Despite not feeling it in the beginning, Kevin Sandau had time to figure his body out in the Haywood NorAm men’s 30 k skiathlon on Thursday at Whistler Olympic Park in Whistler, British Columbia.
For the first half of the eight-lap race, Sandau, a member of the Alberta World Cup Academy and Canadian National Ski Team, decided to let others lead. By others, that mostly meant Brent McMurtry of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH).
McMurtry opened with a fast pace in the classic portion of the race, and until nearly the halfway point, he led Sandau and Graham Nishikawa, also of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) and Canadian National Ski Team (CNST).
The idea had been to drop the chase group and extend the top three’s gap on the fourth man. After the race, McMurtry said he should have tried to drop Sandau, who launched an attack on the final hill and outsprinted McMurtry to the finish, winning by 0.1 seconds in 1:17:45.9.
The victory was Sandau’s third in five NorAm races this season. He has won every distance race to date, but 30 k was twice as long as the previous 15 k classic individual start (Sovereign Lake) and 15 k freestyle mass start (Rossland).
McMurtry has yet to place anything other than second in five NorAms so far, several of which he also lost by only a few centimeters. Nishikawa was third (+16.0) on Thursday in his first NorAm appearance this year since racing the World Cup in Europe.
“I’m really happy with the result,” Sandau said in a phone conversation on Thursday. “I haven’t felt too great the past couple days skiing … the skate definitely felt better. I had better legs at that point.”
In response to how he felt classic skiing, Sandau said he decided to let McMurtry lead while he focused on staying relaxed. McMurtry said he felt good throughout the race, but kept wondering whether someone else — namely Sandau or Nishikawa — would take a turn up front.
For the most part, neither did until after the transition midway through. There, the three-man lead group started the skate portion together, and each knew it would be hard to pull out a winning move on such a fast and hard-packed course.
Sandau said he attacked the last hill a few hundred meters before the stadium. McMurtry responded, but said he struggled a bit on the following corner. Sprinting into the stadium, McMurtry said he ran out of room at the finish.
“Last year this definitely wouldn’t happen,” Sandau said. “I’d be the guy finishing second in the sprints. It’s good to know I figured something out.”
Until this year, Sandau had never won a NorAm race. He was third in the freestyle sprints in Rossland, British Columbia, before the holiday break.
While McMurtry was happy to put down a strong pace, he said he didn’t have the surges needed to win Thursday’s skiathlon.
“I think it’s more psychological than anything else,” he said of leading for more than 12 k. “I wanted to lead, and I wanted it to be hard and I wanted it to be a small group. But at the same time, I didn’t have the guts to be alone.
“Looking back, I kind of wish that I would have attempted to go away in classic,” McMurtry added. “Who knows what would have happened.”
Nishikawa fell behind on the final hill, where he said he felt a bit rusty. After last racing in Rogla, Slovenia, Nishikawa returned home around Christmas and had high expectations for his first NorAm race.
“I was hoping for obviously better results, but it’s been a long way over,” Nishikawa said. “It was definitely kind of like a wake-up race for me, but I don’t have that final gear for the finish. … The last hill coming into the stadium, that’s were all the moves were going to be made, and I didn’t have it.”
The top U23 male of the day in the Canadian World Junior/U23 trials, Graeme Killick (AWCA) was fourth overall. Paralympic gold medalist Brian McKeever, who is sight-impaired and skis for the Foothills Nordic Ski Club, finished fifth.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.