France has become a country full of surprises. The first surprise was, as I had mentioned before, the drive to through France. A pleasant and beautiful scenic drive greeted us as we arrived into France. The next surprise was how majestic and stunning the Chamonix and Mont Blanc areas were. Then came the surprises that weren’t so pleasant, at first.
When we arrived in Bessans we had a rough idea where we were staying so we parked in front of the hotel and went in search for our keys. After wandering around close to 30 minutes to find somewhere we could get our keys. We finally found someone in the restaurant. He tried to call a few people to help us get our rooms but with no luck. We couldn’t reach our coach because we either had no cell phone or a phone that only worked in Canada. The man from the restaurant said that he was expecting four new Canadians that evening for supper. In fact, with the five of us there already, we were still expecting five others of our team and the four other Canadians that we knew would be arriving that evening. By this time we were frustrated that we have arrived over an hour ago we still had no rooms and we were beginning to feel that something wasn’t right. Ian and I began a search of the Nordic centre in hope that we could find someone with the organizing committee that could help us. Again no such luck. Supper time was now fast approaching, the guy that had helped us earlier said that we could not eat supper there until something was arranged; essentially he told us ‘without rooms he wasn’t going to give us any food.’ Status check- we had no rooms, we weren’t allowed to eat at the restaurant we were suppose to eat at, two thirds of the team now was here but the coach had still not arrived and no one seemed to know anything about our arrival that night.
Fast forward another 45 minutes. Our coach arrived and soon was talking to his contact within the organizing committee. This contact quickly came to the town to settle the issues. It turned out to be an issue with the organizing committee that had completely forgotten about us. Our ‘B’ team had arrived here a few days ago and luckily still had a few spaces left over and an apartment was found on very short notice that could accommodate the remainder of the team. Colette and I settled into our rooms with the other Canadian team, while the rest of the team settled into the apartment. We were allowed to eat at the restaurant for supper and the following morning but then we would see what would happen after that. After supper I went back to the room, I wanted to shower but couldn’t find a towel. I asked around and was told that we had to rent towels; they didn’t come with the room. Ok!? The next issue was there was no toilet paper, again something you had to bring yourself. I had had enough of this and went to bed. In the morning, my problems weren’t even that bad, it turned out. The apartment had lost its power just after midnight. The heating was all electrical and because everything was stone and the apartment had not been used in over six weeks it was freezing in there. The rest of the team, were at breakfast in toques, parkas, gloves and three layers of clothes. It was about -15 outside; they said the air outside felt warmer then inside their apartment. By noon almost everything was arranged and things were settling down. It had been arranged that we were going to eat at a different restaurant just down the street. Later in the week we had heard from several other countries of some horror stories regarding the food in France. We had not such issue and were in enjoying quite delicious food. In the end it had all worked out.
Now I can tell you about the other surprises. I had no comparison yet this year on how my training had gone or how strong everyone else was. The first race was a Biathlon Sprint, I shot clean in the two bouts so I didn’t have to ski any penalty loops. My legs were really tired in the last loop of the race and could not get that extra little ‘snap’. To my surprise though, I finished fourth. A great start to the World Cup year, but France had still more surprises to come. The next day was a Cross Country Sprint. You have to ski a prolog and after that the top 16 move onto head-to-head heats. I have never qualified to race the heats, all I wanted from the legs was a good prolog and to see if I could get some snap into them. I was doing really well on the first part of the course, but went into the downhill corner with too much speed and couldn’t control it. I fell. I believed that was it, I raced with everything I had left but knew it wouldn’t be enough to move on. Surprise! I had qualified seventh! I would have my quarter-finals in just over an hour. This was all new to me, I had to cool down, sat down for a bit and then started to warm up again. My quarter-finals was a really good pairing for me. I worked with the young Norwegian and together we made the next round and we even could slow down before the finish and coast in. Now this was really new to me, the worst I could do now was eighth. After cooling down and warming up again, it was time for the Semi-final. On paper it was a very tough semi. The race started and I settled into second drafting off the Norwegian who had taken the lead right away. The third and fourth though were right behind us. On the big downhill, my skis were way faster and sling-shot around the Norwegian and into the lead. I went for it, the fourth was getting dropped quickly on the flat, but as we turned the final corner and were lined up for the finish, the third guy started charging hard! I was powering down the finish stretch and could see only one pair of skis in the corner of my eye, so I lunged for the line. I realized I had won the semi, I was so pumped up I just had to roar out loud. I was off to the final. The worst I now could do was fourth or even better I would get my first World Cup podium! I only had 25 minutes until the final, so I simply warmed up for final. In the final I was third up the big climb but we were all close, at the top we jostled for position, I was still third into the downhill corner and as we all came out of it, the same Norwegian from before lost an edge, and fell, it was a three horse race. I stayed with the second guy while the leader took off. I missed a step in the final corner and lost a few meters on the second guy and was just not able to make it up again. Anyway, I was THIRD, my first podium! Ahhh! That race proved that the past year of training had paid off. The Long Biathlon race, I had the fourth fastest ski time, but I really struggled on the range and finished 11th. But there was still one more surprise. The last race was a 10km classic. I had never broken the top-10 in a cross country race. I was feeling great in the morning and ready to take revenge over yesterday’s poor result. I went out hard and kept it going until I had nothing left. I finished fifth! I had had three top-5 finishes in France (and my skiing time was top-5 in every race).
I proved to everyone else and especially myself, I could ski with the top guys. Everything is falling perfectly into place for the Paralympics in March.