On a frosty day in Canmore, Alberta, Emily Nishikawa (AWCA) skied to her third NorAm victory of the season, winning the women’s five-kilometer classic by 5.4 seconds over Alana Thomas (Nakkertok Nordic).
Alysson Marshall (Larch Hills/CNT) finished third.
With temperatures recorded at -15C (5F) organizers decided to move the classic distance races from Saturday to Friday, swapping with the freestyle sprint. Concerns of cancellation due to cold also motivated a contingency plan that involved a one-day pursuit with a break on Saturday, and the cancellation of the sprint.
But the mercury climbed above the legal limit, good news for Nishikawa who continued a consistent season at the top of the domestic circuit, while drawing first blood in the first stage of a three-race mini-tour.
She continued a streak of top-10 finishes—in eight NorAm races, she has finished no worse than ninth, and has now won three of her last four starts.
“I was definitely excited to race again today,” Nishikawa told FasterSkier. “It was a short course, it was tough, especially because it was so cold.”
The race featured two 2.5k laps on the notoriously challenging Canmore courses.
Because of the short distance, Nishikawa planned to be aggressive from the gun.
“Because it’s such a short race I wanted to start hard,” she said. “I did fade on the second lap, but I had the quick first lap so I was able to stay ahead.”
At the end of the first loop, Nishikawa was 7.3 seconds up on both Thomas and Marshall, so her fade, while not inconsequential, was not dramatic.
She pointed to the significant rest at the end of the lap, as the course dropped back to the stadium, as key, allowing good recovery for the second round and the finish push.
While the race for first was close, the remaining two spots on the podium were even tighter.
Marshall clocked in just .4 seconds behind Thomas, with Brittany Webster (Highland Trailblazer) another .6 seconds back in fourth.
Thomas was “super-happy” with her performance, and her season thus far.
“My goals have been top 5,” Thomas said in an interview. “I feel like I’ve been there and am kind of surprised.”
She focused on the climbs, and was not intimidated by the steep and lengthy ascents, viewing the race as “two [hard hill] intervals,” one at the start of each lap.
“It was pretty tough, but I tried to tell myself everyone’s hurting. You’re not special,” Thomas said. “You’ve got to be good at lying to yourself.”
Marshall, who leads the season-long NorAm series, Canada’s continental cup circuit, knew exactly where she stood, receiving splits throughout the race.
“I was pretty steady the whole race except for the second climb of the second lap,” Marshall told FasterSkier. “I just didn’t have the extra oomph I needed to catch Emily [Nishikawa].”
And after entering the second lap even with Thomas, Marshall came up just a bit short in the competition for second place.
“I won one battle and lost the other one, that’s the way it goes especially for such a short race,” Marshall said.
The tight field sets up the potential for a hotly contested fight through the weekend, a series of events that is also considered the Western Canadian Championships.
The weather is supposed to shift dramatically, with temperatures forecasted to climb above freezing for Saturday’s skate sprint, though the arctic air impacted more than just the race schedule.
Settled in for the week, the frigid temps limited training opportunities.
Nishikawa said she managed only two easy skis during the week, while Thomas remained in Vancouver, so only ventured out to train on Thursday.
She noted that as a native of southern Ontario, “minus 30 is pretty cold,” though race day was “not as bad as expected.”
Marshall also minimized her efforts outdoors.
“I did a lot less time on the snow than I would have liked going into the race,” she said. “I did Zone 3 on a treadmill Wednesday. It just meant [little] skiing and very slow skis.”
Nishikawa took forty points out of Marshall’s 100 point overall NorAm lead, and passed Jessie Diggins (CXC/USST), the American who won the first four events of the season, for second on the ranking list.
Thomas is currently fourth.
Racing continues on Saturday with a freestyle sprint.
Alex Matthews contribute reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.