After struggling to crack the top-30 on the World Cup last season, Canadian Perianne Jones knew she needed some time on the domestic circuit this year to get her feet back under her.
“I’ve raced on the World Cup the last two seasons before Christmas—especially last season, I didn’t feel like I belonged,” she said. “I want to feel like I’m ready to race the World Cup when I’m on the World Cup.”
If Jones (Canadian National Ski Team) was looking for signs that she’s still among the cream of the crop in her home country, she found them on Saturday, taking the win in the season opening Nor-Am, a classic sprint at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Center in British Columbia.
After squeaking through her semifinal heat in third place, Jones broke away from the women’s A-final with Alaska Pacific University’s Sadie Bjornsen and Holly Brooks, then took advantage of a tangle between those two to get a gap that held to the finish.
Bjornsen was second, and CXC’s Jennie Bender was third, cracking the podium on the domestic circuit for the first time. Brooks held on for fourth, topping CXC’s Jessie Diggins and APU’s Morgan Smyth.
Bjornsen led the way in qualifying in 4:06.53, a tenth of a second ahead of Brooks and another second and a half up on Jones. Those women were in a class by themselves: nobody else came within ten seconds of the top three times.
“The prelims went pretty well for me,” Bjornsen told FasterSkier afterwards. “We have been up here for a while…[and] doing a ton of speed work on the course.”
As for the rounds, Jones said that she won her quarterfinal heat, then came in third in her semifinal behind Brooks and Bender, who used a strong double pole to power past Jones in the finishing stretch.
“After my semi, I wasn’t sure—I thought I might be out of energy,” Jones said. “In the past few years, I’ve had trouble, especially with the longer sprints, towards the final.”
But this season, Jones said, she has focused on quality rest and key intensity sessions, leaving her with more energy and better endurance in general.
In the final, Jones said she spent the first half of the race fighting for good position, since she’d had a poor lane choice for the start, which featured a hard lefthand turn where the women were fighting for the inside.
Going into the last climb, Jones said that she, Bjornsen and Brooks had pulled away from the pack. Then, in the last 300 meters, Jones “turned it on over the last little hill,” leaving the other two women behind.
Brooks said that she actually got tangled up in the last corner, “right in a spot that was critical to change gears,” which allowed Jones to get away. From that point, Brooks said, “Sadie and Jennie Bender had a great double pole to the finish.”
Afterwards, Jones said that her fitness was ahead of where it was last year, when she was struggling to crack the top 40 on the World Cup. After dropping from the Canadian A-team to the Canadian B-team this year, she’s contesting Nor-Ams this weekend and next weekend in British Columbia—the latter of which acts as the sprint qualifier for World Championships—before heading to Thunder Bay, ON, to race the distance qualifier for Worlds, as well.
In addition to making the Canadian World Championship team, Jones said that she hopes win the first period of Nor-Ams, which would give her free travel and entry to World Cups later this season.
After spending the first part of the last two seasons in Europe, Jones said that it’s nice to race in Canada for a change—especially when she can stay ahead of the Americans.
“On my home turn, I felt like I had to make a statement,” she said.
Link to full results.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.