Canadians Head to Quebec to Focus On Speed, Intensity

Kieran JonesSeptember 15, 2010
Stefan Kuhn (r), Phil Widmer (c), Lenny Valjas (l) starting a classic sprint

No one could ever accuse the Canadian National Ski Team of a lack of variety in their training locations–this summer alone, the team has held camps in Bend, Oregon, the Snow Farm in New Zealand, and the Haig Glacier.  The current camp, however, has the team  training in Mount Saint Anne, Quebec, home of Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) member Alex Harvey.

According to Justin Wadsworth, the CNST’s head coach, the focus of this particular camp is on rollerski intensity at sea level.  In an interview with FasterSkier earlier this week, Wadsworth explained that his athletes spend a large amount of time at altitude–the camps at New Zealand and the Haig Glacier were both up high, and the team lives at altitude in Canmore as well. “I just wanted to make sure this year that at one time we had a certain focus on intensity at sea level and faster motions,” said Wadsworth. “We race the majority of the World Cups at sea level, and World Champs this year are at sea level.”

Of the four intensity sessions during the ten-day camp, three are on rollerskis, and just one is ski bounding, due to an emphasis on increasing the speed of ski-specific motions. In addition, the sprint team has been doing several speed sessions.

Devon Kershaw hammers during an interval set

Other than the training benefits of the lower altitude, Wadsworth selected Mount Sainte Anne as a location for the camp because of the proximity of the Pierre Harvey National Training Center (CNEPH), one of the strongest development centers in the country. CNEPH is based in nearby Quebec City, and Wadsworth said that his strong relationship with Louis Bouchard, CNEPH’s head coach combined with the strength of the training center program deserved the support of the national team.

Wadsworth walked FasterSkier through two workouts, which were separated for the distance and sprint athletes.

The sprinters (Chandra Crawford, Dasha Gaiazova, Phil Widmer, Stefan Kuhn and Lenny Valjas) were tackling 8×30 seconds, with a 1:30 rest. The group did three sets, over different types of terrain: the first on a flat, the second with a transition between double pole and striding, and the third on a steep hill, with a focus on transitions. In between each set, the sprinters would take a seven to 10 minute break, to ensure sufficient recovery. While 24 sprints may seem like a large number, “we’re looking for as many as they can do at high speed, without the quality deteriorating,” Wadsworth explained.

For the sprinters, Wadsworth emphasized that the speed continued to rise over the entire workout. “If you just did one or two or three 30-second intervals, it wouldn’t be a big deal,” he said, “But with a minute-and-a-half recovery, any lactate you make, you’re not really clearing,” he said. “You’re building up through the session, and by the last couple of intervals in each set, the fatigue is starting to come on a little bit.”

Meanwhile, the distance group, containing Olympians Devon Kershaw and Brent McMurtry as well as new CNST member Graeme Killick among others, were doing a longer interval set. With the exception of Ivan Babikov, who was continuing to recover from illness, the athletes had 4×7 minutes with five minutes of recovery, which Wadsworth described as “zone three, zone three-plus” in terms of effort level. At the end of the workout, the entire group did some speed work as well, doing 4×30 seconds at close to full speed.

While the primary goal was to crank out intensity sessions, the team is taking advantage of a few local amenities. The entire group headed into Quebec City to catch an international-level bike race for a diversion, and the World Cup Team headed up to Alex Harvey’s house for some quality home-cooked dinner.

Chandra Crawford battling Dasha Gaiazova during a sprint workout

Up next for the team is a three-week camp in Park City, which will feature two time trials, as well as some collaboration with the U.S. Ski Team. In addition to Kikkan Randall, Wadsworth confirmed that James Southam and Noah Hoffman have been in contact with the Canadian coaching staff, and will jump in on a few workouts.

Randall in particular will be a welcome addition, both in terms of helping out the Canadian sprint women in their workouts, and her attitude in general. “It’s good for the whole ladies program,” said Wadsworth, “Kikkan is a really positive and professional person.”

With regards to the rapidly approaching World Cup season, Wadsworth assured FasterSkier that the CNST is headed overseas on November 7th, and that the entire Canadian World Cup Team (Harvey, Babikov, Kershaw, George Grey, Crawford, and Gaiazova) would race the pre-Christmas World Cups, as well as potentially a few others.

New this year is that all team members must now qualify to race the Tour de Ski–Canada will not be preselecting athletes for that event this year. While Wadsworth was reluctant to explain the entire criteria before Cross Country Canada (CCC) releases it this week, he said that some “good top-20 results” would indicate that most of the World Cup team was ready for the Tour.

Justin Wadsworth (l) giving instructions to athletes during a sprint workout, including CNEPH's Lenny Valjas (r)

Kieran Jones

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