The Canadian Noram series wrapped up with the Western Canadians mini-tour in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Graeme Killick (AWCA) and Alana Thomas (Nakkertok) crossed the finish line first on Sunday to take the overall victory.
Competition was intense despite the reduced field, with most of the racers from eastern Canada avoiding the travel and four of the usual suspects busy in Val di Fiemme.
In Friday’s classic sprint, Heidi Widmer (AWCA) crossed ahead of Alysson Marshall (AWCA) and Kate Brennan (AWCA). Widmer was thrilled with the win; Marshall on the other hand was a bit frustrated crossing the line in second.
“Friday went okay for me, I didn’t feel great in my qualifier but started feeling better as the heats went on,” she told FasterSkier. “I didn’t ski the final as tactically well as I wanted to but I was satisfied with the final result.”
Jess Cockney (AWCA) outsprinted Brent McMurty (Foothills) and fastest qualifier Andy Shields (Thunder Bay NDC) in the men’s final. Michael Somppi (AWCA) narrowly missed out on the podium to shields after what he called “a mixup in the finishing lanes.”
Saturday was classic distance interval starts in tricky waxing conditions. Amanda Ammar (AWCA) finished in 31:56.0 to beat Thomas by 49 seconds, with Annika Hicks (AWCA) a further ten seconds back in the 10km event.
“I was out on a mission,” Ammar told FasterSkier. “These trails were tailored perfect for me. Lots of striding, many exchanges, and technical downhills. I went out hard and made a gap early. It was a fantastic race, and I was pumped to have two classic podiums in a row.”
Thomas, though, was happy with her race too.
“I felt pretty good but had AMAZING skis thanks to help from the Foothills coaches, conditions were a little tricky so this played a big part,” she reported.
Killick led the men’s 15km race in 40:27.1, with Kevin Sandau (AWCA) 41 seconds behind and Cockney at 1:01.
Sunday’s 15km skate pursuit began with Ammar starting 12 seconds ahead of Thomas and 15 seconds ahead of Hicks. Widmer skied the fastest in 43:24.46 to move from sixth to third and the final podium spot for the weekend. Thomas quickly caught Ammar and won the sprint for the mini-tour title, with Thomas also taking the second fastest time for the day ahead of Ammar in third.
The men closed out the weekend with a 30km skate pursuit. Killick began the day with a 37 second lead and finished with 45 seconds, earning the second fastest time for the day with 1:14:06.6. Cockney started in second and was caught by fourth starter Michael Somppi (AWCA). Cockney edged Somppi at the line to take second overall with third starter Sandau sliding back to fourth overall while taking 5th for the day.
FasterSkier contacted the podium finishers, and got comments about their races as well as the weekend on the whole and the wrap-up of the Canadian NorAm season.
Widmer: I am really happy with the way my body responded this weekend. I haven’t done that much consecutive racing yet this season and have missed it! It’s such a fun and demanding format and having two skate races worked well for me. It is great to be able to stand on a podium again as well as traveling with the whole team together feels great. It’s been awhile since we’ve travelled with this big of a team this season and feels great – especially when everyone is doing so well!
Hicks: As a whole, the weekend was really good. Two out of three races were really good, so I’m happy about that. I’m disappointed Sunday didn’t go better, because it would have been nice to fight for a podium position in the overall standings, but sometimes the body won’t let that happen. I was happy to hang onto 5th.
Ammar: These mini tours are great fun! Obviously I would of liked to have done better in the sprint, but I’m so pumped about how good my classic race went. I’ve been feeling quite strong in this race, and it’s nice to see that it’s becoming consistent. Overall, this was a great weekend!
Shields: Westerns was a great set of races for me. I wasn’t planning on making the long trip of Grande Prairie, but I decided to go around two weeks ago when I found out the flights were so cheap. Thunder Bay didn’t sent any coaches to this event so I got race support from the Augustana Vikings and their coach Les Parsons.
Somppi: Overall it was a good weekend of racing. It felt good to be on the podium for the mini-Tour this time instead of finishing one step off in fourth like I did at Eastern Canadian Championships.
Widmer: Sprint day was my focus and I wanted to put everything on the line in the qualification to see what would come of it – I was pleased to have it pay off on a speedy course. There was a lot of time between heats because there were a lot of racers to get through with the Juniors as well, so I did my best to conserve energy and not let my mind get too far from ski racing. The final was really fun – I just hammered from the gate and hoped I wouldn’t see anyone in my peripheral. My goal for the weekend was to take the win in the sprint and it’s my first NorAm title of the season so a great early birthday present!
Thomas: I was pumped to make my first A-final of the year on Friday, unfortunately I crashed myself out of contention but felt awesome so was stoked for the rest of the weekend.
Hicks: I had one of the best sprints of my life. I made the A final for my first time as a senior so that was exciting. I felt a little out of place standing on the start line in the final. I just tried to stay with the leaders as long as possible, but ran out of steam at the end. I can’t complain about a 5th place in a sprint though!
Ammar: I was very disappointed with the sprint. I unfortunately fell in the qualification, and ended up having a high bib number, and since they weren’t timing heats, I ended up in a stacked first heat and didn’t even making it into the semi’s.
Shields: The Mini-tours started off with one of my best sprint qualifiers of my career and I was able to make it to the A-final without too much trouble. In the final I was able to squeak onto the podium with a lunge. It was my first Senior NorAm podium of my career.
Widmer: The classic day was tough. It was really abrasive and transformed snow with a glazed track which meant a lot of running for me. Although it wasn’t my strongest race and didn’t play to my strengths, I came away with a lot of lessons learned about my ski selection as well as my body in classic skiing.
Hicks: The 10km classic the next day went really well too. The conditions were really challenging. It was really icy and abrasive. I think everyone struggled a little with grip, but the Academy especially. Our glide was great, though. I was slipping a lot right off the start and thought “Oh no, this is not going to go well” but I just tried make it work and kept pushing. I crashed pretty hard on one of the downhills, which was unfortunately right when Amanda passed me, so I didn’t get a chance to ski with her. I was a little surprised I finished 3rd because I didn’t feel smooth at all, but I knew I put in a good effort.
Marshall: Saturday was pretty rough, I was tired and struggled for kick on some sections so the race felt like a slog. I have been dealing with some ongoing health issues with my thyroid and have been tired and having trouble recovering. I decided not to race on Sunday to give my body a chance to get back on track and not get too beat down from three days of racing on tired legs.
Somppi: The classic distance wasn’t great. I started well, skiing a strong opening 5km lap, but couldn’t hold the pace and crashed towards the end of my second lap.
Thomas: Sunday was just a total blast. I started 12 seconds down on my good friend Amanda and worked to catch her asap in the first few kilometers. From there we skied together and let it come to a sprint finish. I’ve never won a NorAM before so it was really great to do it on such a fun day!
Widmer: The 15k Skate race went really well for me. I’ve done a lot of work on skating, especially one skate, this past training season and I have come to rely on it in the distance races. I started 6th, 1:08 back from the lead and after finding out Alysson was a scratch I knew I wanted to get Zoe and Annika in my sights as soon as possible on the winding race trails so that I would be motivated to catch them. It’s like hunting season in the pursuit races! A really fun format. After about 7km I caught Annika and Zoe, Annika had a crash so Zoe and I skied the second half of the race together and she gave me an awesome push. I put my head to the ground in the last 1.5km and did everything in my power to knock off as many seconds as possible to secure a 3rd place overall on the weekend and my first ever distance NorAm win.
Hicks: The 15km skate was the biggest disappointment of the weekend. Usually, it’s my favourite race because I’m generally a stronger skater, and I was in a really good position (only 27 seconds back of Amanda in first). Unfortunately, my legs had nothing left in them, and I knew it right off the start. I really struggled to keep my turnover high, my legs were so heavy. I crashed on the downhill again, which really didn’t help matters. The whole race was just a struggle.
Ammar: I’m happy with the skate race, with me skate races can go two ways, good or really really bad. Luckily Alana and I worked together kept the pace consistent, got a big enough gap that no one was a threat to catch us, then we battled at the last 100meters to the finish. I didnt race a gutsy race like the classic, but tried for a more tactical. Alana got me by a boot, and even though I was so close to winning, I still have to be happy with this result.
Somppi: I started the final pursuit race in 4th place, much further behind the leader than I would have liked to be. I had a tall task of making up 1 minute and 4 seconds on tour leader Graeme Killick. Fortunately it was a skate 30km, which is a good race for me, so I figured I had a chance. Graeme ended up skiing a very good race and held off all the challengers to win the mini-Tour. I did my best to pace the 30km well and finish fast. The final 6km I emptied the tank completely and was able to catch Jesse a few hundred metres from the finish line. Knowing Jesse’s sprinting abilities I executed the best strategy I could think of, blowing by him on the final short climb and trying to hang on to a small gap to the finish line. Unfortunately I didn’t get enough of a gap and he was able to tail me into the finish lanes then ski up beside me and win in an photo finish.
Full results are at zone4, with separate sprint qualifying and heats results, individual-start results, and then final-stage times and overall standings.