A snowy day at the Haywood NorAm mini-tour in Orford, Quebec, made the tracks a little bit slippery for the 7.5/10 k classic individual start races, but Graham Nishikawa of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) didn’t let the precipitation get in the way of his second NorAm victory in two days.
After a big fifteen second win during Friday’s 4 k classic prologue, Nishikawa upped the ante on Saturday, winning the 10 k classic individual start by 22.5 seconds over his nearest competitor, Drew Goldsack, of the AWCA and the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST). Goldsack’s fellow CNST member Stefan Kuhn finished third, 30.5 seconds back of Nishikawa.
However, after the top three, the gaps grew large, as David Greer of the Pierre Harvey National Training Center (CNEPH) was fourth, but almost a full minute back of the leader.
Goldsack, who fell victim to illness during the NorAm in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and is still bouncing back, struggled during the prologue Friday.
“It was kind of an odd prologue – it was very flat,” Goldsack said in an interview with FasterSkier. “I haven’t done a whole lot of intensity, and I was feeling it by the end.”
However, Saturday provided a bit of a lift for Goldsack. “It was a little better than yesterday,” he said, “I’m racing myself back into shape here.”
Meanwhile, the third place finisher on the day, Stefan Kuhn, who currently sits second in the mini-tour, struggled with fatigue.
“I had a tough day, starting to feel the long hours of the last two weeks of training,” he said via Twitter.
In the overall standings, the two wins and corresponding time gaps have given Nishikawa a big lead – and when you factor in the additional 15 bonus seconds he received for winning the prologue Friday, he will be tough to beat.
The only two athletes within reach are Kuhn and Goldsack – according to Goldsack, he hopes they will be able to work together to chase down Nishikawa during the 15 k freestyle handicap start race Sunday. However, Goldsack acknowledged that it would be a challenge, especially with Nishikawa’s current racing form.
While official start lists are not yet available, according to FasterSkier calculations, Nishikawa will start roughly 39 seconds ahead of Kuhn during the handicap start on Sunday, while Goldsack will be another 10 seconds back.
The only American in contention is Tim Reynolds of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP). Reynolds collected 5 bonus seconds during the prologue Friday, but his 7th place finish in the 10 k classic puts him nearly 2 minutes back of the leader.
The other notable result of the day was Donald Farley, who took the Master Men’s 16 k classic by almost 3 minutes. Farley, a veteran of two Olympic Games (Nagano, Japan in 1998 and Salt Lake City, US in 2002), is now 40 years old, and according to his FIS profile, has not raced a high-level race since 2003.
Redemption for Stephen
After a surprising fourth place finish on Friday, U.S. Ski Team’s Liz Stephen bounced back Saturday to claim the win in the 7.5 k classic race.
Stephen out-classed her nearest competitor, Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) member Brittney Webster by 15.4 seconds, making back some of the ground Stephen had lost on Friday.
Michelle Workun-Hill, who stood on the top step of the NorAm podium for the first time Friday finished 39.7 seconds back of Stephen Saturday.
As for Stephen’s fourth place in the prologue, she took the result in stride, considering the course and situation.
“The course (flat, with a lot of double-poling, and short) doesn’t really suit the kind of skier I am,” she said in an interview with FasterSkier.
However, she was enthusiastic about the course Saturday, and it showed, as she cruised around the 3-loop 7.5 k.
“I even ended up skiing with Brittney Webster for a little bit at the end, which was fun,” she said.
Despite snowy tracks on Saturday morning, Stephen had “bomber” skis, waxed by the Maine Winter Sports Center. And those skis helped her back atop the podium.
“I have been struggling a little bit getting my classic technique down,” she said, “Today felt good technique-wise.”
Stephen, who leaves for Norway on Tuesday in order to prepare for World Championships headed up to Orford just to get a little extra racing in. After U.S. Nationals she came down with a little bit of a cold, and has been recovering, as well as starting to put in some more volume in preparation for the Championships.
After factoring in Friday’s bonus seconds, where Workun-Hill received 15, Webster 10, and Stephen’s fourth place garnered her nothing, the top three women are close.
According to FasterSkier’s rough calculations, Stephen and Webster will start at almost even, while Workun-Hill will be 12 seconds back.
As soon as official start lists become available, they will be posted.