“U.S. Anti Wheel Doping Association. Let me see your roller skis.”
If such an organization existed, half the field at the Kingston Roller Ski races might have been disqualified.
Forget about Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton and the rest of the Tour de France crowd. Pro cycling and EPO is so amateur hour. Roller ski races in New York feature unrepentant wheel doping.
Four years ago, I was impressed when three or four junior skiers toed the line at Kingston Nordic’s 5 km classic race on their parents’ hand-me-down skate skis. We owe those guys, because they made the whole field improve their game. For anyone who has podium ambitions, the classic race is now a double-pole derby.
But this Sunday, most, if not all of the front row for the classic race was kitted out with skate skis with fast plastic wheels, be they inline skate wheels or otherwise. And doped wheels weren’t confined to the front row. Don’t get me wrong: these guys woulda beaten me if we were on matched roller skis. But if you’re a mid pack skier like your faithful correspondent, you almost need to be on doped boards just so the gap isn’t too embarrasing. Just like the Tour de France, or this story from Australia, almost everyone’s doing it.
Alas, for the classic race I was on bog standard V2s. In crowded quarters, I made a hash of the start. Leaving the middle school grounds, I reeled in some people on the false flat by the soccer field and settled in behind Sarah Duclos. I made a move past her up both of the bumps masquerading as hills, figuring that since I weighed an easy 50 pounds more than she did, gravity would do the rest on the following downhills. But each time, she came right back, taking advantage in the corners. She skied with poise, skied her race, and never looked like she was laboring. I, on the other hand, labored mightily in the last 500 meters. She handled the final hairpin with aplomb, extending her gap.
Greg Malia and crew put on a really nice event, from the races to the post race meal to the prize table. But this place has always given me conniptions. How do you make a plan to ski two races an hour apart? Hold back in the classic race and go for broke later? Go hard early and then take it easy? The strategy bit has never been my strong suit; I decided I was gonna hammer both races, come what may.
As I warmed up for the 10 km skate race, I chatted with my friend Nat Herz, who’d been my editor for awhile at FasterSkier.com and who still contributes there. He’d come up from New York with a contingent from Manhattan Nordic.
Again, I blew the start, and had to work to get back into the race. My skate rollers are reasonably fast, but in this field it’s like saying you’ve got a well-tuned Trabant when others are driving Porsches. And the bumps got me. How does gradual hill with all of 15 feet of vertical gain feel so hard? Still, I got into a rhythm, went hard and had a good race, if not a stellar result.
Next year, I think I’ll have to suck it up and double pole the classic race on skates. One important takeaway was that the knee that’s bothered me since the Climb to the Castle was fine during the skate race, even if it hurt the next two days. And the most important thing? I had a blast.