With the start of the mass start classic in Canmore, Alberta, less than 24 hours away, nerves are running high at the World Cup venue. With two distance races and one sprint on the schedule, there will be both returning and new nation’s group faces lining up over the next few days.
Chances are you know exactly who Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw are, but as the host nation Canada has a large number of quota spots this weekend (15 men and 15 women). Every single one of them, when they pull on that bib, are looking to honorably represent their country in front of a home crowd. Here are a few names to watch out for.
Emily Nishikawa (CNST/AWCA)
The 23-year-old has a few World Cup starts to her name already, but hasn’t contested one in Canada since 2008. After a win at Sovereign Lake on Sunday, she’s looking forward to testing her fitness against the world-class field.
“My shape is coming along now so I’m happy to get a good race under my belt before Canmore; get a little confidence going into it,” she said. “It’s super exciting to race in a hometown and on trails you know so well.”
Her goals for the weekend are to “perform to the absolute best of abilities. My family will be here watching, so I’m really looking forward to that!”
Brittany Webster (Highlands Trailblazers)
The former national team member is making a bit of a comeback this year with three NorAm distance podiums (two of them wins) under her belt already. It’s been four years since she was on the World Cup circuit, so in Canmore she’s entering the gate without any expectations other than to enjoy the opportunity.
“I know that, myself included, there are lots of Canadians out there who are a bit apprehensive about what it will like,” she said. “I think — and hopefully this is some advice for the younger girls out there — that it’s really important to remember that it’s simply just a great opportunity to race against the best. This is what we work towards, and you have to be really happy when you set foot on the start line to do it.”
Michael Somppi (CNST/AWCA)
With a second and fourth place at Sovereign Lake, Somppi is feeling confident in his fitness for Canmore. He first competed on the World Cup at this venue in 2010, but this year is the first time he’ll have the chance to compete in three back-to-back races.
“The mass starts are more nerve-wracking than the individual, but I feel like I’m in pretty good shape right now so it should be fun,” Somppi said.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been improving every race so I hope the trend continues.”
Erik Carleton (PNST/RMR)
Carleton competed in his first World Cup for Canada in 2005 when the circuit stopped in Vernon, BC. He is also a guide for national Para Nordic team member Brian McKeever, but was fast enough to prequalify for Canmore based on his results from last season.
“It was a good feeling since it was the first time in my career I had been selected based on the previous season,” Carleton said. “I knew I could focus my training program towards the World Cup races, have to worry about the trial races.”
His goals for Canmore are reasonable: “to ski relaxed, trust myself and feed off the energy of the fans.”
Mostly, Carleton is looking forward to comparing himself against the international field.
“When you do not have the opportunity to race in many World Cups, the rewards are great if you can have one of your best-ever races,” he said.
Graeme Killick (CNST/AWCA)
The senior development team member has been a part of the whole World Cup production before, in Estonia in 2011. As the winner of the NorAm opener in Canmore and third-place finisher in the classic race the following weekend, Killick will be one of the top Canadians to watch for on the big stage.
He’s feeling particularly confident after his recent podium finishes: “It was a good start for me. Normally it takes me a few races to get in race shape, but I was able to win last week so that is a good sign,” Killick said.
Patrick Stewart-Jones (AWCA): He had “the best race of my life so far” in the mass start classic NorAm at Sovereign Lake, so the 21-year-old is feeling pretty good heading into Canmore. Stewart-Jones also qualified for the sprints in Quebec, but turned down the opportunity in order to save his top gear for the distance events.
“It wasn’t easy at all,” he said of the choice to skip Quebec. “I was sort of on the fence, but told myself if I qualified for the distance races then I’d focus on that.”
The 15 k mass start classic in Canmore will be Stewart-Jones’ first World Cup appearance.
Jesse Cockney (AWCA)
In Quebec City Cockney missed out on qualifying for the heats by a mere 0.25 seconds in 32nd place. He said afterwards that he already learned a lot from the experience, like how to roll with the punces on race day and ski relaxed.
Luckily, he’s got another shot at the heats in Canmore with the freestyle sprint scheduled for Saturday. On truly home terrain and against essentially the same field, he could be ready to crack the top 30.
Raphaël Couturier (CNST/Pierre Harvey NTC)
Couturier made his World Cup debut in Quebec last weekend, where he placed 51st in the freestyle sprint.
“I was super excited to race my first World Cup at home and I had a great time with my friends and family,” he said of the experience. “Everyone around the event did a great job and I’m pretty sure we all agree on saying it was one of the most epic city-sprint ever and I feel privileged to have been part of the event. I was just looking forward to break the ice and step up the game.”
The 19-year-old was pretty excited when he first learned he qualified back in November, and is mostly focused on gaining international experience in sprint and distance in Canmore.
“It would be amazing to get to race some heats with the big boys, but I don’t want to put any pressure on myself. I’ll deal with the results I’ll get and build on from there,” Couturier said.
Brent McMurtry (CNST/AWCA)
With numerous World Cup starts under his belt, McMurtry is no stranger to the scene. He says he’s most looking forward to the 15 k mass start classic.
“I have raced a lot of places, and for classic Canmore is my favourite course: steep climbs with firm tracks,” he said. “As far as goals, I am hoping to execute my race plan and ski smooth throughout. It is hard to put a number of what I am aiming for but I would like to be in the points.”
Like most of his countreymen, McMurtry is most looking forward to competing in front of friends and family on familiar terrain.
“It is great to race at home where I have family and friends cheering me on and I know most of the volunteers who are running the race. It is just an amazing atmosphere,” he said.
David Greer (Yukon Elite Squad)
The 23-year-old will be making his first World Cup appearance on Thursday and is hoping to continue the upward trend in his recent NorAm results when he goes up against the best in the world. In Sovereign Lake this weekend he was sixth in the mass start classic and third in the 15 k freestyle.
“Each race seems to be getting better, so I’m looking forward to [Canmore],” Greer said. “It should be fun.”
Graham Nishikawa (CNST/AWCA)
The senior development team member is an old standby on the World Cup scene; he was recently 34th in the 30 k freestyle in Davos, Switzerland.
“I’m always honored to race for Canada, especially at home in Canmore,” he said.
Coming off a win in the 15 k freestyle last weekend, Nishikawa appears to be in top form for this weekend.
“I just want to thrown down a great race and see what happens,” he said. “Having my family and friends around to watch will be great.”
Widmer has numerous World Cup starts to his name and is looking forward to the opportunity to represent Canada in front of a home crowd.
“The goal for me though is putting together a solid World Cup race,” he said. “My team mates and I have been pushing each other hard all year in preparation for these races and the rest of the season.”
He was 55th in the individual sprint in Quebec City last weekend. A personal best for the sprinter would be to make it into the semifinals, which is just what he’s shooting for this Saturday on the home track.
“Competing against the best skiers in the world on the home track is special,” Widmer said. “I’d say that has to be the most exciting part of the world cup coming to Canada. It doesn’t happen every day, so it’s special when it does happen.”
Sandau, of recent Movember fame, has been on the World Cup circuit all season as last year’s Continental Cup leader. Still, he hasn’t competed in a World Cup on home soil since 2008 and is looking forward to competing on the trails he trains on every day.
“I know what [the trails] are like and how they ski,” he said. “I’d like to have some personal bests in the distance races and cap off 2012 with some really good results.”
“The Alberta World Cup Society definitely has organized this on a much grander scale since 2008, with the town fully backing the event and a lot of smaller and distinct details added. This is for sure going to be one hell of a week!”
Matt Wylie (AWCA)
Wylie earned starts both in Quebec and Canmore, but skipped out on the sprints in order to save energy.
“Ideally preparing for Canmore would set me up for a top result rather than travelling back and forth across the country,” he said. “It was one of the hardest choices I have had to make, turning down that kind of opportunity.”
This will be Wylie’s first international racing experience.
Russell Kennedy (AWCA)
The Truckee, Calif., native is a dual citizen of the US and Canada and has been training with the AWCA for the past few years. When he learned he’d won his fist career World Cup starts while cooling down from the Canmore NorAm prologue, he was “over the moon.”
“I’m generally a happy guy but it was pretty hard for me to stop smiling,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy’s main focus this year was to qualify for U23s, but now that he’s in a position to race well on the World Cup, he’s aiming to make the sprint heats (he was 45th last weekend in Quebec).
“When a dream comes true it is hard to pick your favorite part of the dream,” Kennedy said. “However, I’m looking forward to racing the top guys, seeing all my friends and family that are coming to watch and just having a hard summer of training start to pay off.”
More Canadians to look for in Canmore: Brian McKeever (PNST), Frederick Touchette (CNST/CNEPH), Heidi Widmer (AWCA), Amanda Ammar (Canmore), Annika Hicks (AWCA), Rebecca Reid (AWCA), Dahria Beatty (AWCA), Zoe Roy (RMR), Kate Brennan (AWCA), Alana Thomas (AWCA), Anne Marie Comeau (CNEPH), Maya MacIsaac-Jones (RMR), Erin Tribe (Team Hardwood), Frederique Vezina (CNEPH), Andrea Dupont (RMR)