In the last big North American races before the holiday break, Kevin Sandau of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) and Canadian National Senior Development Team (NST) and American Kate Fitzgerald of Alaska Pacific University (APU) took top honors on Sunday in the Black Jack NorAm 15- and 10-kilometre classic individual starts in Rossland, B.C.
On a day marked by warmer temperatures, tough waxing conditions and even tougher race courses, racers had only positive things to say about the quality of the race course and the depth of talented racers in the combined Canadian-American field.
In the women’s 10 k, Fitzgerald gritted out the win in 31:53.7 after feeling “super strong.” In an email, she wrote that her coaches nailed the tricky waxing, and it helped to have a strong skier to race against.
“Caitlin Gregg [Team Gregg/Madshus] started right in front of me and I caught up to her and we skied together the whole race after that,” Fitzgerald wrote. “She was awesome! We pushed each other and it was so much fun to have someone to ski with and work together!”
The women’s SuperTour leader, Gregg ended up fourth, and Canadians Emily Nishikawa (AWCA/NST) and Amanda Ammar (Team Ninja) squeezed in for second and third, respectively. After leading the first of two laps by nearly seven seconds over Fitzgerald, Nishikawa finished 13.9 seconds back in second, and Ammar was another 9.9 seconds back in third. Gregg was 30.3 seconds back in fourth, and Zoe Roy finished 47.1 seconds off the winning pace in fifth.
“There was an extremely strong field of women here this weekend, all of which I highly respect, and who are also in great shape,” Ammar wrote in an email. “I have been consistently getting stronger and stronger in each race. I’m right where I want to be.”
Ammar added that the courses were hard, but doable. “These were the kind of trails I was brought up on,” she explained. “Hard steep climbs, and fun windy technical downhills. I had an absolute blast out there!”
Sandau Edges Ellefson
In the men’s 15 k, Sandau echoed the sentiments of the women, adding that it was nice to have warmer-racing temperatures compared to the frigidity of last weekend’s opening NorAm at Sovereign Lake. Although he dealt with some icing on his skis, Sandau did his best to maintain efficiency and came out on top in 42:08.4.
“I’m pretty happy with [Sunday's] result,” he wrote. “It’s just how I wanted [to] end things going into the holiday break before Olympic trials.”
Sylvan Ellefson (Ski & Snowboard Club Vail/Team HomeGrown) ended up second, just 3.2 seconds behind Sandau, and Graham Nishikawa rounded out the podium in third (+33.2), for his third top-three in over just two NorAm weekends. US Ski Team member Erik Bjornsen (APU) placed fourth (+44.3) and Andy Shields (NDC Thunder Bay) was fifth (+56.0).
Ellefson was also satisfied with his race. In an email, he explained that despite feeling pretty tired midway through the race, he was able to dig deep to pull out a solid race.
“The last 2k had to be the fastest 2k of my life,” Ellefson wrote. “I’m very happy with my results from the weekend and these results definitely help the confidence going into US Nationals in 3 weeks.
“The courses here are amazing,” he added. “Amazingly hard, amazing beautiful. Whoever crafted them was a genius because any kids coming out of that Black Jack program can probably ski anywhere after running those courses. Technical and fun, almost seems like a downhill biker designed them. Up there with the hardest course I have ever skied without a doubt.”
He was right on.
Ethan Meginnes, co-owner of Joyride Bike Parks, wrote in an email that he helped construct the Black Jack course.
“We build the course for the Red Bull Joyride slope style comp at Whistler as well as many other downhill bike trails,” he explained. “Dave Wood, Al Fisher and myself were the primary volunteer supervising the course build with a local contractor, Ed Mayer.”
After this weekend, most of the racers on the circuit are dispersing for the holidays, quality time with friends and family, and local citizens’ races until the recommencement of racing January 8-12 in Canmore, Alberta.