As an ending to the U23 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, the Canadian team had hoped for more for the 15/30 k skiathlons. While the juniors get one last crack at the competition on Sunday, in relays, the older racers had to leave it all out on the course on Saturday.
Yet it was also the first start for Thunder Bay racer Andy Shields, his lone chance to make a mark on a Championships where he came down with a stomach bug that left his body without much fuel.
“The classic leg was rough because it marked my first race effort in more than a week,” Shields, who sat out both the sprint and 15 k, told FasterSkier. “I definitely had trouble finding my normal power and lactate flushing during the first part of the classic and had a general feeling of being stale.”
Stale could describe the whole team’s feelings; Russell Kennedy, for instance, flew to Liberec but never even got to compete. But even those who had been racing all week were less than thrilled with how things turned out.
In the men’s 15 + 15 k skiathlon, the best Canadian finish came from Patrick Stewart-Jones of Nakkertok, who placed 47th, 5:21 behind the Russian 1-2 punch of Sergey Ustiugov and Evgeniy Belov. Stewart-Jones was in contact with the top 30 at the transition, but faded in the skate portion. He wasn’t satisfied and said the race was typical of the whole week for him.
“I have been having a bit of a rough time over here in Liberec,” he wrote in an e-mail. “My distance racing has not been great since Christmas and today was a definite step in the right direction. The result is ok sure it’s nothing amazing but after the 15 k I’ll take it.”
After trying to stay relaxed in the classic leg, Stewart-Jones said that the fourth lap of the skate leg began to exhaust him.
“In the end it was probably 5 k further than my body could handle,” he explained.
Nevertheless, he said that the skiathlon was probably the highlight of the trip for him, after finishing 39th in the sprint and 71st in the 15 k skate. Well, that and one other thing.
“Also seeing my sister [Katherine] finish 25th in her first World Juniors race (the sprint) was pretty cool,” he said.
While Stewart-Jones wishes his race had been better, he knew he was lucky compared to his teammates who were sick. Besides not feeling their best, Shields and Colin Abbott were lapped and pulled from the race.
“I was incredibly frustrated with my result,” Abbott wrote in an e-mail. “Getting lapped and not being able to finish a race is not a good experience. For most of the skate portion of the race I could see the top two Russians gaining ground on me. Once it became apparent that they would lap me it became a fight for every kilometer before they passed me. It was some consolation knowing I was one of a number of people that got lapped and couldn’t finish today.”
Abbott had previously placed 47th in the sprint and 63rd in the 15 k, and was looking to improve on those results. But he knew from the start that things wouldn’t change drastically.
“I felt pretty similar today to how I’ve felt all week – not a lot of snap in my legs and some trouble settling into and maintaining a race pace I’m happy with,” he wrote. “I felt like today I asked more out of my body than it was willing to give and I paid for it. I couldn’t recover that well on easier sections of the course and generally felt fatigued.”
After struggling in the classic portion, Shields felt like he was getting back into things on skate skis. Unfortunately, he was left with the same feeling as Abbott.
“The skate was going quite well and I was making up some good time but then I got lapped and had to abandon,” he explained. “I’m pretty disappointed I wasn’t allowed to finish today, and I’m pretty unhappy with how this trip went for me as a whole. These races were the first races I missed because of sickness since my Juvenile days, so to have that happen at World Champs is really unfortunate… I thought a top 30 was achievable if I had a great race but having exceptional races in Europe are hard to come by even if you’re good shape.”
Annika Hicks led the Canadian women by placing 32nd, 3:40 behind Ragnhild Haga of Norway. Heidi Widmer placed 39th, another minute back, then Marlis Kromm and Andrea Lee finished 43rd and 46th.
“My classic skiing felt really strong and thought I would have a better chance to pick girls off in the skate, but unfortunately I was doing more surviving than attacking,” Widmer wrote in an email. “The actually number result, 39th, may not be the best looking one on the board but I’m proud of where I have come with my distance racing compared to last year in Turkey where I was lapped out! I have made a lot of progress and will keep this positive momentum moving forward.”
— Gerry Furseth contributed reporting.