Race, rinse, repeat. The Western Canada Cup series returned to Sovereign Lake for race days 3 and 4 of the new season.
Originally scheduled for Rossland, BC, the event had to be moved after an ‘atmospheric river’ event delivered warm rain to almost all southern BC trail systems on December 1st. Sovereign Lake was the least damaged, able to hold WCC #1 and #2 on the 4th and 5th as scheduled. By December 11th, skiing conditions were much improved and the racers were primed to go again.
The organizing committee was a little less primed, with four chiefs unavailable, along with many of the 180 volunteers from the previous weekend. With some timely help from Nordiq Canada, it all came together. Next Gen coach Eric de Nys (a Vernon resident) could be seen moving V-boards with High Performance Manager Joel Jaques (from three ski areas to the south in Penticton) while Al Maddox shortened his vacation to fill in as Technical Delegate.
Despite hosting major events on the two previous weekends, the club was able to find enough volunteers to make it work.
While there was still plenty of rust on display, more athletes were getting more things right than last weekend.
Saturday: 5km/10km Classic Interval Start
The weather gods delivered one of everything for Saturday’s classic, with fresh snow, strong winds, a brief blizzard during wax testing, before settling for overcast race conditions with firm tracks that occasionally filled with dry blowing snow at -4C.
On the flat 2.5km course, there were enough skiers lapping to keep the tracks packed. This is the first time this course has been used for the open categories and it has a distinctly different feel to the traditional 5km loop. Eliminating much of the climbing, the new course turns downhill halfway up the first A-climb at the 5km mark, before skipping the second A-climb entirely.
Dartmouth’s Jasmine Drolet took the win in 17:22.0, matching her result from last Sunday with an overall win, in addition to topping the U20 list. AWCA’s Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt was 3.0 back in second ahead of teammates Laurence Dumais in third (+47.1) and Beth Granstrom in fourth (+1:00.8).
“Definitely not my favourite race,” Jasmine Drolet told FasterSkier, despite preferring classic technique. “I tend to prefer the longer races but still good and a good effort out there.”
“I was happy with it,” Bouffard-Nesbitt explained after the race. “It was unusual for us to start so late at one [pm]. It was sunny this morning, beautiful, mild. We showed up to the racecourse this afternoon and it was blizzarding, so windy. And then it cleared up for our race. So it was fun to do 5km.”
“It’s definitely quite a bit different than the five km [course]: it’s less climbing and more flat,” Dumais told FasterSkier. “Which is in my favour, because I’m better at double polling, so it was good.”
In the men’s 10km, Black Jack’s Rémi Drolet matched his sister’s achievement, finishing in 30:37.2, edging out Foothills junior teammates Tom Stephen by 4.7 seconds and Xavier McKeever by 7.0. AWCA’s Jack Carlyle (39.2 back) and Hardwood’s Scott Hill (54.3 behind) completed the senior podium.
“It was a pretty good day,” Stephen explained. “Not a course that favours me, but I still pushed hard and I’m happy with the results.”
Asked about ski and wax choices, Stephen said “the coaches were really accommodating today because they tested my skis before we got here, because we had such a late start. So that was nice, a lot less stress than having to get here and test all the skis with the new tracks and stuff like that.”
McKeever enjoyed the ‘new’ course.
“I felt really strong with the double pole, there was a lot of double poling on this course. That really played into my favour.”
McKeever also broke down how the course skied during the race.
“Overall, there’s some good climbs. there’s two good climbs in there for sure. But once again, it’s it’s a lot of double pole. So I’d say in that sense, it’s like fairly flat overall. There’s like gradual sections, but yeah, you definitely can’t get caught off guard.”
There were 112 finishers. The smaller field was a result of only two age groups (open and U20) and road closures affecting some teams.
Sunday: 10km/15km Mass Start Free
Sunday was a great day of skiing, with snow clouds blowing away in the morning for a sunny afternoon of mass start racing on the traditional Upper World Cup 5km course that older racers know so well.
The men raced first, with a very tactical first lap before the action began on the second of three laps.
On the third lap, McKeever attacked on the ‘wall’ climb to get a gap he would not relinquish in the final 1.x km. With only one small climb left, racers need either a gap at the top of the wall or confidence in their final sprint.
McKeever took his first open win in 37:22.3, 1.2 seconds clear of fellow U20 Tom Stephen. Carlyle passed a fading Rémi Drolet to take third, 21.0 seconds behind, while Bob Thompson narrowly missed out on fourth, finishing 40.0 back.
“I was really happy with my race and how I skied both tactically and technically, so overall, [it was a] good day,” McKeever said after collecting his first senior win at age 18.
He continued that he “couldn’t really have asked for anything better from a start [to the season], but we’ve just got to keep putting in the work, keep training hard.”
Stephen, in his last year as a U20, was more philosophical.
“I’m definitely feeling a little tired,” Stephen said. “There’s a lot of racing back to back for me. But yeah, I think it went well. I’m happy with the result.”
On his approach to racing, Stephen explained how the weather factored into his race plan.
“I think I was pretty smart in the tactics part. There were a lot of people throwing down sprints halfway through trying to break away and then easing up because the wind plays a big factor into it.”
Carlyle also enjoyed the day: “It was good, super fun to ski in the pack and do a mass start race and it felt like Real Racing was back.”
“I didn’t really think too much about how to win I just kind of wanted to like make their day as hard as I possibly could,” Carlyle continued. “The way it played out was going into the second last climb, I guess it would have been the like the super steep hill [the wall], Xav just had so much speed. So much speed. So Tom and I are kind of standing still and that’s pretty impressive.”
Shortly after the top men finished, the women began their first mass start of the season with two laps of the same course. Jasmine Drolet strung the group out quickly, opening passing opportunities for lower ranked skiers like Bouffard-Nesbitt who would quickly join the action at the front. After the pandemic break, the points list is a much less useful guide to current performance, but today there was no difficulty to pass on the wide opening climb with room to skate four abreast for over a kilometre.
Bouffard-Nesbitt finished alone in 29:04.4.
“It was really good. I love mass starts and I’m so happy that sovereign decided to host a mass start race today,” she said. “The conditions were the best they’ve been in the last two weeks. It was a great day.”
Jasmine Drolet took second, 12.4 seconds back, followed by fellow U20 Marielle Ackermann from Kimberly in third (+21.0), and Granstrom in fourth (+26.5).
“It was pretty chill for the first lap,” Bouffard-Nesbitt said. “I didn’t feel that I needed to lead especially, [since] I’m pretty confident in my sprint. So I was happy just to follow and then, yeah, on the second lap, I started to have fun playing around, going to the front a little bit and pushing the downhills and unfortunately, as Jasmine might tell you if you interview her, she had a fall before the last two climbs. That was too bad and that’s where my gap opened up. I just pushed it from there.”
Jasmine Drolet did include her fall in her post race comments, reflecting on an experience that was “Pretty hard. That’s all, really hard.”
“A little bit frustrating,” Drolet continued. “I mean, I lead a lot of the race, which is not really what I wanted, but then fell and couldn’t catch up again. So a little bit frustrating, but that’s how mass starts are.”
She fell on the one tricky corner on the course, a fast hairpin that becomes challenging as the lactate builds in the legs.
The pandemic has made student life easier, with distanced exams that can be done anywhere. Easier, but not easy, with a large number of athletes needing a quiet space to write exams Sunday evening after the racing was done. Ackermann was one of those student athletes who rushed away before FasterSkier could catch up with her.
In addition to all the racing, there were bets to be settled.
This writer entered a casual masters program mass start classic race on Saturday morning, using the same course as the elite skiers used in the afternoon. The finish times were very different, but I am still smiling days later. To twist up Joni Mitchell, “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s back!”