going all out for the last 700m, the pack was now almost single file with some small gaps as we crossed the line. What a finish!
I finished in 40th place overall with a time of 5:14:42. The winning break finished in 5:11:01. The Hulzebosch/Angenent group sprinted for 7th place.......
After the finish, I can remember just smiling and laughing. I was so happy I felt like I hadn't even skated 200km. My friends said the same to me when they greeted me at the finish. It was a great day, but it only got better at the awards ceremony when my name was called out as the 2nd place finisher in Category B.
Without a doubt, this is the best speedskating memory I have.
Hmmm, what a difference a little training can make!