QUEBEC CITY – When Canadian cross-country skiers Len Valjas and Devon Kershaw went to get coffee on Thursday, they didn’t have to wander the streets looking for a good spot, as they do when they’re on the World Cup circuit in Europe. Instead, they headed straight for a place called Le Nektar.
“We know where everything is,” Kershaw said. “We didn’t just go to a random café.”
For the first time since the Vancouver Olympics, in 2010, the world’s elite cross-country skiers have traveled across the pond, for a pair of race weekends in Quebec and Alberta.
Since the American and Canadian national ski teams had been racing in Scandinavia through Sunday, they’re suffering from sore legs and jet lag just like their European counterparts. Nonetheless, the transatlantic swing has upended the typical order on the World Cup circuit: the North Americans are racing on home turf, while the Europeans are an ocean away from theirs.
That’s afforded the local teams several perks.
The U.S. team, for example, didn’t have to ship all their waxing equipment back from Europe; instead, they could use irons and benches supplied by American clubs.
Instead of staying at the race hotel in Quebec City, the Canadian men have been sleeping at the nearby home of Alex Harvey, where the team enjoyed a Christmas dinner with presents and a tree.
“Even though it’s not our home, it’s a home,” Valjas said.
And for once, it’s the Europeans who had to pack adapters for their electronics—something Kershaw relished when he was asked about it by a German competitor, Jens Filbrich.
“We were like, ‘Sorry buddy, you have to pack that 1960s brick to transform your power,’” Kershaw said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for years.”
From an athletic and logistical standpoint, the playing field for the Quebec City competitions will be largely level. The sprint course is a new one this season, so despite the fact that the race will be held near Harvey’s hometown, the Canadians don’t have any extra experience with the track.
And since the heavy hitters on the two North American teams were racing in Finland last weekend, they’re no less jet lagged than the Europeans.
“Our guys look tired at night as much as everybody else,” said Chris Grover, the head coach of the U.S. team. “I think everyone’s kind of catching their breath.”
The advantages are mostly around the margins. There’s some extra equipment: the U.S. squad, for example, brought four exercise bikes for warm-ups, supplied by a pair of Vermont club teams.
And there are also friends and family: Kikkan Randall, the star American woman, had the support of her mother while she took laps of the sprint course on Thursday.
Andy Newell, the American sprinter from Vermont, has a contingent of some 25 people traveling to watch him race in Quebec City, including one of his youth coaches, plus a crew of buddies driving up in a converted white schoolbus, complete with couches and a full bar.
“It’s not going to be any different racing,” Newell said. “But it’ll be fun afterwards.”
For the Europeans, the travel to North America offers some inconveniences, but also some nice changes—especially since this weekend’s races are taking place in an urban setting, with racers staying in the plush Hilton Quebec.
“Everything is bigger, and everything is new,” said Bettina Gruber, a Swiss racer.
Most Europeans, Gruber said, “are not used to traveling” so far to get to races.
She too had to remember to pack an adapter. But on the other hand, Gruber added, the food in Canada has been “at least as good” as what’s available in Scandinavia—and even offers some novelties.
“I’m really into the Greek yogurt,” she said.
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Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.
December 6, 2012 at 7:47 pm
Welcome back, Nat! Enjoy the races!
December 6, 2012 at 11:07 pm
Nat, great stuff as always, but would Quebec really be considered ‘home turf’ for Americans?? To me it would be saying like Swedes and Norwegians racing in Falun and the Norwegians calling it home turf as well because it’s in Scandinavia! Should be a fun two weeks following the races in Canada!! Thank you guys again for providing first class coverage of all things nordic and especially the recent Bozeman Super Tours!!
December 7, 2012 at 2:18 am
davord, to many of us that did lots of skiing in the East, Quebec is a second home where so many early seasons were spent logging hours. Bozeman is not the skiing centre of the universe.
Great writing Herz. Good to see some humor in the nordic zone!
December 7, 2012 at 10:12 am
Good morning to you too Todd. I am sure a number of current Americans racing have done training and/or raced in Quebec. I don’t think you got my point, but that’s ok. You are right though, Bozeman isn’t the skiing centre of the universe. I don’t think there is one, way too many good centers/resorts to really pick one. If there was one though, I’d say it would be Cheboygan. I am not sure where you saw me mention this in my previous comment, I was just commending Fasterskier on the great coverage of the Super Tour races last week, nothing less, nothing more. They had a reporter up here and she did a great job summarizing the races. I am sure it will be much of the same in Quebec and Canmore.
December 7, 2012 at 11:37 am
You can get a hint of how much the European gunners like to travel to the US by looking over the names who race here today and the following days. Lots of them have excuses for not coming and many of them are legit; ie, travel across the pond can be debilitating and as doctors might say, isn’t “indicated” as a road to success on the circuit. But, the North Americans have been putting up with lots of their own travel for years when they go to Europe and will have to continue to do so.l
December 7, 2012 at 11:51 am
Davord – I see your point about USA-Canada vs Norway-Sweden, but I don’t think it is quite the best comparison. caldxski points toward a common bond shared by the US and Canadian skiers and fans – it’s North America vs the world in a sense. I think this makes any venue in North America effectively home-turf for any North American, even if that individual hasn’t even raced or trained at that venue before. Norwegians and Swedes seem to be bitter rivals of each other, and, although I’m sure there is of course friendly rivalry I don’t get the same rivalry feel from USA-Canada. I know Newell says that it won’t affect his racing, I can’t believe that it would hurt to have his high school coach, family and drunk Vermont friends screaming for him on the sidelines and waving USA flags.
Not only all of that, but FIS effectively also considers all races in North America home turf for both USA and Canada by giving both of them home-nation starting rights for all races in North America.
Go USA! Go Canada! Can’t wait for the races to start!