Canmore, Alberta – World Cup racing continues tomorrow with a classic sprint on a new course at the Canmore Nordic Center.
Two years ago when the World Cup came to town, many of the men opted to double pole the classic sprint on skate skis. Since then FIS has worked to hold longer, more challenging classic sprints to avoid this. Canmore is no exception. The sprint course has been re-routed to add one large climb for the women and two for the men. Said US Ski Team coach Matt Whitcomb, “they put together a hell of a course in response to two years ago.:
The climbs are steep and long enough that it is unlikely anyone would attempt to double pole. The one drawback is that the loop is not quite as spectator friendly. Certain vantage points on the old course allowed fans to see the entire loop. Now racers will disappear for a significant portion.
The race starts in the main stadium area and heads up the base of first hill from today’s distance race. But before the grade steepens, it swings a hard left, sending racers up and around a 180 degree turn into a flat and downhill.
The first real climb starts after the small descent. The women peel off halfway up heading to the right. At this point the course is identical to the old one. The men, on the other hand, continue straight up the hill hitting a steeper section. This is basically an out-and-back. Skiers will do another 180, this one tight around v-boards, and descend back the main course.
From this point on, the men and women again follow the same path. A gradual hill and flat leads into the last climb – a steep pitch of 50 meters. The top marks the high point of the course.
A short flat, and then down the big descent. The downhill includes a fast corner under a bridge and then a long gradual drop to the stadium. As with all races in Canmore, the finish is 200 meters of gradual uphill.
The course features several technical areas. For the men, the 180 degree turn at the top of the first big climb is a likely spot for tangled equipment and crashes. They will not be carrying high speed into the turn since it is on an uphill, but it is so tight that there will surely be issues.
The other spot is the downhill under the bridge. The corner is fast and could get icy.
Despite the fact that there is 500 meters of descending after the last real climb, the tough finish stretch will make for close races and leave open the potential for comebacks.
The men’s course is 1.7 kilometers, the women’s 1.45.
73 men and 67 women are scheduled to start. Many of the top sprinters will not be present, notably the Norwegians. But there will be no lack of competition. The sprint field is always extremely tight, and tomorrow should be no different. Making the heats will not be easy.
The clear favorite in the men’s race is Emil Joensson of Sweden. Joensson has always raced well in Canmore and was in top form in January.
He will be challenged by teammates Bjorn Lind and Teodor Peterson. And while the Norwegian “A-Team” won’t be there, Anders Gloeersen and John Kristian Dahl are hardly slouches.
This could also be a big opportunity for Andy Newell to reach the podium. Newell has been consistent all season, but has been unable to crack the top-4. With a slightly weaker field and a familiar course, Newell could be well placed to post a top result.
Despite a sub-par performance in the 10k today, Petra Majdic (SLO) is the easy choice for a victory tomorrow. Majdic is a beast in the classic sprint, and her ability in both striding and double pole will serve her well. As usual Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) will be a threat. Kowalczyk, who almost never misses a start, needs big hills. This course should give her the opportunity to show her climbing strength.
It will be interesting to see how young Hannah Falk fares. The 21 year-old exploded onto the World Cup scene this season with a victory and several top five results. She can solidify her spot as an Olympic medal favorite with a strong race tomorrow.
Katja Visnar (SLO) and Alena Prochazkova (SVK) will also challenge for a top finish.
As usual, in a sprint race, anything can happen. There should be plenty of action.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.