It’s been a week or two since the last NorAm of Canada’s Continental Cup series (10 days to be precise), but without further ado, here are the quotes from the winners and top finishers.
To recap, the American husband-and-wife combo Brian and Caitlin Gregg came to Rossland, British Columbia, and dominated the three-day mini tour, with Caitlin winning all three races (a 5-kilometer classic, freestyle sprint and 10 k freestyle pursuit) and Brian winning the two distance races (10 k classic and 15 k freestyle pursuit). Canadian National U25 Team member Julien Locke won the men’s sprint on his home trails at the Black Jack Ski Club.
“I absolutely loved racing in Canada these past few weeks,” Caitlin, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, wrote in an email after her second weekend of racing north of the border. (The NorAm season opened at Sovereign Lake near Vernon, B.C., on Dec. 9-10.)
“My favorite part about the races this weekend in Rossland were the incredible race courses and race organization,” she continued. “The 5k loop is the toughest in North America!”
“I wish that we had the whole Super Tour field here racing since the Black Jack Ski Club puts on such a fantastic race,” Brian wrote. “The courses in Rossland are World Cup level and some of the most difficult we race all year. … With Rossland just 4.5 hours from Silver Star we picked that as our most competitive local race. Caitlin and I both felt we needed some more racing in preparation for US Nationals in January.”
While the races were held on the Black Jack trails some 3,800 feet above sea level, Brian explained that he and Caitlin stayed around 1,300 feet “for a bit better recovery in prep for US nationals.”
They received race support from the National Team Development Centre (NTDC) Thunder Bay.
“We have had several training camps with the Thunder Bay team and athletes and it was really great of them to provide the infrastructure for our success this weekend,” Brian wrote. “We were really hoping that Caitlin or any of the other top [U.S.] domestic women could be racing in Toblach this weekend on the World Cup. I was sad to see that we only started 5 athletes of our quota of 7.”
While their results in the Rossland NorAm don’t count toward their overall SuperTour ranking, Caitlin has so far recorded four podiums this season, with a third-place finish in the Sovereign Lake 10 k freestyle (which counted as a SuperTour). Additionally, she won the skate-sprint qualifier at the SuperTour opener in West Yellowstone, Montana, and went on to finish fifth after a crash in the final. Brian has a total of three wins this season, with a victory in the West Yellowstone SuperTour 15 k classic mass start.
“I am really happy with my skiing so far this season,” Caitlin wrote. “My goal is to make the 2018 Olympics and be at my peak for the 10k skate at the games.”
But enough about the Americans, let’s hear from the Canadians who finished near the top of the field in Rossland:
After the women’s 5 k and men’s 10 k classic interval starts on Dec. 15:
- Scott Hill (Team Barrie Cross Country (BXC)), 2nd place (first Canadian):
“I thought I paced the classic race well on a tough course here in Rossland with starting conservative despite it only being a 10k. … Conditions are really good here with just below 0 temperatures but some fresh snow during the classic race made things tricky for the techs but I thought my guys gave me what I needed to race my race.”
- Bob Thompson (NTDC Thunder Bay), 3rd place:
“I focused on starting strong and had a great first lap, then just couldn’t hold the pace quite well enough to stay in 2nd. Trying to make consistent lap times a focus while still starting strong at what I feel will be a top time.”
- Annika Hicks (Alpine Insurance Alberta World Cup Academy), 2nd place (first Canadian):
“My classic skiing is feeling especially strong which is a big confidence booster going into Trials at MSA [Mont Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Jan. 6-10] because those races are so classic heavy!”
- Hannah Mehain (Sovereign Lake Nordic/Canadian National Junior Team), 6th overall, top junior woman:
“I knew it was going to be short because it is only 5km so I decided to go hard out of the start. The course was tough with several long uphill sections so I made little markers on course in my warmup where I would refocus and notch it up. I found they definitely helped. It was easy to become distracted and forget about pushing hard. Before my race, I talked to Kajsa Heyes about the course as she finished before I started and she said that you can punch up the climbs no problem so I trusted her and did just that in my race. I was thankful for grippy wax as there are a lot of hills and it would be tiring to herringbone them all.”
- Zina Kocher (Foothills Nordic), 12th overall:
“Being that it was really my first 5k classic race since I was a kid, I should be easy on myself! I still see so many areas on which to improve, mostly with technique. But I want more and know there is another gear untapped inside of me with classic. I focused on being calm and smooth today and I felt much smoother with my technique than the last classic race which is a step in the right direction.”
After the freestyle sprints on Dec. 16:
- Julien Locke (Black Jack/Canadian National U25 Team), 1st:
“It was amazing to race at home today. It’s such a thrill to put on a show for all of the locals, many of whom have been volunteering since I first started racing Kootenay Cups. The Black Jack club is so supportive and they have done a great job putting on the races. The atmosphere on the course was fantastic, so much energy out there. I’ve been feeling the travel and previous 4 weeks of racing, and the cheering squads certainly gave me a boost.”
[He started his season on the World Cup and returned to Canada earlier that week.]
“I returned to North America on Monday evening [Dec. 11] and it took a while to get the body moving this morning. I was lacking tempo in the qualifier but started to get some snap back through the heats. The final was fun, a reasonably fast pace the whole way. The TBay guys were on a mission to take control up the first climb. I snuck by going over the top and stayed at the front up the 2nd climb, through the twists and into the finish. Evan [Palmer-Charrette] carried a lot of speed out of the last decent and put in a good sprint. It was fun to put in a stretch for the line. It was a close one!”
- Evan Palmer-Charrette (NTDC Thunder Bay), 2nd:
“I played it the way I wanted to through all the heats. With the gradual incline on the finishing stretch the finish line snuck up on me and I made a last second attempt at a lunge but otherwise I executed quite well. I considered not starting the sprint and even more so after a rough qualifier but my mom made the trip down to Rossland and arrived before the heats so I figured I couldn’t sit out, so all things considered it was a solid day.”
[Palmer-Charrette finished 23rd in the qualifier.]
- Zina Kocher, 3rd:
“Feel stoked! Totally surprised myself as sprinting is not really my forte. And my 3rd skate sprint race ever. … [I] gave it everything I had from the start, but I’m almost always last out so I have just learned in biathlon mass starts to use that to my advantage to find the holes/spaces in the group & then move up. I had really great skis today and fully used that to my advantage with the gradual downhill, pushing hard into it & free skating to propel myself into a better position for the next uphill, & before the S turn downhill. I had a bit of a mishap in the 1st heat, getting too close to [Caitlin] in the last corner and tripping on her pole. Got up quick & kept fighting… luckily our heat was fast & I moved on. I think I was just in disbelief each time I moved on, was totally enjoying myself and just kept fighting.
“Also would like to point out, that this podium sweep were all the old timers. And I was the youngest 😉 Go masters.”
[Kocher is 35. Gregg, 37, won the final and Andrea Dupont, also 37, placed second.]
After the 10/15 k freestyle pursuits on Dec. 17:
(Note: The rundown linked to above was written based on the pursuit’s “time of day”, or individual stage results, rather than overall mini-tour results. The following referenced results reflect overall pursuit/mini-tour finish.)
- Brian Gregg, 1st:
“We [Caitlin and I] entered the final day as the rabbits for the rest of the field. It is odd to feel that the others are just a few meters behind, but also a great exercise in remaining focused on your own race. I focused on racing as a time trial with a conservative start and the goal of negative splitting each lap. Andy and Bob closed the gap pretty well in the first lap but a strong final 10km allowed me to get the time back.
“Our greatest success of the weekend came on day 1 in the classic race. We put a big focus this year on our classic skiing with some on snow training camps in May in Iceland/Norway and August/September in New Zealand and it is great to see that showing on the results page. It also helped that our skis were amazing.”
- Andy Shields (Lappe Nordic), 2nd:
“Scott Hill started just over 10s ahead of me and Bob Thompson started around 20 seconds ahead so I had a couple ‘steps’ to climb and launch off of. I caught Scott in the first km and dropped him before the end of the first lap and caught Bob partway through the second lap. Bob and I tried to chase down Brian Gregg but ended up losing time to him. I found a tonne of pace somehow in the last km and a bit and was able to break away from Bob before the finish. … Usually my pace change in distance races is just awful, but it was quite good on Sunday which is a good sign of fitness.”
“I had a heavy November of training and I think this weekend was a sign I’ve finally digested the training load. I’ll keep training casual over the holidays so I can hopefully be fresh and ready to go at trials.”
- Bob Thompson, 3rd:
“Pursuit was a solid race. The hunt was on for Brian and after a great first lap Andy [Shields] caught me and we did our best to work together but Brian was just a bit too strong for us and skied away with the overall and the best time of day. … This pursuit was one of the first that I have been one of the top starters and had to chase for top positions while fighting to stay ahead of all those chase groups. Definitely my favourite part of racing this weekend.”
- Evan Palmer-Charrette, 4th:
“The pursuit was really fun, I love chasing in a pack with a big group of guys. I did not feel great off the start and my confidence was not very high but by the end of the 2nd lap I started to feel like I was getting into a race gear and finished strong.
“I started to find a race gear the past two days but overall period one has been a struggle coming into it after be being quite sick. That being said I think I haven’t burnt my brightest match of the season and have as good of a shot as anyone. I would like to have strong races in both the sprint and distances races in Quebec, but with the sprint being the only race with an Olympic birth that will be the main focus of the event for me.”
- Jack Carlyle (AWCA), 5th:
“My strategy was to catch as many people that started just in front of me as I possible early on in the first lap. There was a strong contingent of skiers that started just head of me and I wanted to get up to them as quickly as possible, just to make sure I didn’t loose a strong ride. Once I got settled in a pack the plan was to let the race come to me and let it unfold until the last few kilometers, then I would make moves to fight for positions to the finish. I thought that if I could have a good day, being top 5 in the tour was an achievable goal.
“It was a really fun race. There was a healthy exchange of lead sharing in the pack I was in, with the pace been pushed most of the time. On the first lap a large pack formed and we all skied together for most of the race, building the pace as the race went on. Seemed as though as the race went on the pack got smaller and smaller, until EPC and I were the last two chasing down the top three skier in front of us (Brian G, Andy S, and Bob T). With about 1.5km to go, Evan and I started playing a little bit of cat and mouse, thinking about the tactics for the finish. Pace slowed down, and you could tell we both had plans to try to out sprint the other in the last stretch. Smart on his part as he was second, and almost first the day before in the sprint and [I] couldn’t even sniff the semis that day. We both gaver at the finish and as you can predict, EPC came across the line in 4th and I in 5th.”
[Carlyle finished eighth in the 10 k classic to start the mini tour]
“Going into this past weekend I was really focused on the Classic 10km on the Friday. This was the race I put the most attention on going into the weekend. I knew that I was skating well and I [wanted to] do the same in Classic. The two distance days were the races I knew I had the best chance to reach the podium. Having a strong performance in classic early in the season was important for me going forward. After the race in Silver Star, I knew that I was in a good place physically and mentally to potentially have a strong performance in the Tour weekend.”
- Scott Hill, 8th:
“Sunday was a rough one for me. There was a fast group behind me that formed in the pursuit start and they swallowed me up quickly. I stayed with the group for most of the rest of the race but I didn’t have the legs to stay with the attacks when they happened on the last lap. This past week and weekend were my chance to try some things to get an idea of what’s working for me right now to come up with the best lead up to the Olympic trials in a few weeks. With one good race and one that didn’t really work out I am confident in what I need to do to be in good shape in a few weeks.”
- Julien Locke, 10th:
“After spending the past month racing on the WC, the focus for this weekend was to perform at home, and continue to put in good race efforts ahead of the January selection events. … This is the first year I have raced 5 weeks in a row before Christmas. I am looking forward to a focused training block between now and New Years. I’ll be training at home as we have lots of snow at home and excellent conditions at Black Jack, perfect for good preparation.”
- Antoine Cyr (Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre), 15th overall, 2nd junior:
“I am super happy with the shape right now. I had a phenomenal start to the season and I have been racing over my expectation, World Juniors trials and Olympic trials are in two weeks so hopefully the shape is still there when I race in Mont-Saint-Anne.”
“With my second place junior on Friday and the win in the sprint I was well placed for the overall mini tour. In the pursuit I was starting really close to 3 of my teammates so the plan was to stick with them as long as possible and protect my second place in the overall [NorAm standings]. I had a good race with all the top seniors in Canada and I was able to protect my place in the [overall standings].”
- Zina Kocher, 2nd (first Canadian), former Canadian national-team biathlete:
“I attacked from the beginning and tried to maintain the pace till the finish. … Wasn’t sure what to expect with the Pursuit format without the shooting aspect and how that would end up. As in, how can I make up enough time to move up — I felt very behind 1st place starting 2:27 back. I just focused on giving it everything I had & going for it. … Pursuits in biathlon are maybe more exciting & huge possible ups or downs in the results than xc BUT it it is nice to just put my head down and giver ;)”
“Feeling really great about this weekend. Ski speed felt like it picked up this weekend compared to last & that was the goal. Classic is coming along, learning every day and things are going in the right direction. … I wanted my fitness level to be good, not at it’s best but good & have strong skate finishes.”
- Annika Hicks, 3rd:
“The races in Rossland went really well. My plan for the first period of racing was to keep building throughout the month, so to have a couple podiums this weekend was great. … I love racing in Rossland, The distance courses are really challenging and ski really nicely. Conditions were great; the tracks weren’t too soft and the temperature was prefect for racing.”
- Hannah Mehain, 14th overall and 2nd junior (who won the junior women’s skate sprint):
“My favorite part of the weekend was the sprint. Before my sprint race, the announcer mentioned how Jessie Diggins made a major breakthrough at Rossland in the sprint races 7 years ago. She won the qualifier by 5 seconds in the senior women category and she was only 17 years old. She ended up taking gold overall that day (I believe, fact check me on this one). This inspired me. I decided I was going to make a breakthrough that day too. And I did.”