QUEBEC CITY — After the World Cup sprints took place in the historic part of the city last year, Quebec City recently saw another spectacle in cross-country skiing, with Laval University bringing the action even closer to the crowd. With the help of local Olympic skiing hero Pierre Harvey, organizers created Sprint Rouge et Or with a “last-to-go” formula, a new event on the athletics track at the Rouge et Or football stadium.
This past Tuesday night, close to 125 athletes participated in the inaugural race on manmade snow at the Laval University campus. The cold temperature didn’t stop the enthusiasm of skiers from ages 7 to 54, and a couple of “retired” skiers even put their skis on.
Harvey, the father of Quebec’s current nordic-skiing favorite Alex Harvey, designed he 400-metre track complete with several bumps — some as high as 10 meters — to challenge the skiers. On Tuesday, it was well-groomed with hard-packed snow.
Compared to other urban sprints, the biggest difference and advantage was that spectators could visually follow racers from start to finish, seeing all of the action. The big screen at the opposite end of the field was great for zooming in on the expressions and emotions of skiers as they passed by the camera.
With a friendly atmosphere, good vibes filled the stadium as well-known commentator Randy Ferguson gave the play-by-play. The evening started with a sprint prologue for all 11 categories. The beauty of the event was that anybody could enter it.
“We had a great participation of skiers in the region but also outside,” event director Martin Guay said in a Rouge et Or press release, according to a translation. “The course was world-class through the snow HKD Turbo and the work of the groomer Printoh, Inc., not to mention the efforts of volunteers and field staff of the Department of Sports Laval University.”
The big show started at 21:00 [9 p.m.] with the last-to-go: eight laps for the women and 10 for the men. Racers had two laps to position themselves in the pack before elimination started, after which the last four skiers on each lap were pulled out. The idea was to have six or seven skiers remaining for the final lap.
The women separated quickly after Canadian national-team biathlete Claude Godbout broke away at the beginning of the second lap. Only Camille Pepin of Laval could match her pace. There were a couple of good battles at the end of the pack to stay in the race. Godbout ended up winning, Laval’s Pepin and Myriam Paquette finished second and third, respectively.
The men’s race was closer to the finish with a pack of 20 fighting sticking together. After 10 laps, Laval’s David Grégoire outsprinted biathlete Marc-André Bédard and Frédéric Touchette (Laval) to take the win. Bédard placed second and Touchette was third.
Overall it was a great evening despite some delays; most everyone seemed to really enjoy the moment. After expecting a smaller turnout for its first event, organizers are planning future sprints there and hoping to one day fill the 15,000-capacity stadium.
While the spectacle drew participants from various regions in Quebec, organizers are considering inviting athletes from other Canadian universities as well as the U.S. According to the release, the Rouge et Or team already participates annually in about half a dozen of NCAA races in the northeastern U.S.
“We’re already thinking about next year!” Guay said.
— Alex Matthews contributed reporting
A former competitive cyclist and cross-country skier on Canada’s National Junior Team, Stéphanie Drolet is a Canadian contributor at FasterSkier. She was a forerunner at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and competed at the 2008 World Junior Championships. A journalism student at Laval University in Quebec, Stephanie still skis and rides for fun and to stay in shape. Don’t be surprised to find a few of her articles in French!