VERNON, British Columbia — Kevin Sandau of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) has no time for quitters, including himself. Despite not being renominated to the Canadian National Senior Team this spring, Sandau’s decision to carry on with his career as a professional nordic ski racer proved to be worthwhile as he won his third-consecutive distance race of the NorAm season (in as many races) on Sunday, the men’s 15-kilometer individual start freestyle race at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre.
“Going up the climbs, I felt super smooth with my V1 skate,” Sandau, 27, said during an in-person interview after winning Sunday’s race by 37.3 seconds in 39:05.9. “I made sure to push the flats using a strong V2 to keep the speed up. … It was one of those days where I just felt invincible.”
Though doubt shrouded Sandau’s ambition for the sport earlier this year, his latest performances appear to cast all queries aside.
After two weekends of NorAm races, the Canadian will head into the New Year with three distance titles already under his belt, which puts him in a position to potentially earn future World Cup starts as the NorAm (Continental Cup) leader.
“Third distance win in a row, I think that is a good way to end the 2015 year,” he said.
Part of Sandau’s first-place performance on Sunday stemmed from not just his in-race focus, but his pre-race routine and weekend training, he said.
“My warmup this morning felt bombproof,” Sandau said. “I also took [Saturday] off, didn’t do the sprint race, and did volume instead. … It [was] interesting to see how the body reacted to that.”
While Sandau sat out the sprint, his AWCA teammate and second-place finisher for the men’s 15 k, Knute Johnsgaard, of the national U23+ Development Team, competed both days, and reached the podium in second in both races.
“I thought I skied a good race and I am pretty happy with second,” Johnsgaard, 23, said. “But I’m still chasing that win.”
Johnsgaard’s podium on Sunday came from course knowledge and tact.
“I’ve skied this course so many times,” he said. “You’re able to push pretty hard on the uphills because there is quite a few tucking sections where you can recover after the climbs.”
While course experience was on Johnsgaard’s side, he left the Sovereign NorAm wanting a different kind of experience.
“I have a very large stack of silver medals now, and I’d like to get gold soon,” he said.
Just over 41 seconds behind Sandau, Russell Kennedy (Canmore) in third also craved the top spot on the podium.
“Everyone wants to win from the start, but I’m hoping to get better and better as the season goes on,” Kennedy said. “I feel like I’ve got a good stepping stone, and I’m going to try to keep building off of that.”
Kennedy spent most of his race getting splits for second behind Sandau, but and initially finished second 41.2 seconds after him. A later starter, Johnsgaard bumped Kennedy to third by 3.9 seconds.
On the women’s side, Dahria Beatty (AWCA/U23 Development Team) won the women’s freestyle distance race at Sovereign Lake for the second year in a row.
“I love this course,” the 21-year-old Beatty said after winning in 30:30.2, more than 32 seconds ahead of runner-up Jaqueline Mourao, originally from Brazil who trains with the Pierre Harvey Training Centre (CNEPH) in Quebec.
“I’ve been racing on this course since I was 15; I raced here with the Yukon [team when] I was a junior,” Beatty added.
With her course knowledge and Sunday’s snowfall during the race, she powered into the first climb.
“A lot of people take the first climb conservatively because they are worried about blowing up,” Beatty said. “So I skied as hard as I could and as smooth as possible. I think that’s the key to this course, especially when it is snowing.”
On the podium for the second-straight day, Andrea Dupont, (Rocky Mountain Racers) finished third, 1:02.7 after Beatty.
“Today was okay,” Dupont, 25, said. “It was a bit of a slog because it really started dumping snow when the girls got on course.”
A sprint specialist, Dupont found pacing helped her to another top finish.
“I wanted to not go out too hard, because I’m definitely a sprinter and I characteristically go out too hard and can’t hold it,” she said. “[Sunday] I went out easy and tried to hold it … and I think I’m on track.”
Another sprint favorite, Beatty came into Sunday on the hunt for a win after missing out on Saturday’s A-final.
“I was a little disappointed with not making the A-final yesterday,” she said. “I wanted to come hard today and I knew that I could do well.”
After charging up the first climb, Beatty continued to get positive splits and raced to a 32.2-second win over Mourao.
“I kept getting splits saying I was 25 seconds up on second,” said Beatty, “When you get splits like that, it makes you ski faster because of the confidence boost,” she added.
A three-time Brazilian Olympian, Mourao also felt a confidence boost after her race.
“I’ve never thought about podiums,” said the 40 year old, who’s also competed in biathlon. “And now, with the right preparation, the right skis, the opportunity I’m having, I can dream more.”
Also an adept mountain biker, Mourao believed her time spent on the bike helped her during her time spent climbing on Sunday’s course.
“I’m a mountain biker and I like climbing so the course was perfect for me,” she said.
The last weekend of racing until the New Year (and the next NorAm Jan. 14-17 in Thunder Bay, Ontario) for many of the Canadians, most feel the Sovereign Lake NorAm races were a solid close to 2015.
“This is my last race of 2015,” said Beatty. “I won’t be racing until I head to Europe after Christmas [as the Continental Cup leader] and it’s nice to finish on a positive note.”
— Gerry Furseth contributed reporting
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.