One name you should recognize; the other may be new to you. Alberta World Cup Academy’s Graham Nishikawa, who has been a fixture on the North American domestic racing scene for several years, collected another win for his trophy case Friday, winning the 4 k classic prologue. While you may be familiar with Nishikawa, the winner of the women’s 2.5 k classic prologue may be slightly less prominent – that’s because Michelle Workun-Hill of the Nakkertok Ski Club is still a junior, and Friday was her first trip to the top step of a NorAm podium.
Orford, Quebec, played host to the second mini-tour of the Haywood NorAm series as the stage-event crazy Canadians raced a classic prologue.
Falling during World Junior Championships, Under-23 World Championships, and just one month before Senior World Championships, the timing on the calendar meant that the field was destined to be smaller than the usual NorAm. However the added incentive of the prize money as a result of the three races, and the Canada Cup points resulted in a strong 59 man field tackling the 4 k classic prologue on Friday afternoon.
On a primarily flat course with just one climb, the open men hammered through nice, if slightly soft conditions.
Nishikawa powered through the short race in just 9 minutes and 54.8 seconds. Stefan Kuhn of the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) finished second, four seconds back of Nishikawa. American Tim Reynolds of Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) broke up the Canadian party, finishing 13.6 seconds behind Nishikawa to land on the third step of the podium.
As tends to happen in prologues, times were close – fourth place David Greer (Pierre Harvey National Training Center) was just .6 of a second off of the podium, and fifth place Drew Goldsack was a mere .1 of a second further back.
“I felt strong overall,” Nishikawa said in an e-mail to FasterSkier, “I have been working on my double poling so it was nice to see that pay off.”
While Nishikawa was happy to get the win, he recognized that the mini-tour isn’t won on the first day.
“Lots can happen in the mini tour format and there is still 30 km to go,” he said. “One bad day and you’re out of contention. It ain’t over till it’s over.”
And Nishikawa will face a serious challenge in Kuhn, among others. While the Vancouver Olympic veteran is primarily a sprinter, and will go to World Championships for Canada as such, he can also distance ski well. Kuhn won the first Haywood NorAm mini-tour of the season in Rossland, B.C., and his quick finishing speed gives him an additional weapon in the difficult three stage event.
The NorAm racing continues Saturday with a 10 k classic interval start, while Sunday is a 20 k freestyle handicap-start for the overall win.
During the open women’s 2.5 k classic prologue, which featured mostly double-poling, Workun-Hill was the surprise victor in a 33 woman field with some big names, but lacking depth.
The 18 year old junior put 7.2 seconds into Brittney Webster (AWCA), and 11.7 seconds into fellow junior Camille Pepin (CNEPH), who finished third.
While the two juniors turned in strong performances, one of the biggest surprises was who wasn’t on the podium, as U.S. Ski Team’s Liz Stephen finishing 4th. Stephen, who was recently selected to the US squad for World Championships, and at least on paper appeared to be the strongest woman in the field, finished 12.6 seconds behind Workun-Hill.
However, the next two races are longer, which is more of Stephen’s strength. The World Cup and Olympic veteran who placed 18th in La Clusaz, France, in a 15 k freestyle just before Christmas can take solace in the fact that the next two days will feature distance racing.
On Saturday the women will compete in a 7.5 k classic interval start, and the event wraps up with a 15 k freestyle handicap-start.