The Defi Boreal 100K Loppet was back for its sophomore year on March 24th. It is held in Forestville, Quebec on the North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a spectacular 4 hour drive North East of Quebec City.
The race occurs along a 100K snowmobile network, prepared on this one day per year for XC skiers. It is one day, when both XC skiers and snowmobilers work in perfect harmony. The 8 aid stations along the 100K loop are manned by members of the local snowmobile club who enthusiastically support athletes as they go by. The course ranges from undulating to steep during the first 60K as the course heads inland from the Gulf and moves deep into the heart of typical Canadian Shield territory. At the 60K point the true hilly section ends with a quad burning 1K climb. After several minutes of high speed descending the course follows a river valley back to the finish line in Forestville. Best of all the start and finish line are at the back door of the race hotel allowing racers to crawl straight into the shower and bed after an exhausting 100K of racing.
This year, due to some logging in the region, the course had to be lengthened to 103K, making the challenge that much more difficult for the skiers. To a person, all skiers admitted that once they passed the 100K sign, the final 3K were pure torture and elation, wrapped into one emotion.
There are several high speed descents, which in 2005 were quite manageable given the early day colder snow conditions. Not so in 2006. With several days of above freezing conditions, the track was frozen granular early in the day with temperatures just below freezing overnight. This resulted in several high speed hair raising descents. But soon, the temperatures climbed to around 5 degrees C, converting the fast track to very slow slushy conditions. The final 43K along the river valley was made even more difficult with a tough wind blowing from the gulf onto shore.
After a spectacular success in its first year, the organizers expanded the program to include 54, 27, 14 and 7 K events. All the events were skating skiing, except the 14 and 7 which also offered classic versions. In total, the weekend festival grew to over 200 athletes, with 41 taking on the 100K.
In the marquis 100K event, three time biathlon Olympian Steve Cyr was back to defend his title. Steve was on a tear this season, having won the Overlander 50K Loppet in Kamploops, BC, the Tour Mont Valin 50K skate near Chicoutimi Quebec. He also silvered in the Keskinanda World Loppet 50K and the Mont Ste Anne 40K classic (losing both in sprint finishes). Having set the course record at 5:11 at last year’s Defi Boreal, he had hopes to go sub 5 if conditions supported it. The event’s President of Honour, Pierre Lavoie would have ideally provided Cyr with a strong challenge. One of the top masters XC skiers in Canada as well as a two time winner of the Masters division at the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, Lavoie had both the endurance pedigree and speed to mount a challenge. Unfortunately, he had been sick the previous week and elected to support the event by doing the 54K (which he won). Instead, the challenge would have to come from Mike Dyon, a former 2:14 national team marathoner, who at age 50 is just starting to really pick up the sport of XC skiing and training partner Paul Tolomiczenko. Both are coached by Cyr. In fact, it was the â€œcoachâ€ Cyr who was seen in the wax room on the morning of the race meticulously preparing the skis of his own athletes with HF8, Swix Cera F powder, and some heavy duty rilling.
Once the gun went off at 7 am sharp, the athletes bolted out of the gate. Like race horses, ski racers cannot help but sprint early in the race. There is always some bumping, grinding and jockeying for position. Cyr, Tolomiczenko, Dyon, Yves St Louis and Patrick Bellmare were off the front.
The women’s field had only three athletes, so the podium was well decided before the race started, assuming that they all finished. But this is not an assumption to be taken lightly. Skate skiing 1K can be hard enough for the novice. Even for experts, 100K is fraught with challenges. Everything from bad wax, poor pacing, dehydration, over hydration, too much food, too little food, broken poles, hypothermia and overheating can throw off the best laid plans. But the worst enemy any endurance athlete can have is self doubt. They say that on race day, it is not about fitness but all about mind over body. 100K with the last 43 straight into a headwind and slush can break the morale of anyone. Going back to the ladies field Christianne Rousseau was back for her second attempt at the 100K. At 56 years old, she had to bail on the race in 2005, choosing to â€œfight again another dayâ€. March 24th 2006, was that other day and this time she was ready. Closing off the ladies field were Chantal Metvier and Diane Bouchard last year’s women’s bronze medalist.
Back at the front, Steve Cyr was using his 20 years of competitive ski racing and refined technique to his full advantage, staying ahead of the Dyon-Tolomiczenko duo. With conditions quickly deteriorating and an extra 3K of racing to so, it was clear that no course records would be set as he ticked through the various checkpoints. Cyr put it into cruise control. What he did not know is that his own athletes were quietly mounting a bit of a challenge, closing in on him. After 102K of two man time trialing, Tolomiczenko and Dyon made a gentleman’s agreement to cruise across the line together. In the end Cyr prevailed in 5:30, but Tolomiczenko and Dyon took the silver in 5:34, just a few minutes behind their coach.
Along the route, many of the things that make long course racing so tough claimed a few victims. But in the ladies field, all three starters finished. Diane Bouchard, likely took the award for most improved skier (men or women) by shaving over 35 min off her 2005 time to finish in a very credible 6:54 with an average speed of 14.9K per hour. This was on a day when last year’s men’s winner Cyr was almost 19 minutes slower! Chantal Metvier broke the 8 hour barrier with a 7:52 and Christianne Rousseau bounced back from the previous year and recorded a solid 8:32 finish.
Full results at: http://www.boreal100kloppet.ca/resultats_en.htm
About the Defi Boreal 100K Loppet in Forestville 2007. For those interested in making the trip to the â€œIronman of Skate Skiingâ€, Forestville can be easily reached, by flying into Montreal from anywhere in North America and Europe and then connecting to the nearby airport in Baie Comeau, which is a 1 hour rental car drive away from the race site. Race proceeds go to the Forestville High School, who uses the funds to subsidize athletic programs for kids in their community. The three organizers Dave Delaunay, Gino Jean and Eric Maltais are all teachers in that school and devote countless hours to this project and have brought the longest loppet in the world to Canada. Full event information is available at http://www.boreal100kloppet.ca.
About the Author: Devashish Paul is an avid masters skier, based in Ottawa Canada, and regularly races most of the major loppets in Quebec, Ontario and New York State, including the Keskinada Worldloppet which he has done 17 times. He competed in his 6th 100K XC ski race at the Defi Boreal, finishing in 6:22 and also set his 100K split PB at 6:08. He is also an active triathlete, having done 12 Ironman triathlons. Dev also runs the Kanata Cross Country Ski Club Jackrabbit Program, which boasts 116 smiling kids age 12 and under. You can visit their website at www.kanataxcski.ca