It appears that we have landed in XC Ski heaven. How could it be otherwise? Our small hotel at the start of the Tartu Marathon is owned by Andrus Veerpalu, this years Olympic XC Ski gold medal winner. Down the road is the house of Kristina Smigun (2 XC Ski gold medals). At dinner next to us in the hotel sits Stanislaw Rezac, winner of just about every Worldloppet. And the start tomorrow morning is across the street in Tehvandi XC Ski Stadium ... a stadium for xc skiing!! All of this in a country with an adult population of less than one million!
The weather forecast for tomorrows race day is inconclusive - possibility of snow, low -8C, high -1C. No snow for the last two weeks, and "transformed" snow (icy!) tracks. Everybody waxes and re-waxes.
When in the morning we wake up, there are 4 inches of new snow on the ground. Frantic re-waxing by many - I just cover several layers of VR40 over green klister with another couple of layers of VR55, which turns out to be the perfect combination for the whole course.
20 minutes before the start we walk over the street to get in line with about 4,000 other people (it used to be 17,000 in the late eighties I'm told). Apparently there was no time for regrooming the tracks - after the gun goes off and the elite wave is out, there doesn't appear to be any track left except on the steeper downhill parts. Technically, the course is relatively easy (it is NOT the adjacent World Cup course, fortunately!). However, lots of little steep climbs are followed by steep little downhills. So the whole affair has more the feel of a wilderness loppet in which you have the company of 4,000 others. Herringboning up all these little hills because the congestion doesn't allow you the momentum to kick your way up.
Racers and watchers however are a wonderful group - lots of smiles, waving, a great atmosphere. While Marcialonga in Italy last year had the feel of a perfectly and professionally organized race, this was a relaxed race just for the folks - never mind perfect tracks and such. The people made up for it!
Next on to the Vasa week festivities in Mora, Sweden. We'll report from there. Our newfound buddies Allan and Greg, happy warriors from BC, Canada, are off to the Finlandia.
Dieter and Carol Hohnke