It’s not as if one of the top two men on this year’s NorAm circuit really had an advantage.
While Kevin Sandau had more recently heaved himself up the grinding hills at the Canmore Nordic Centre with his Alberta World Cup Academy teammates, both he and Brent McMurtry (Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre) spent plenty of time training there with the Canadian National Ski Team.
Both Senior Development Team members, Sandau and McMurtry also grew up skiing together with the Foothills Nordic Ski Club an hour away in Calgary, Alberta.
Essentially, both were favored to win Friday’s 10 k classic interval start, which opened a three-day NorAm mini tour known as the Western Canadian Championships.
McMurtry did his part in proving his first win of the season last weekend was no fluke, winning the 10 k by 21.4 seconds in 27:33.7. Sandau was second, and Erik Carleton (Rocky Mountain Racers) placed third (+25.8).
Before McMurtry’s last race — the 15 k classic interval start in Whistler, British Columbia – he was runner-up to Sandau in every NorAm distance race this season. He placed second in every other NorAm race, too, except the freestyle sprints in Whistler, where he was fourth.
On Friday, McMurtry decided to go out hard and hold it. With three relentless laps, marked by two hills and few flats, he said he felt the effects of that effort on the last lap, yet tried to stay relaxed regardless.
“I knew that I had a pretty good lead,” McMurtry said. “[With] only 3.2 k left, I was fairly certain I was going to win. Knowing it was a mini tour and the first day made me push harder and made me want to keep fighting through. … People were yelling at me to push for every second.”
The leader after the first lap, McMurtry was 6.7 seconds ahead of Graham Nishikawa (AWCA), who started 30 seconds behind him. By the second lap, McMurtry lengthened the gap to 24.4 seconds ahead of second place. By then, Sandau had worked his way from fourth to second overall. Carleton was close behind in third.
“[I] tried to go out strong at the start, but similar to last weekend, I guess Brent got most of his time on the first lap,” Sandau said. “He’s been the contender that I need to beat so far this season. He’s been the big target.”
After Carleton, David Greer (Whitehorse) finished fourth, and Raphaël Couturier (Skibec) was fifth.
Brian McKeever, Carleton’s adaptive nordic teammate and Foothills skier, was sixth. The two have already won several medals earlier this season at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup, with McKeever, who is legally blind, working with Carleton as a guide.
At 33, Carleton achieved his best individual result since 2007 in Canmore on Friday. He placed fourth in a NorAm 30 k last year, but had not been as close to third since.
“I knew it was just a matter of time before I had a really good race,” Carleton said. “Last week, I was in it for the first two-thirds, and this time I held it the whole way.”
He ended up eighth in the 15 k classic in Whistler. In the same race, McKeever was fifth.
“I just wanted to be a little more consistent at maintaining my pace and whatever happens, happens,” Carleton said. “And it seemed to work out today.”
Rounding out the top 10, Geoffrey Richards (Black Jack) was the top junior in seventh. Phil Widmer (AWCA) was eighth, Nishikawa placed ninth and Michael Somppi (NDC Thunder Bay) was 10th.
Competition continues Saturday with freestyle sprints, followed by a freestyle distance pursuit on Sunday.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.