Though patterns develop and race favorites exist, winning is never a given. At least according to Cendrine Browne, the NorAm leader and overall champion of the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle at Eastern Canadian Championships last Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Nakkertok Nordic Ski Centre, Cantley, QC
“I don’t think you can get used to winning. Winning is great but every day is different,” Browne, a member of Canada’s U23 Development Team and the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH), wrote in an email.
Browne’s victory in the 10 k individual start — the second day of the three-day NorAm Eastern Championships — marked her fifth NorAm win this season, coming off back-to-back distance wins at her home NorAm in Mont Sainte-Anne, Quebec.
“I chose to ski on white bases today at everybody’s surprise, but they were really fast,” Browne explained after winning in 27:10.8 minutes.
“I didn’t pace myself, I just went hard all the time and it worked pretty well,” she added. “I felt good mentally and physically, and that helped a lot.”
Finishing 9.1 seconds behind Browne was her biggest NorAm distance rival, fellow U23 Development Team member, Dahria Beatty, of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA).
Beatty and Browne also both recently returned from World Cup races in Europe, where they teamed up with Emily Nishikawa and Maya MacIsaac-Jones in the first World Cup relay for all four women.
Rounding our Saturday’s top three for the women was Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt, of the U23+ Development Team and Rocky Mountain Racers (RMR), who finished 21.8 seconds off Browne’s winning time.
“I was getting really good splits in the first 5k (being told I was leading) and I was having a lot of fun on course,” Bouffard-Nesbitt wrote in an email. “I faded in the second half of the race, but that can be a consequence of going hard at the start, so I have no regrets.”
Also of RMR, MacIsaac-Jones, who won Friday’s freestyle sprint on the first day of Easterns, was pleased with her fourth-place finish, 43.8 seconds behind Browne.
“My race today was really good — I was 4th, which is my best distance NorAm result this year!” MacIsaac-Jones wrote in an email.
Somppi Dethrones Sandau in 15 k Skate
Also on Saturday, Michael Somppi, of the Thunder Bay National Development Centre (NDC), claimed a decisive win in the men’s 15 k freestyle. Somppi completed the course in a time of 34:45.1, besting second-place finisher Kevin Sandau (AWCA) by 25.3 seconds.
“I’m super happy I was able to get back to feeling like myself in a skate race. I was really pumped to get back onto the top step at the NorAm,” Somppi wrote in an email.
“Western’s has always been part of the plan leading up to the Tour,” Sandau wrote in an email, referring to the second set of championships, Feb. 19-21 in Prince George, British Columbia.
“Even with a [Ski Tour Canada] spot locked up now unofficially, I’ll be using it as some final hard efforts before flying out East,” he added.
The Ski Tour Canada, doubling as World Cup Finals, starts March 1 in Gatineau, Quebec, and extends through March 12 with the last four races in Canmore, Alberta.
Noting he was “pumped” to be on the podium on Saturday, Russell Kennedy, of the Canmore Nordic Ski Club, finished third, 31.2 seconds behind Somppi.
“I nailed my pacing. That was huge it really helped me as I made up a lot of time at the end,” Kennedy wrote in an email.
Kennedy also pointed to external sources of motivation during his race, including the man who started just ahead of him, Brian McKeever, of the Canadian Para-Nordic Ski Team.
“It also was good to have Brian there. He was super motivating,” Kennedy wrote.
McKeever, visually impaired, raced to fifth overall, 1:01.9 out of first and 19.6 seconds behind Knute Johnsgaard (AWCA/U23+ Development Team) in fourth.
Beatty Back On Top in Sunday’s 15 k Mass Start
Though Saturday left her chasing down Browne, Beatty positioned herself as the woman to beat by the Nakkertok course’s final climb on Sunday in the women’s 15 k classic mass start.
“My plan going into today was to stay in contact until the final climb and leave everything on that final climb,” Beatty wrote in an email on Sunday.
Despite losing contact at one point during her third lap of the 5 k loop, Beatty managed to stick to her plan. Amidst Sunday’s snowfall, the Whitehorse native left everything on the last uphill and came away with the win in 46:54.4.
“I was able to regain contact with Cendrine and my skis were gliding especially well so I was able to carry good speed into the final climb and get a gap before the downhill into the finish,” Beatty wrote.
Browne finished 7.7 seconds later in second place.
“A second place is great but I could have won…My skis were so slow!” Browne wrote in an email.
Finding herself at the back of the lead pack during the downhills, Browne put her focus into Sunday’s course climbs.
“I told myself that if I wanted to win, I would have to give everything I had in the uphills because I couldn’t count on my skis in the downhills,” Browne wrote. “So in the second last uphill, I tried to break away from the pack. It worked. I had a 10-meter gap before the second last downhill.”
However, by the bottom of the hill, Beatty caught back up to Browne.
“As I was going down, Dahria passed me like I was still,” Browne added. “I tried to catch up in the last up hill and fell. So I didn’t catch her. I finished 2nd. I was disappointed. I hate giving excuses but I think I could have won.”
Finishing just 2.0 seconds behind Browne, and 9.7 seconds behind Beatty, was NDC Thunder Bay’s Katherine Stewart-Jones in third place.
“There was a big lead pack for a lot of the race. It was easy to stay relaxed because I had very fast skis,” Stewart-Jones wrote in an email. “I think the race came down to the last couple of hills of the course, whoever had energy left in the tank.”
She pulled some energy from fans on from the trailside.
“It was amazing to see the support from my home club,” Stewart-Jones, who grew up training with Nakkertok, wrote. “There were so many people out there cheering me on!”
After a large crash in the first lap, Bouffard-Nesbitt lost contact with the front group and raced to a 10th overall (+2:01.0).
“I’ve hardly classic skied this winter due to my stress fracture, and I’ve really been struggling in classic races,” Bouffard-Nesbitt wrote in an email.
“As a whole I’m happy with the weekend. I’m going to try to not be too hard on myself for this last classic race,” she added.
Shields Takes All in 20 k Mass Start
En route to his third-career NorAm win, Andy Shields (NDC Thunder Bay), came away victorious in the men’s 20 k classic mass start on Sunday.
Shields completed the four-lap race in 52:53.6, besting second place finisher Jesse Cockney (CNEPH/NST) by 12.1 seconds.
“The herringbone sections were coved in deep sugary snow but I felt comfortable on them,” Shields wrote in an email.
With 2 k to go, Shields gapped the field during a herringbone hill and skied comfortably away to first place.
“It never felt like the pace was unmanageable so a ‘thank-you’ to the body for being in good shape today,” Shields wrote.
Cockney confirmed that Shields’ skiing on Sunday was left unrivaled by any other skier on course.
“Andy definitely won with stronger legs today. He was skiing the steep climbs really well and had lots left for the final lap,” Cockney wrote in an email.
After starting in bib 31, Cockney was happy to have maneuvered his way up to the front of the pack.
“I’m quite happy to have moved up from bib 31 to near the front. The distance races here have also been better feelings pushing hard than the rest of the year,” he wrote.
Finishing just 1.3 seconds off of Cockney was Johnsgaard in third, 13.4 seconds behind Shields.
“Kevin and I were leading a lot on the first lap, but there was a bit of fresh snow in the tracks and it was hard to drop the group,” Johnsgaard wrote in an email.
“We’d get a gap on some climbs and then it would come back together on the downhills. The course was basically double pole and then herringbone up steep climbs in ankle deep corn snow,” he added.
According to Johnsgaard, the herringbone sections played to Shields’ strength, but not his own.
“Not exactly my idea of a nice classic course,” Johnsgaard wrote. “Andy had some super herring bone on the last major climb and broke away a bit.”
Sandau, who had been skiing in the front pack with Shields, Johnsgaard and Cockney, crashed, which he wrote cost him “a podium spot.”
Despite his fall and fifth-place finish, 20.4 seconds off of first place, Sandau was satisfied with how he felt during the races.
“The past couple weeks had a really good chunk of volume and I was happy how I felt in both distance days and had some good fight,” Sandau wrote.
Ahead of Sandau in fourth, McKeever was half a second off the podium and 14 seconds behind Shields.
— Gerry Furseth and Alex Kochon contributed reporting
- 10 k freestyle
- 15 k classic mass start
- 15 k freestyle
- Andy Shields
- Brian McKeever
- cendrine browne
- Dahria Beatty
- Eastern Canadian Championships
- Jess Cockney
- Jesse Cockney
- Katherine Stewart-Jones
- Kevin Sandau
- knute johnsgaard
- Maya MacIsaac-Jones
- Michael Somppi
- Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt
- russell kennedy
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.