(Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Andy Shields on his pursuit win.)
The NorAm series continued last weekend with a two-day pursuit in Mont Sainte-Anne, Quebec. While this format hasn’t been used at this level in Canada for three years, the Ski Tour Canada in early March will have two pursuit days.
Cendrine Browne, of the national U23 development team and Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH), won Saturday’s 5-kilometre classic individual start in 14:37.3 to lead a U23 and CNEPH podium sweep. Sophie Carrier-Laforte finished 7.2 seconds back in second, followed by Frédérique Vézina at 30 seconds behind the winner in third.
Browne was the only European B-Tour skier to race this weekend after arriving back from Nove Mesto, Czech Republic (where she represented Canada on the World Cup), five days earlier on Monday, Jan. 25.
“I chose to race because I would have done intensity anyways on Saturday,” Browne wrote in an email. The convenience of racing on her home trails at Mont Sainte-Anne (M.S.A.) added to the appeal.
“I wasn’t sure if I would do Sunday’s race, but I’m in good shape so I’ll do it,” Browne wrote on Saturday. “The Noram points are also interesting if I win.”
Browne did win Sunday’s 10 k freestyle pursuit. With Carrier-Laforte not starting, she started 30 seconds ahead of Vézina and expanded her lead to 1:29.1 with the fastest time of the day in 27:51.3. Browne was ranked fifth going into the weekend and, with the top three in the overall NorAm standings absent, her convincing victory on Sunday will give her the leader’s bib for next weekend.
Vézina started second, with three other racers within 10 seconds of her. While she was happy with Saturday’s classic podium, noting “5km has never been my strong suit,” she was frustrated with her pursuit, in which she placed fifth, 2:29.1 behind Browne. “My skis were so slow that the girls passed me in the first downhill like I was stopped,” Vézina wrote in an email.
Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt, of Canada’s U23+ Development Team, started sixth and pulled away from Annika Hicks (Canmore), who started fourth, to take second. Crossing the line nearly a minute and a half (1:29.1) after Browne, Bouffard-Nesbitt held off Hicks by 5.9 seconds for the second spot on the podium. Hicks placed third (+1:35).
“I initially wanted to work with someone to try and make time on the leader,” Bouffard-Nesbitt wrote in an email. “After gauging the willingness of the skiers around me to chase Cendrine, I decided that instead I would try to race tactically for second place. I shared the lead with Annika for most of the race as we distanced ourselves from 4th and 5th.”
Also on her hometown trails, Marie Corriveau (CNEPH) improved one place to finish fourth (+2:25.1), 4 seconds ahead of Vézina to repeat as top junior woman on Day 2 at M.S.A.
NDC Thunder Bay All the Way
On the men’s side, Bob Thompson of the Thunder Bay National Development Centre (NDC) took his first NorAm distance win on Saturday, finishing the 10 k classic individual start in 26:12.2, just 0.3 seconds faster than teammate Andy Shields. Michael Somppi completed the Thunder Bay podium sweep, 14.5 seconds behind Thompson in third.
“[It] feels very good to get my first Distance NorAm win and share the podium with my teammates,” Thompson wrote in an email. “I enjoyed the course: it was challenging with some quick climbs and some longer more gradual climbing sections that you really had to focus to keep your speed up on.”
“The race today was good,” Shields wrote on Saturday. “I felt like I was in shape which is a feeling I’ve been missing up to this point. I could push hard and not pay the price in heavy limbs.”
Shields noted that he and Thompson would start the pursuit together, giving them the opportunity to work cohesively to stay ahead of Somppi, a strong skate skier.
However, on Sunday in the men’s 15 k freestyle pursuit, Somppi quickly caught the two frontrunners.
“Today, tactics were pretty simple,” Somppi wrote in an email. “I went out fast, caught Andy and Bob early. I put myself in a position to contend for the win, but I did not have the energy to make it happen.”
Somppi faded to fourth, posting the seventh-fastest time on the day. Thompson also struggled, eventually outsprinting a group of six to finish ninth.
“Bob led out the first km then I went to the front,” Shields explained in an email after Sunday’s race. “I figured the pace needed to be quite high to maintain the gap to the rest of the field so when I started to lead I picked up the pace. By 2km in I could hear Bob behind me dropping off the pace. I didn’t know at the time but Somppi caught us just as I was pulling away. I skied a nerve-racking 13km out front for the rest of the race with Somppi within 15 seconds of me for most of it. It was pretty stressful, but it ended up being the winning strategy.”
Shields held strong and skied uncontested to the win in 37:09.3, the fastest time of the day and 45 seconds ahead of second and third.
After starting the pursuit fifth and seventh, respectively, Evan Palmer-Charette (NDC Thunder Bay) and Brian McKeever, of the Para Nordic World Cup Team, separated themselves from the second chase group to fight for the podium. Palmer-Charette beat McKeever by the slimmest of margins to take second, 45 seconds behind Shields, while McKeever placed third with the same time. Somppi finish 11.1 seconds later in fourth.
McKeever could have been at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but according to Cross Country Canada, he opted to try for a Ski Tour Canada selection.
Somppi was disappointed with his energy and his fourth place.
“The trails were super and I enjoyed the skiing here,” he wrote. “I would prefer to be training right now and avoiding racing, however I have to qualify for the Tour and I believe I did enough to stay in contention this weekend.”
The NorAm now moves to Gatineau in western Quebec, starting with sprint racing on Friday. Jess Cockney is back from Europe for his first North American races of the season. Of more than 780 registered racers, the only notable absentee is Andrea Dupont, who is slated to race for Canada on the World Cup in Drammen, Norway, this Wednesday as the NorAm leader.
- 10 k freestyle pursuit
- 5 k classic
- Andrea Dupont
- Andy Shields
- Annika Hicks
- Bob Thompson
- Brian McKeever
- cendrine browne
- Evan Palmer-Charette
- frederique vezina
- Jess Cockney
- Marie Corriveau
- Michael Somppi
- mont sainte-anne
- Mont Sainte-Anne NorAm
- Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt
- Skibec Nordique
- Sophie Carrier-Laforte