Skirack cross country ski fit expert, Jake Hollenbach will be doing a series of short Q&A's with Skirack sponsored athlete Ben Lustgarten while he races the Tour de Ski and 2019 World Cups. Enjoy Part 2!
QUESTION: What was your favorite town/race venue the Tour de Ski traveled through?
ANSWER: The first question is pretty hard! All of these towns are so cool and unique, with amazing views of mountains. There was not a ton of natural snow in some of the locations, mostly all on man made, small snow loops. Val Mustair in Switzerland was very cool. We stayed in a small town that had incredibly tiny streets and we drove through what looked like castles and ramparts to get there.
QUESTION: Who is the easiest/smoothest skier to follow and ski behind for you? Who is the hardest to follow?
ANSWER: To be honest, every skier in the Tour seemed to ski so well. I got to ski behind Klaebo for a bit in the 15km skate in Toblach, and of course he is super smooth. I also got to ski behind a few other Norwegians who all ski so well. In some of the stages I skied alone a lot so I don't have too much to go off of unfortunately. Every skier is impressive that I skied behind in the Tour!
QUESTION: As the tour went on, the U.S. team was whittled down to just you and Jessie Diggins. What kind of positive thinking, practical stage racing tips, or advice did you get from her?
ANSWER: Jessie is a great role model and very helpful. I learned a lot from spending time with her. She was very into being positive and letting go of a bad race quickly - so as not to effect the next race. I personally am not very good at that, but that advice was helpful. She also said to try and make sure to eat enough and shorten cool downs and warm ups because doing less is important for recovery.
QUESTION: What is it like racing with the big Norwegian and Russian teams? Are they serious? Friendly? Do you get to have any down time or social interaction with the other teams?
ANSWER: Racing around the Norwegian and Russian teams was really cool! Warming up around those guys and seeing them at the starting pen was surreal. I am a bit more used to it than my first World Cups, but still have to pinch myself sometimes. It does seem like they don't notice you unless you are good though, but maybe they were just all in the zone before their races too. It didn't seem as much of a friendly environment as a Supertour for example. I don't know if I have earned the respect or right to be able to talk to them yet as competitors as I had little interactions with other teams. I always tried to say "good luck" to the guys around me at the start and "good job" to the skiers around me after the races. I spent some time with Andrew Musgrave (UK) in Obersdorf because I got a ride with him and his tech from the hotel to the venue. He is awesome and a really cool and funny guy.
QUESTION: What range of thoughts and emotions were running through your head as you climbed the Alpe Cermis on the final stage?
ANSWER: I had the whole range of thoughts and emotions throughout the Tour. For me, it mostly was a challenge to stay positive. In Stage 1 I got last place which was a tough spot to start the Tour mentally and emotionally, especially coming off my most successful Period 1 Supertour ever. The next day I did not do nearly as well as I thought I could do in the 15km skate so my mindset changed very quickly - from racing for results to racing for survival, which are completely different feelings. I had to approach the races for how I could meter my energy to last the 7 stages instead of thinking I could place well. My energy was low and I felt heavy from the first day. Looking at heart rate data it, seems my immune system was compromised at the start of the tour and I never felt good.
The final climb was crazy. I started in the back of the wave and drafted in the pack for the flat first part of the race. Once we hit the climb it was a free for all. Some skiers went off the front. I was near the back but just wanted to ski smoothly and relaxed because I didn't know how long it would be. After a few walls where I had to coaches skate, I didn't know how much longer I had to go. Then I hit one main wall and had to ease off a bit. I couldn't push super hard so just went as hard as I could but it wasn't crazy. I felt a bit frustrated that I couldn't push harder but just tried to breathe and relax as much as I could and kept switching V1 sides or doing some coaches skate. I double poled the flat switchbacks to give my legs a bit of a break like Jessie suggested. The last climb was shallow so I could V2 and I saw an inflated Helvetica banner that I thought was the finish, but there was about 100m to go more than that so I had to slow down again and V1 to the finish. I couldn't really push incredibly hard but just happy to be done.
QUESTION: What skier from another team would you most like to be teammates with?
ANSWER: I would love to train with some of the Norwegians just to get a feel for how they train and ski together and their team culture. But from who I talked to, I liked hanging out with Andrew Musgrave I think he would be a fun teammate to have! I also really enjoyed skiing with Max Olex, a German, in Seefeld before the Tour. He was incredibly friendly and welcoming. I did a workout with them a few days before Toblach.
QUESTION: What races are next for you?
ANSWER: My plan now that I completed the Tour, is to skip the Dresden World Cup because it is just skate sprinting. I will rest and recover and prepare for the World Cup races in Otepaa, Estonia next weekend and Ulricehamn Sweden the weekend after.
Read Part 1 of Ben's Q&A from The Tour de Ski and 2019 World Cups
Ben Lustgarten is a cross country ski racer for the Craftsbury Green Racing Project and competes at the national and international level. He is also a Skirack sponsored athlete.
Ben Lustgarten completes Stage 6 in the Tour de Ski at the World Cup.