QUEBEC CITY — The excitement of an American victory in the women’s team sprint, and the disappointment of an Alex Harvey crash dominated the day, but with Nation’s Group quotas for both North American countries, there was plenty more action.
American Reid Pletcher said his first lap was “amazing,” moving from 13th to third. But he died hard after trying to close back up after a second leg crash.
“But it was fun, it was intense,” he said.
“I have a history of performing on the second day. I kind of need to blow it out, get the first day out of the way and then put my head down and go. It’s worked several times in the past so I usually try to do that with pre-race training and intervals,” Pletcher continued, looking ahead to the individual sprint.
He was back together with teammate Sylvan Ellefson after a long break — the two were on a relay team together when they were both on the J1 Scando trip.
“The support here is so awesome. I mean, around every single corner there was someone yelling my name so it was a special experience being out here today,” Ellefson said.
He described the course as “relentless,” but that he felt good skiing.
Brent McMurtry (CAN) had less favorable things to say about his performance.
“It was terrible. I don’t know why,” McMurtry said. “I like the course and I liked the conditions yesterday but I’ve struggled at skating when it’s soft and today unfortunately was no different. It wasn’t anything what I was hoping for. It’s hard racing a team event. I felt like I let my partner down a bit, but it’s the way it goes and tomorrow I’m hoping for better.”
Like Pletcher, McMurtry fell, going down on the first downhill when he got caught up in the soft snow.
“Someone like Alex [Harvey] skis really well in this stuff. He’s just smooth and able to make his skis do all the work. Hopefully I can ski like that someday. Not today,” McMurtry said.
Russell Kenedy (CAN), in his first World Cup, had few expectations, and aid he was “going by intuition.”
“It was pretty soft, softer than I expected so I was kind of looking for that fastest line at every possible chance. You’re not skiing the usual tight line but going wide in some spots just because the snow was harder and faster,” Kennedy said.
For many of the North Americans, it was a learning experience to mixit up on the World Cup.
Jesse Cockney (CAN) took home a simple lesson.
“Don’t underestimate these guys because they’ll burn you in the last half of the race; it happens quick,” Cockney said.
Another rookie, Sophie Caldwell (USA) said “I just tried to hang on for dear life and we kept, Sadie [Bjornsen] and I, kept being at the end of that pack, and then we had a little mix-up at the last handoff and so my team and Holly`s team was off the back a little….pretty tired but it was fun.”
Alysson Marshall (CAN) has been racing the last weeks on the World Cup, and skied well for the first two legs. But a crash was her undoing.
“I think I was inside the corner. Somebody crowded me on the outside and just tripped,” she explained.
She pushed to catch up, but with her legs full of lactate, and the pace high at the front, the effort was in vain.
On the veteran side, Alex Harvey (CAN) was pleased with the day — other than the bad luck crash and resulting placing.
“I felt in control both physically and tactically,” Harvey said.
“I like the course. It’s a lot of gradual terrain and all work, there’s no rest and I think it’s good for both Devon [Kershaw] and since we’re been more endurance skiers than those pure sprinter guys. I think it’s a good course for us. I was skiing the corners wide on the top of the uphills because the snow’s a bit firmer there so I’ll try to do the same tomorrow especially in the qualifier. When you’re alone you tend to try to cut the corner inside but I think if you can carry your speed around it might be a bit faster on this course.”
After finishing fifth today, Harvey is looking for more tomorrow.
“I want revenge for sure,” he said.
His teammate Devon Kershaw was thrilled to be racing in eastern Canada.
“It’s pretty amazing feeling,” he said. “It’s so cool to be racing here and the passion of the fans. I just can’t believe how many people showed up. It’s so awesome to see this support for ski racing here in Canada and especially in Quebec City. It’s hard to believe how huge a deal Pierre [Harvey, Alex’s father and former World Cup star] is and has been for twenty-something years. To finally have a World Cup in Quebec is so meaningful. Hopefully we can come back. It would be cool to do a distance race on the Plains of Abraham too. Lots of terrain out there. It’s been great to race here and I was glad to feel better.”
And the thoughts of Lenny Valjas?
“The feeling’s getting better and better. The same with Alex and Devon, we’re kind of racing, not into shape, but into our racing form. We’re all in shape but we’re missing our last gear. Looks like they’re pretty close to reaching it,” Valjas said.
He says he loves the team events.
“You win and lose with your teammate and it changes the sport a lot. It’s fun to warm-up with your teammates when you’re on the same team. It’s fun, it’s different.”
Back to the U.S. side, Becca Rorabaugh also enjoyed the team format.
“I think having people the whole time and knowing that you have a teammate, it takes away from you’re like inner-talk when you’re like, ‘Oh, wow this hurts,’ it just kind of erases all that so you just go,” she said.
“I’ve known [partner Caitlin Gregg] for a while and I was excited because of all the people here, her and Sophie are probably the most distance and sprint skaters, so I was really excited to have somebody that I thought could finish really hard.”
And the best way to ski in the soft snow according to Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth?
Stay “pretty light on your ski but at the same time the push has to be nice and quick and then you have to stay light and glide.”
Kikkan Randall said the soft conditions made it all the more important to be careful on the track.
It got soft, but there was a certain line that had been skied in. If you deviated from that line you had to be a little careful. On the first lap I think I went a little wide off the jump and caught a berm of sugary snow, and kind of stumbled for a sec. I went ‘whoa’ I need to be careful and pick my line a little better,” Randall said.
“The course actually skied really well. And I think the fact that it got a little softer and slowed down was maybe to our advantage.”
Randall talked about skiing in front of a North American crowd.
“When I was 17 or 18, just starting to race nationally, internationally, I was racing SuperTour races with Beckie Scott and Sara Renner. Just be able to see them ski certainly inspired me.
“We have some young skiers out in the crowd that are coming out and seeing the World Cup for the first time, and seeing Americans doing well and wanting to do that themselves some day.
“And all the fans and all the people who have supported us up to this point, who have all been working in the trenches, who have been working to get us up here to this point. It’s a really cool award.
“Everyone just gets caught up in the excitement and the emotion of a performance likes this. It is not too often we get to hear the national anthem played.”
Jessie Diggins added in a similar vein “I never get to show off in front of my family. Everyone at home is waking up at 5am just to see us race on the internet. So for them to be able to see it live is just something else entirely. It is really fun for us, especially to inspire some of the younger skiers here.”
Coach Gus Kaeding wasn’t looking for any specific result from the women.
“Expectation – I don’t think we had an expectation. You can always hope. Just wax the skis up, we do our part and they do the rest.”