The Road to Minneapolis – Course Profile Analysis – Prelude to a Double Pole Derby?

 

As mentioned in the first post in this series on preparations for the Masters World Cup (MWC) in Minneapolis on  19-26 January 2018, I expressed concern about the courses in Minneapolis being flat. Well my concerns have been confirmed now that the organizing committee have published the course maps and profiles. With a dynamic range of less than 100 feet (30 m), all of the Minneapolis MWC courses are “golf course flat”- which is, of course, expected since the courses are all on a golf course! Now, “golf course flat” is not actually flat, in fact such courses can be highly corrugated as the Minneapolis Masters World Cup courses are. There is just a significant lack of extended “steepish” climbs that are an essential part of competitive cross country skiing (as defined by the FIS in the Cross Country Homologation Manual (FISCCHM)). I was hopeful that my memory of the terrain whilst running around the golf course and surrounding woods in Theodore Wirth Park for many years was inaccurate; unfortunately, memory, in this case, serves well and the lack of sustained climbs and the associated diminished challenge of the Minneapolis courses for the MWC has prevailed- bummer.

There have been some changes to the courses from the initial descriptions outlined earlier this year. According to a recent publication of the American Cross Country Skier organization (AXCS), in an effort to facilitate a likely need for man-made snow and to eliminate a road crossing for some of the races, many of the courses will be on the northern-most part of the park, north of the Parkway entrance road. The first four days of racing that includes the 15 km/30 km free & classic, and the 10 km free & classic will be conducted in this part of the park. This means that, as currently planned, the 15 km course for these races will be two 7.5 km loops, the 30 km will be three 10 km loops, and the 10 km course will be a single 10 km loop. For the longer races, the 30km free & classic and the 45 km free & classic will utilize, with multiple loops, a 15 km course that is composed of the first half of the 10 km loop followed by a very flat 5 km section of the venue south of the park entrance road and then crossing back over the road and finishing on the second half of the 10 km course. The relays will be held on a 5 km loop that will also be utilized for the “geezer” (or “C”) course for races with the 75+ men and 70+ women.

To be direct, if you are a competitive skier and plan to participate in the classic races at the MWC in Minneapolis, I recommend, depending on your double pole skills/abilities, that you might not bother bringing your classic skis and kick wax- none of these courses will require striding for those with good double pole technique and fitness. Double poling on skate skis and boots will likely rule the day. I elaborate below.

course profiles

The analysis that follows has been based on the “course maps and profiles” materials linked above as provided by the organizers via graphical media. For replication of the profiles (to facilitate comparison with other courses) I estimated distance/elevation data optically from the website .pdfs and, as such, the profiles will have some errors and be of lower resolution than typical digital data (digital data (e.g. .gpx or .tcx) files of the courses are not currently available). However, the profiles presented here will be representative and largely applicable to any comparison exercise. Also between the time that I downloaded the course profiles in early-mid September and now, the Organizers have changed the profiles. Originally the profiles indicated a maximum elevation of 278 feet and a minimum of 249 feet. Now the recently updated profiles (which also provide a table of height difference (HD), total climb (TC), and maximum climb (MC)) show a maximum elevation of 285 feet and a minimum of 255 feet. This represents a uniform upward displacement of 6 m. Since I had already gone through the task of translating the data to a spreadsheet and producing graphical representations with the original data, I have not corrected the comparison data below to reflect the 6 m uniform upward displacement. All comparisons are conducted utilizing normalized elevation so they remain valid. The analyzed individual course profiles utilize the new, corrected data that the organizers have recently provided.

Also note that the new data show a maximum climb of 35 m (115 feet) which I cannot derive from the provided data (the highest maximum climb that I can discern is about 30 m (98 feet). There may be some corrugations that are not resolved in the provided profile data but that collectively add up to an additional 5 m on one or more of the major climbs (It is also possible that the organizers are interpreting maximum climbs differently than I am). In the comparisons below, given the significant magnitude of TC differences with other courses, a 5 m error will not affect any of the observations or conclusions.

Some errors in the course profiles have also been observed. For example the provided profile of the last approximately 1.5 km of the 7.5 km and 10 km courses is different even though these portions of the two courses are on the same exact trails. Presented below is a comparison of these two sections of trail showing the 7.5 km profile exhibiting a much steeper (and shorter) hill in the same location as the 10 km profile. This does impact the following analysis in that in the 7.5 km course this hill is classified as a short uphill or  “B” climb  whereas in the 10 km course the same hill is classified as a major or “A” climb (climb classifications will be defined below). I have held to a protocol whereby the provided profile for each course is utilized for analysis of that course. In this case it results in one less “A” climb for the 7.5 km course and one more “A” climb for the 10 km course.

It seems odd that this difference would be reflected as it is likely that the same digital data was used to produce the profiles and maps. It is possible that the hills are so finely topologically corrugated that the profile will be sensitive to exactly where you draw a cursor over a digital map that contains the elevation data layer. In any case, there are obviously errors in the mapping/profiles but as far as I can tell they are relatively minor ones that will not impact any analysis or any of the considerations given below. Note also that the 10 km course is slightly short and the 7.5 km course is slightly long.

Maps and profiles of the  last 1.5 km of the otherwise identical Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km and 10 km courses showing how the profiles differ for the same trail (the elevation scale is not shown but has the same magnitude). The orange dotted line shadows the last 1.5 km of the two courses.  This is not a large error but may be indicative of short scale topological corrugation on the hills on the course. Note that the 10 km course is slightly short and the 7.5 km course is slightly long.

One further note:

There could also be additional adjustments to the courses prior to the competitions, particularly since Minneapolis has such unreliable snow.

background on course profile requirements

Both the FIS and the FIS World Masters Cross Country Ski Association (FIS WMCCSA) have specific requirements for competition courses that are described in detail in the respective FIS Cross Country Homologation Manual (FISCCHM) and FIS Rules of Competition for Masters Events (FISRCME), respectively. Presented in Table I is a summary that compares the FISCCHM to WMCCSA requirements for course profiles including total climb (TC), physical height difference (PHD) ranges (and maximums), “A”, “B”, and “C” climb definitions, and expected quantities of each type of climb in number count and percentage of total climb. There are a number of typos in the FISRCME tables and text. I have done my best at correcting those and they are incorporated in Table I.

Table I. Summary and comparison of requirements for course profiles for the World Cup FIS and WMCCSA competition courses. *WMCCSA 5 km couse TC is for the “geezer” or “C” course utilized for 75+ men and 70+ women and, in Minneapolis, also for the relays for all ages. Typically MWC competitions have a separate, more challenging, 5 km course for the “non-geezer” athletes with an allowed TC of 52-75 m.

The courses are intended to be made up of of a general profile that includes approximately 1/3 climbing, 1/3 undulating terrain, and 1/3 down. This is further refined by definition of three climb types- “A” climbs that are referred to as “Major Climbs”, “B” climbs (“Short Uphills”), and “C” climbs (“Steep Uphills”). The “A” climbs include longer continuous “steepish” terrain that is intended, as stated in the FIS manual, to “separate the best skiers”. Although no specifics are given in the FISCCHM for the length of “A” climbs, inspection of many FIS homologated courses reveals that “A” climbs should be a minimum of about 250 m in length. The “B” climbs (short uphills) are utilized singularly or in conjunction with other climbs to increase the difficulty of an “A” or “C” climb. Again, although no specifics are given in the FISCCHM for the length of “B” climbs, inspection of many FIS homologated courses reveals that “B” climbs should be a maximum of about 250 m in length. The “C” climbs present sections of very steep but short lateral and vertical length terrain, testing the skiers ability to perform on such terrain. For “C” climbs the FISCCHM does specify a “C” climb length guideline of a maximum of 30 m.

Combinations of the various types of climbs in a race course is intended to test the fitness and uphill and terrain transition ski skills of the competitors. Similarly the downhills and undulating terrain are specifically designed to test abilities in these types of terrain. From the FISCCHM:

“The steepest uphills are not necessarily the ones that separate the best skiers from the others, since the steepness often limits the speed regardless of technique and athlete’s capacity. The best courses are those that include all kinds of uphills, with a variety of lengths and gradients. The ideal solution is for example one majoruphill with an average gradient of 6%, another with 12%, and a third with 9%”.

FIS Cross Country Homologation Manual (June 2017 Edition), p.19

And the FISCCHM also speaks to the specifics of the location of the major climbs:

“The location of the major climbs should be spread out along the course, and the course should optimally start with a shorter climb (B-climb). The most critical climb is towards the end of the course, where the strongest skier can “win the race”. 

FIS Cross Country Homologation Manual (June 2017 Edition), p.23

What one will observe in Table I is that the WMCCSA competition course requirements  are essentially “dumbed down” FIS World Cup courses with reduced allowed grade ranges, reduced maximum individual climb magnitude, and reduced total climb magnitude. The  FIS WMCCSA rule book states that the goal for the MWC courses is to be:

“about 40 – 60 % below (the) standard of International Ski Competition Rules (ICR) of the International Ski Federation (FIS)”.

Such reduction in difficulty are fairly well adhered to in the MWC requirements summarized in Table I. (Note: for the M10-M12 and F09-F12 the courses (“C” courses) are supposed to be about 75% below the standard of the FIS ICR).

Additionally from the FISRCME:

“Cross-country courses must be laid out in such a way that they provide a technical, tactical and physical test of the competitors’ qualifications. The degree of difficulty should be in accordance withthe level of the competition. The course should be laid out as naturally as possible to avoid any monotony, with rolling undulating sections, climbs, and downhill sections. Where possible, the course should be laid out through woodland. Rhythm should not be broken by too many sharp changes in direction or steep climbs. The downhill sections have always to be laid out in such a way that all racers areable to manage them. At the same it should be possible to ski the course even under fast conditions”.

FIS Rules of Competition for Masters Events (October 2014 Edition) p.11

Personally, even at age 61, I would prefer to be on FISCCHM-type courses as the challenge to perform well on “real” cross country courses is at the center of my motivations in training for skiing. I realize that there are many others who have no interest in trying to perform on difficult courses and that if the courses are of substantial difficulty they may choose to not compete at all. I will only point out that in many other sports courses are not “dumbed down” to accommodate the “lowest common denominator” or older competitor. For example take the road running marathon- Boston (and any other road marathon) does not have a separate course for older athletes. Everyone races the same course- elites, competitive age groupers, and oldsters. In fact I would posit that the participants in these marathons would be displeased if the organizers did have a “dumbed down” course for older athletes**. However, since cross country skiing is an endurance sport that requires significant skill and involves relatively high speeds, racing presents a real potential for significant consequences for those that falter. So the “dumbing down” is somewhat understandable and serves a real purpose for some competitors.

Although the climb combinations are very important, it is the major climbs that will define the difficulty of any cross country skiing race course. For masters, as specified in the FISRCME, major climbs are defined as:

“PHD > 15 m, gradient 5 – 9 %, normally broken with some short undulating sections less than 100 meters in length or a down hill that does not exceed 5 m PHD”.

So there is some “interpretation” involved with assessing what are major climbs (“A” climbs) in a MWC course. I will provide my assessment (“virtual homologation”) in the analysis and comparisons presented below. I will apply the data summarized in Table I combined with  the “A”, “B”, and “C” climb length definitions noted above- i.e. “A” climbs must be at least 250 m in length, “B” climbs must be less than 250 m in length but greater than 30 m, and “C” climbs must be shorter than 30 m.

Note that this “virtual homologation” analysis is a “best efforts” exercise given the data that is available. Clearly, an accurate homologation needs to be conducted on site with high resolution GPS (or a calibrated measurement wheel) and an accurate barometric altimeter. However what is presented below (including all accumulated estimation errors) should serve any racer well in their individual preparations for the competitions. Additionally, I will not call out any of the “C” climbs and will only call out the significant “B” climbs. There are many “C” climbs in the Minneapolis 2018 terrain and a number of minor “B” climbs that will need to be discerned by the reader from the profiles or when actually skiing the courses this winter.

Minneapolis 2018 Course profile analysis and comparisons

Presented here are profile analyses of all of the Minneapolis 2018 courses. Additionally, comparisons are made with the Klosters 2017 Masters World Cup courses as a means of comparison to another MWC event and for those who (like me) raced at Klosters. Table II presents summary data for the primary course metrics for the Minneapolis 2018 courses and the Klosters 2017 courses. Shown are the height difference (HD), the total climb (TC), and the maximum climb (MC) in meters and feet.

Table II. Summary comparison of the Masters World Cup courses from Minneapolis 2018 and Klosters 2017. Compared are height difference (HD), total climb (TC), and maximum climb (MC) in meters (feet).

The course metrics indicate that, from a TC perspective, the Minneapolis and Klosters courses are very similar. However, in reality, the courses could not be any more different. This is hinted at by the MCs which are from 24% to 54% greater for the Klosters courses and the HDs where this value is 1.4 to almost 4 times greater for the Klosters courses. These differences will be best described utilizing profile comparisons which are graphically presented below for each of the Minneapolis courses and also compared with the Klosters courses.

The course metrics indicate that, from a TC perspective, the Minneapolis and Klosters courses are very similar. However, in reality, the courses could not be any more different.

5 km Course

This course will be used for the relays for all ages and all of the “geezer” (75+ men and 70+ women) races and is referred to as the “C” course by the WMCCSA. At MWC competitions there is often a separate 5 km course for the relays (as there was in Klosters) that is more difficult than the “geezer” course.

Minneapolis 2018 5 km course profile. TC = 87 m (285 feet); Maximum climb = 18 m (59 feet). This course is above the recommended TC for both the “geezer” course C maximum specification (52 m (170 feet)) and the 5 km course specifications for other age groups (75 m maximum TC). However, the 5 km course is within specification for maximum climb PHD (15-25 m (50-82 feet)). The grade of the maximum climb (av. = 4.3%) is within the maximum allowed average value of 9%.

This 5 km course exceeds the maximum allowed total climb (TC) for both the “C” course and for a 5 km course for other age groups (see Table I).

“Virtual homologation” of the Minneapolis 2018 5 km course.

There is only one major (“A”) climb that starts at about the 2.6 km point and is within FISRCME specified PHD and allowed maximum grades. Note that the 5 km course uses the same route as all the other courses for the first approximately 3.3 km- however, the provided course profiles for the race courses are different in this section leading to slightly different “homologation” classification of the climbs in some cases (see for example the same “A” hill in the 7.5 km and 10 km course profiles below).

For a “geezer” course the 5 km course is a challenging one and compares as more difficult  to the “C” course in Klosters 2017. Presented below is a comparison of the two courses.

The Klosters 5 km “C” course has a lot less corrugation, a lower TC of 61 m (200 feet), and lower average grades on the two major climbs (the climb out of the start and the climb that begins at about 2.6 km) but the course presents much longer continuous climbs that can be difficult for older skiers. Just for calibration, our 83 year old friend and neighbor (coached by Bee) double poled the “C” course at Klosters and took three silver medals. I do not think that she could double pole the Minneapolis 5 km course because of the higher average grade on the one major (“A”) climb, the steepness of the “B” and “C” climbs, and the larger TC.

Another informative comparison is of the Minneapolis 2018 5 km course and the Aeuja 5 km course from Klosters 2017 that was used for the relays.

Quite the difference- as expected given the mountain location of Klosters and the prairie/glacial moraine location of Minneapolis. The difference in HDs is huge, not to mention the difference in absolute altitude (1180-1300 m for Klosters and 255-285 m for Minneapolis). Although the TC of the Minneapolis 2018 5 km course and the Klosters 2017 5 km Aeuja course are the similar (87 m (285 feet) for Minneapolis and 100 m (328 feet) for Klosters) the first of the two “A” climbs in the Klosters course is radically more difficult with a MC of 39 m (128 feet) compared to 18 m (59 feet) for the Minneapolis course. Also the long relatively steep downhill off the last hill on the Klosters 5 km course allowed for high speed descents (I hit about 50 kph (30 mph) on that downhill during the races in 2017) that can be difficult for some skiers.

The Minneapolis 5 km course will ski very fast for freestyle races and competitive classic skiers will likely choose to double pole.

7.5 km course

This is a unique course that is the result of constraints in Minneapolis to minimize the crossing of an entrance road into the venue. For the first four races all courses will be north of the entrance road. To accommodate the 15 km and 30 km races multiple laps of the 7.5 km and 10 km loops will be utilized. The 7.5 km Minneapolis 2018 course profile is presented below. This course will be used for the 15 km classic and freestyle races on days 1 & 2.

Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km course to be used as a loop for the two loop 15 km races. Estimated TC = 173 m (567 feet), major climb PHD maximum of about 30 m (95 feet) and steepest major climb grades of about 5%.

A “virtual homologation” analysis of the 7.5 km course is presented below. With two “A” climbs and four “B” climbs the 15 km races on days 1&2 (which use two laps of this 7.5 km course) will have four “A” and eight “B” climbs. Once again this course will ski very fast due to the corrugated accumulation of TC (rather than from a few large PHDs), the very short hills, and the otherwise very gentle nature of the terrain. As with the Minneapolis 2018 5 km course, for competitive classic skiers this course will likely be skied fastest by double poling. Freestyle and classic skiers should have fast times if they can handle the many transitions with the numerous small hills and u-turns.

“Virtual homologation” of the Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km course.

It is worthwhile to compare this 7.5 km course with the 10 km course from Klosters 2017.

Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km course (blue) compared to the Klosters 2017 10 km course (red).

TC of the Minneapolis 7.5 km course is 173 m( 567 feet) with two “A” climbs (both have lower PHDs than the “A” climbs in the Klosters 10 km course) and a maximum “A” climb average grade of about 4.5%. The Klosters 2017 10 km course TC is 229 m (751 feet) with five “A” climbs, and a maximum “A” climb average grade of about 6.6%. The maximum climb grade for both courses is about 12%, although the Klosters course has more climb sections in this grade range. The 12% grade for these “A” climbs is well above the specified grade range outlined in Table I where the maximum allowed “A” climb grade is 9%.

Again the nature of the terrain in Minneapolis is radically different from Klosters as is expected given the locations of the two venues. It is obvious that the Klosters course is much more difficult. I will note here that Bee and I both double poled the 10 km course at Klosters. Bee won by over two minutes (-7%) and I placed 14th (+10%) after a mishap in the last downhill corner and loosing about 7 places. So, if the Klosters 2017 10 km course was double pollable, clearly the Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km course will be.

Another good comparison is of the Minneapolis 7.5 km course with the Sun Valley Ski Educational Foundation (SVSEF) Lake Creek course (following a perimeter route). The Lake Creek course (in numerous different trail segment combinations) has been used for many senior, senior national, junior, junior national, and Super Tour races over the years.

As is obvious, the dynamic range is almost 2.5 X greater for the Lake Creek course as compared to the MWC Minneapolis course. The 6 major (“A”) climbs at Lake Creek are about twice as long and generally with a higher average grade. The Minneapolis courses (the 7.5 km course here as well as the other courses reviewed below) are of substantially less difficulty. Given that the Lake Creek course is considered an acceptable course for junior racers, and therefore, in my opinion, acceptable for masters racing,  it seems apparent that the Minneapolis courses are deficient as it concerns difficulty. Note: for the junior races at Lake Creek, the courses will often exclude the highest climb, shown here starting at about 4.1 km through about 5 km. Instead the race courses will go up to the first peak (at about 4.4 km) and then return down.

Additional comments on the Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km course are offered below in the 15 km course section since it will only be used as a loop for the 15 km races on days 1&2.

10 km course

Now on to the “meat” of this course profile analysis as the 10 km and 15 km courses are the heart of the competitions and are arguably the most important challenges at the MWC.

The Minneapolis 10 km course will be used for the 10 km classic and freestyle races on day 3 as well as a loop for the 3-loop 30 km classic and freestyle races on days 1 & 2.

Minneapolis 2018 10 km course profile.  TC=256 m (840 feet) with maximum major (“A”) climb grades of about 4.5-6%. There is a high speed u-turn downhill corner leading into a “A” climb at about 6 km.

A “virtual homologation” analysis is presented below and shows that the 10 km course has five “A” climbs (all of which are short) with an average “A” climb grade of about 4.4-6.3% and a maximum “A” climb grade of about 8.5% (for a portion of climb A3). All of the “A” climb PHDs are in the lower quartile of allowed values for such climbs. There are four “B” climbs with an average climb grade of 4.8-8.4% with a maximum climb grade of about 12% (for a portion of climb B2). The 12% grade for this “B” climb is well above the specified grade range outlined in Table I where the maximum allowed “B” climb grade is 9%.

“Virtual homologation” of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course.

One aspect of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course that will make for some challenge is the succession of four “A” climbs in the second half of the course. This will provide a test of a skier’s ability to recover (i.e. metabolize lactate) after each climb and should lead to high lactate values going into the final two climbs thereby making the last climb critical given the primarily downhill nature of the remainder of the course into the stadium. Without a substantial gap at the top of the last climb even the fastest racers might be caught by the finish, particularly if there is any adverse wind- and wind can be a big factor in Minneapolis.

Comparison with the Klosters 2017 10 km course shows, again, how very different the terrain is. Presented below is a graphical comparison of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course (blue) with the Klosters 2017 10 km course (red).

Minneapolis 2018 10 km course (blue) compared to the Klosters 2017 10 km course (red).

TC of the Minneapolis 10 km course is 256 m ( 840 feet) with maximum “A” climbing grade of about 8.5% and for the Klosters 2017 10 km course TC is 229 m (751 feet) with maximum “A” climbing grade of about 12% (which, as noted above, is above the specified allowed range summarized in Table I). The Klosters 2017 10 km course has four “A” climbs all of three of which have lengths exceeding 600 m with the longest being 1000 m.

As noted above, there is a substantial lack of extended “steepish” (i.e. “A”-type) climbs in the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course. For example the longest “A” climb for the Minneapolis 2018 10 km starts at about 2.75 km and ends at about 3.3 km (550 m long) with about 24 m (79 feet) of PHD for an average grade of about 4.4%. This is to be compared to the Klosters 2017 10 km climbs starting at about 2.2 km ending at 2.8 km (600 m long) with 40 m (131 feet) of climbing and starting at about 3.8 km ending at 4.5 km (700 m long) with 46 m (151 feet) of climb. The climbs have an average grade of 6.6%- about 130% of that of the longest “A” climb in the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course. These Klosters 2017 10 km course “A” climb average grades of 6.6% are slightly above the FISRCME maximum allowed average of 6%. Note that the average grade for the longest of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course climbs is in the lower half of the minimum FISRCME  grade range values and the PHD is  in the lower quartile of the FISRCME standard for “A” climbs- and this is for the longest climb on the entire course. There are, however, some very steep (12%) albeit short sections on some of the hills. In the “Race Data and Video” section below you will see that these sections are uniformly herringboned by even national-level competitors. Double poling into and out of these steep sections will likely be the fastest way through the hills.

Note that the average grade for the longest of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course climbs is in the lower half of the minimum FISRCME grade range values and the PHD is in the lower quartile of the FISRCME standard for “A” climbs- and this is for the longest climb on the entire 10km course.

And then, of course, there is also comparison with the longest of the Klosters 2017 10 km course “A” climbs that starts at about 5.3 km and ends at 6.3 km (1000 m long) with a PHD of 43 m (140 feet) and an average grade of 4.3% and a maximum grade of about 12%.

As noted above both Bee and I double polled the Klosters 10 km course without difficulty. We expect that the Minneapolis course will clearly be “double pollable” even for masters skiers and will also be very fast given the ability of proper double pole technique to efficiently carry speed over the many short hills.

Another comparison (perhaps of interest to New England readers) is the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course with the Craftsbury Marathon 2017 12.5 km loop course.

Minneapolis 2018 10 km course (blue) compared to the Craftsbury Marathon 2017 12.5 km loop (red).

Note how much longer the major climbs are in the Craftsbury course as well as the very continuous nature of the climbing in general. The Craftsbury loop is a challenging course but it is also “double pollable”, as Kris Freeman did to win the marathon in 2017. This also indicates that the Minneapolis courses will all be “double pollable” and that DP will likely be the fastest for the classic races. This conclusion will need to be ground tested, but based on experience I think that DP will rule the day in the classic races. The big question is exactly how steep are the many short hills at Minneapolis and whether or not competitive grip waxed skiers are herring boning; if they are, I expect that double poling will win. The video presented in the “Race Data and Video” section below essentially answers this question- there is no doubt that all skiers will be herringboning the many steep sections.

As far as freestyle is concerned, the hills in the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course will ski quickly as there are no “long slogs” and therefore ski speed should stay high and, with the right ski surface treatment and reasonable snow conditions, race times should be very fast. This will highlight the importance of cadence and glide length for this course.

Another likely outcome is that this course (and all other courses at Minneapolis 2018) will lead to races with packs of competitors since there are no long climbs that would otherwise spread out the field. As a result the races will be much more like criterium bike races where gaps will constantly open up and be closed throughout and not allow for anyone (or two) to get away. There will likely be quite a few sprints into the stadium for podium positions.

15 km courses

The Minneapolis 15 km course will be used for the 30 km and 45 km classic and freestyle races on days 5&6. The course is composed of the first 5 km of the 10 km course followed by a very flat 5 km section south of the Park entrance road and then finishes with the last 5 km of the 10 km course. So the comments above for the 10 km course all apply here with the 15 km course.

Minneapolis 2018 15 km course for the “distance” races on days 5 & 6 for the M01-06 and F01-05. TC=380 m (1,246 feet).

The “virtual homologation” analysis is presented below. The Minneapolis 15 km course, as with the 10 km course, has 5 “A” climbs (all of which are short) with a maximum “A” climb grade of about 8.5% (for the climb at about 10 km) and an average “A” climb grade of about 5-6%. Again, all of the “A” climb PHDs are in the lower quartile of allowed values for such climbs. The six “B” climbs have an average climb grade of 4.8-8.8% and a maximum climb grade of about 12% (for a portion of climb B2). The 12% grade for this “B” climb is well above the specified grade range outlined in Table I where the maximum allowed “B” climb grade is 9%. The 15 km course is just the 10 km course with two “B” climbs added in the middle 5 km. So this course should ski like the 10 km course except that there will be an extended flat section prior to the last four “A” hills making it even more difficult to “get away” before those last hills.

“Virtual homologation” of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course.

The Minneapolis 15 km course, as with the 10 km course, has 5 “A” climbs (all of which are short) with a maximum “A” climb grade of about 8.5% (for the climb at about 10 km) and an average “A” climb grade of about 5-6%. The course is just the 10 km course with two “B” climbs added in the middle 5 km. So this course should ski like the 10 km course except that there will be an extended flat section prior to the last four “A” hills.

Comparison with the Klosters 2017 15 km course shows how very different the terrain is. Presented below is a graphical comparison of the Minneapolis 2018 15 km course (blue) with the Klosters 2017 15 km course (red).

Minneapolis 2018 15 km course (blue) compared to the Klosters 2017 15 km course (red).

TC of the Minneapolis 15 km course is 380 m ( 1246 feet) with maximum “A” climbing grade of about 8.5% and for the Klosters 2017 15 km course TC is 337 m (1105 feet) with maximum “A” climbing grade of about 12%. The Klosters 2017 15 km course has six “A” climbs all of which are as long or longer than the Minneapolis 2018 course and all of which have average grades that are as steep or steeper. As noted above for the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course, there is a substantial lack of extended “steepish” (true “A”-type) climbs in the Minneapolis 2018 15 km course. For example the longest “A” climb for the Minneapolis 2018 15 km (the same for the 10 km course) starts at about 2.7 km and ends at about 3.25 km (550 m long) with about 24 m (79 feet) of PHD for an average grade of about 4.4%. This is to be compared to the longest Klosters 2017 15 km climbs starting at about 7.5 km ending at 8.9 km (1400 m long) with 50 m (165 feet) of climbing (3.6% av. grade) and starting at about 5.5 km ending at 6.2 km (700 m long) with 46 m (151 feet) of climb (6.6% av. grade).

The longest of the Klosters 2017 15 km course “A” climbs have an average grade of 3.6% and 6.6%- one being more than 2 X the length of the longest Minneapolis 2018 “A” climb with about the same grade and the second having a grade that is 1.5 X that of the longest Minneapolis 2018 “A” climb and about 1.25 X as long. This illustrates how much more difficult the Klosters 2017 15 km course is.

Reiterated from the 10 km course section: Note that the average grade for the longest of the Minneapolis 2018 15 km course climbs is in the lower half of the minimum FISRCME grade range values and the PHD is in the lower quartile of the FISRCME standard for “A” climbs- and this is for the longest climb on the entire 15km course. The Klosters 15 km course has grade range values for some of the climbs that are at or exceed the FISRCME guidelines.

For days 1&2 a different 15 km course will be used- a two lap 7.5 km course reviewed above. The “virtual homologation” analysis of the 7.5 km course is presented above and reveals that there are two “A” climbs and four “B” climbs. this means that the 15 km course will have four A” climbs and eight “B” climbs. The organizing committee does not provide a separate profile for the two-lap 15 km course so please refer to the section on the 7.5 km course above.

Comparison of this 15 km course with the Klosters 15 km course is presented below. Once again, it is clear that the Klosters 15 km course is much more challenging. However, the two lap Minneapolis 2018 15 km course is more difficult than the day 5&6 single lap 15 km course since the very flat middle 5 km in the single lap course is replaced by a much more corrugated and dynamic middle 5 km that includes some “A” climbs (the single lap course has no “A”  climbs in the middle 5 km section).

Minneapolis 2018 two lap 15 km course (blue) compared to the Klosters 2017 15 km course (red). The TC for the Minneapolis 2018 course is 380 m (1246 feet) and the TC for the Kloster 2017 course is 337 m (1105 feet).

Although more challenging than the single lap Minneapolis 2018 15 km course, the two lap 15 km course will still ski fast and it is likely that competitive classic skiers will choose to double pole the races.

Race data and video

With a little searching I was able to piece together some additional data that serves to be very informative.

Firstly, there was a Super Tour 20 km classic race on the Wirth Course in 2013 from which some video is available. These races were not on exactly the same routes as the MWC Minneapolis 2018 will be held but the Super Tour race video footage represents an accurate reflection of the terrain and the associated skiing by these twenty-something national-level athletes in the Wirth Park terrain. Note that on virtually all of the hills shown, the skiers choose to herringbone with very little striding. This race was almost 5 years ago and since that time double poling in classic races has come into the forefront. Between double pole technique development and enhanced (double pole-specific) strength focus, today many of the skiers in the video would be double poling much of the hills leading up to the herringbone sections, herringbone the steep section, and then revert to double pole as the hill grade lessens. One would likely see nary a stride on these hills. Also note the fast downhills leading into either sharp or u-turns followed by immediate steep uphills or just leading to another steep uphill. Being efficient in such transitions will be an important part of racing these courses.

Secondly, there is some race data for the 2017 City of Lakes Loppet “32 km” skate race this past January. I found some Strava data for the Loopet Loop used this past year. Due to low snow the race was run on a 5 km loop that includes some of the same terrain as will be used for the MWC Minneapolis 2017 (the first 3 kms and the last 1.5 km). The data below is from the “segment” that was created on Strava for the race and is associated with many Strava registered athletes. The top two segment times are from the athletes that finished 3rd and 4th in the 2017 race. The average pace for this skate race for these skiers is about 2:25/km. For additional data, select an athlete’s activity and you will be able to choose an analysis tab that will give time series pacing and other data. Presented below is a screen shot of the Strava  Loppet Loop segment.

2017 City of Lakes Loppet 5 km loop course. Click this link for live data and additional analysis. You can also get instantaneous grade data along the course utilizing a cursor and this shows a maximum grade of about 12% in short lengths which is consistent with the “virtual homologation” data presented above.

As the “virtual homologation” presented above indicated, the maximum grade is about 12% but only in very short lengths (<ca. 20 m). There is one very short section of 15% just after the 2 mile point in the data for the 2017 Loppet Loop. All of the steep (>8% grade) sections are less than about 150 m in length. As the video shows, most of these steep sections will be herringboned and the rest of the hill will be double pollable.

 

summary and reflections

As expected, the courses for the MWC Minneapolis 2018 are “golf course flat” and much less challenging than the courses at the MWC Klosters 2017. A “virtual homologation” analysis of the courses results in four primary considerations:

  1. The Minneapolis races will ski very fast (even in difficult snow conditions), require high tempo efforts, and place a premium on technique efficiency and transition skills.
  2. The races will likely be composed of packs of skiers that will string out on the climbs and come back together on the downhills and flats (thereby frustrating the hell out of the climbers). Strategy will reign supreme and those of us with a road cycling background will be right at home- although not necessarily comfortable!
  3. Classic races will likely be best skied as double pole efforts on skate skis and boots. The combination of the short hills, relatively low grades interspersed with steep herringbone sections, and the winding nature of the courses (with numerous u-turns) places a significant advantage to those who can efficiently double pole the courses.
  4. Although not as challenging as the Klosters courses, the Minneapolis courses will none the less challenge the masters racer. A race is a race and those who can go fast will, independent of the terrain- it just might be a slightly different group of competitors who excel on these courses.

I make the following comments in the spirit of maintaining the challenge associated with the sport of cross country skiing and ensuring that MWC competitions are reflective of the abilities, fitness, and skill required to excel at the sport as a masters skier.

Review of the FISCCHM, the FISICR, and the FISRCME reveals specific attention to making competition courses challenging enough to “separate out the best skiers”. This is specifically addressed and shown to be accomplished by using major climbs and their position to allow for the fittest and most skilled skiers to perform and prevail. Based on the analysis presented above and comparison with the Klosters 2017 courses and numerous other cross country skiing courses in the US, I assert that the Minneapolis courses are deficient as it concerns the intent of the FIS for MWC competitions.

Of particular concern is the requirement by FIS for masters courses to adhere to the following precept from the FISRCME Manual:

Rhythm should not be broken by too many sharp changes in direction or steep climbs”.

FIS Rules of Competition for Masters Events (October 2014 Edition) p.11

The Minneapolis 2018 courses are almost entirely composed of “many sharp changes in direction and steep climbs”. I think that this will detract significantly from the MWC competitions.

Many have expressed concerns over the demise of the classic striding technique due to both double pole technique development and less challenging courses that allow competitors to efficiently double pole entire races. The Minneapolis 2018 courses only add to these concerns and do little that would otherwise allow a striding skier to have a chance at winning. In the classic races at Klosters 2017 the striders prevailed specifically because of the extended climbs with substantial vertical. I suggest that the MWC Competition Committee place greater emphasis on awarding MWC competitions to those organizing groups that will provide the potential for challenging courses with extended major climbs. The concept of a MWC competition being held entirely on a midwestern US golf course is adverse to ensuring that the best skiers will prevail.

 

 

**And also, in cross country skiing, we have the long-lasting chauvinistic ridiculousness of shorter courses for women. At some point I hope that we can get through the 19th century attitudes toward women that still seem to be in force in European and Scandinavian culture. Things are changing elsewhere; for example (but only recently) in cross country running and in mountain running the women are now competing at the same distances as the men- it’s about time and perhaps this will represent a standard to which cross country skiing can aspire to.

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