As all eyes shift to the fast-approaching Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the domestic-racing show resumed in Cantley, Québec, where nearly 700 skiers competed at the three-day Canadian Eastern Championships last weekend. The NorAm was back in full swing after a short break, which gave time to those who didn’t qualify for the Olympics to regroup and return stronger and faster.
The championships started with freestyle sprints on Friday. Raphaël Couturier of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH) topped the field in the men’s 1.5-kilometere qualifier in 3:20.35, 5.7 seconds ahead of Graham Nishikawa (Canadian Senior Development/Para-Nordic Team) and another 0.09 seconds ahead of Michael Somppi (Alberta World Cup Academy), who advanced in third. In the final, it was the same trio who took the podium spots in the same order.
“I had great skis prepared by [Skinouk coach Pierre-Olivier] Dorego and I felt that I had a lot of energy to give, especially in the sprint where I gave everything from the start, opening a gap over the rest of the guys,” Couturier wrote in an email.
Despite the absence of some of the best Canadian skiers, who were racing the World Cup in Italy, Couturier was “very happy to be back in good shape. I did a lot of volume in the last two weeks and it seems to have worked well. It is a relief and it gives me confidence for the races to come!”
In his first year as a senior, the victory was his first in a senior NorAm competition.
In the 1.4 k women’s sprint, Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers) set the fastest qualification time in 3:45.63, 1 second ahead of Alysson Marshall (AWCA/NST). A junior, Jennifer Jackson (NDC Thunder Bay) was third, another 1.52 seconds behind, in the qualifier.
At the end of the day Marshall took the victory, Dupont finished second and Erin Tribe (NDC Thunder Bay) took the last spot of the podium for her best result of the season.
“The weekend was good. I love racing out east,” Dupont wrote in an email. “It is fun coming back and racing in some of the places I did when I was younger. The east has great snow this year and trails were in amazing condition. Nakkertok always puts on a good race and I always look forward to the Montreal style bagels at the end :)”
Saturday was middle-distance day with individual starts. In the women’s 10 k freestyle, Dupont started fast then hung on with the third-fastest second lap to beat Zoe Roy (Team Ninja) by 17.8 seconds in 28:37.3. Tribe outsprinted teammate Alannah Maclean (NDC Thunder Bay) by 0.3 seconds for third, 38.2 seconds behind Dupont. Marshall, who skied the fastest second lap, placed fifth (+45.5).
In the men’s 15 k freestyle, Nishikawa led from start to finish to top Couturier by 13.4 seconds in 36:28.5. Somppi once again took bronze, 31.1 seconds after Nishikawa. Kevin Sandau (AWCA/NST) was nearly another minute behind in fourth (+1:29.0).
“I felt great last weekend at Easterns — lots of energy,” Nishikawa, who’s headed to the Sochi Paralympics in March, wrote in an email. “It was nice to feel good racing again. Pretty cool to see how many skiers participated.”
“The 15K skate was again a great race,” Couturier wrote. “I had a fast start and I managed to keep up the speed.”
Fifteen to 20 centimetres of fresh fell overnight before Sunday’s classic mass starts. In the men’s 20 k, Nishikawa outlasted Somppi by nearly 30 seconds for the win in 58:52.1. Somppi held off Christopher Hamilton (AWCA) by a toe in a photo finish for second (+29.3). Hamilton took third, and Sandau placed fourth, another 17.4 seconds back.
Marshall picked up where she had left off on Friday to capture her second win of the mini tour in 52:33.6. Dupont placed second, 6.7 seconds back, and Roy was third, 9 seconds after Marshall. Another 1:03.5 behind, Tribe and Maclean tied for fourth.
“I was super happy with my distance results this weekend,” Dupont wrote. “I haven’t had much chance to race distance this year, so it was fun to take my focus off of sprinting for the weekend.
“My weekend went very well,” Somppi wrote. “I am happy to have been able to hit the podium in every race. I was really hoping for a victory, but hats off to Graham and Raphael, they were both really strong this weekend. My racing shape is continuing to improve and I feel my best is not far away now.”
Next Stop: Europe
Cross Country Canada is organizing a European racing tour mid-February, and while no official announcements have been made yet, some athletes will head over the pond to gain international experience. For those that don’t make it overseas, the next NorAm races will be the Western Canadian Championships Feb. 13-16 at Caledonia Nordic in Prince George, B.C.
“I had decided of regardless what happened this weekend I was going to head over to Europe and race some OPA’s,” Dupont wrote. “Now, there might be some other opportunities for me. I am waiting to hear about the CCC OPA trip and maybe some World Cup starts in March.”
“I will be departing next week to Europe for Scandinavian cup races and hopefully the Lahti World Cup,” Somppi explained. “I’m really looking forward to racing in Europe and hopefully having my best races of the season while I’m there.”
— 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!