Editor’s note: Evan Palmer-Charrette, a 23-year-old member of the National Team Development Centre (NTDC) Thunder Bay, agreed to write a recap of the inaugural Canada 150 Rollerski Race, the first Cross Country Canada (CCC) sanctioned rollerski race in Thunder Bay, Ontario, well before he won the race. By no fault of his own, Palmer-Charrette ended up being both the author of and a subject in the following article, and his teammate Annika Richardson provided a post-race video interview with him. Richardson finished second in the women’s race.
THUNDER BAY, Ontario — On Canada Day this past Saturday, July 1, a historic holiday for Canada as a nation, NTDC Thunder Bay in conjunction with the Lakehead Superior Nordic Association, Big Thunder Nordic Ski Club and Lappe Nordic, made history of its own, hosting a Cross Country Canada (CCC) sanctioned rollerski for the first time in downtown Thunder Bay. It was the second time a sanctioned (tier-two, non-FIS) rollerski race had been held in Canada, following last year’s Challenge Volvo 2016 in Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley, Quebec.
Saturday’s event, dubbed the Canada 150 Rollerski Race, drew more than 40 of Canada’s top development skiers and Americans Caitlin and Brian Gregg to showcase rollerski racing as part of the city’s Canada Day festivities. The day began with both men and women racing 1.5-kilometer time-trial sprint qualifiers on a two-lap, 750-meter course.
Evan Palmer-Charrette qualified first in a time of 3:03.71 minutes, followed by Julian Smith in second (+3.64) and Jack Carlyle in third (+5.05).
In the women’s qualifier, Caitlin Gregg won the qualifier by more than nine seconds in 3:28.21. Annika Richardson was second overall (+9.35) and top Canadian qualifier, followed by Sadie White in third (+11.51).
The forecast for the day called for thunderstorms, and while some rain led into the qualifier, the sun came out for most of the distance races. All of the women raced together over a 9 k distance, whereas the men were broken up into four groups racing either 4.5, 6, 9, or 11.25 k based on their qualifier results. The distance races were held on the same course as the sprint, which circled a city block and included an out-and-back for an additional climb and descent.
The elite races offered cash prizes for the top five men and women ($500, $300, $200, $75, and $25, respectively), as well as the top three in the men’s and women’s qualifier ($150, $100 and $50, respectively). Each race featured three primes scattered throughout the course, which rewarded the first to reach them with cash ($100 at the second prime) and prizes from local businesses.
Given her qualifying result and impressive resume, Gregg established herself as the race favorite for the women’s 9 k race. The first prime was on Lap 4, which was when Gregg made her move and broke away from the field, which gave her a sizable gap for the remainder of the race. She won in 23:25.9, more than a minute ahead of anyone else.
“I’ve been working on my starts so I try to get out fast, which was a lot of fun when you have a big pack like that in a mass start,” Gregg explained. “And then I just tried to relax for the first couple of laps. … I felt strong and was able to push through the whole race, which was nice for having a race effort this time of year.”
After Gregg’s move dismantled the pack, Richardson raced to second (+1:01.1) as the top Canadian finisher.
“After attempting to bridge it [the gap] with Sadie, it was all about skiing smoothly and holding second until the end,” she said.
Canadian national-team member Katherine Stewart-Jones rounded out the podium in third (+1:56.9). Only four women finished the race, with White placing fourth (+2:07.7).
The elite men’s 11.25 k race played out quite differently with 10 of the 13 starters finishing within 17 seconds of one another. Yet similarly to the women’s race, the pace picked up going onto the fourth lap with a prime and a prize on the line. Angus Foster outsprinted teammate and fellow Thunder Bay native Palmer-Charrette to take the first prime and a prize to go along with it.
After Brian Gregg was first to the second prime, Michael Somppi took the third and final prime on the 12th of 15 laps and made a decisive move to try and break away from the pack. However, with just over two laps to go, Palmer-Charrette reeled him back in and finished first in 25:20.2. Gregg followed just 0.2 seconds later for second overall and Carlyle crossed 0.3 seconds later for third place. Less than 4 seconds out of first, Somppi finished sixth (+3.8), behind Dominique Moncion-Groulx in fourth (+1.7) and Andy Shields in fifth (+2.0).
The men’s 6 k race was hit by the worst weather of the day, as a looming storm cloud opened up during it. Thomas Manktelow of the Albert World Cup Academy (AWCA) won the first prime and went on to win the race as well.
“I was a little worried about some of the corners in the wet, but managed to get away without any crashes,” Manktelow said. “The mass start was super-fun and went pretty well, and the entire event was well-run.”
Larkin Wasmuth won the men’s 9 k race and Aleksi Luoma topped the men’ 4.5 k.
The field was quite strong with the likes of 2014 U.S. Olympian Brian Gregg and several athletes from national training centres across Canada.
“It was so much fun to compete in a sanctioned roller ski race in North America,” Gregg wrote in an email. “NTDC and Thunder Bay did a fantastic job running the event especially with the added challenge of a few rain showers throughout the day. I can’t wait for the next rollerski race, the Canada 150 race has set the bar high.”