Mont Sainte Anne (MSA) held the final pre-Christmas races in Canada over the weekend, with a 20km freestyle mass start Friday, freestyle sprints on Saturday, and 10km individual start classic on Sunday.
Fresh snow, steep hills, and temperatures comfortably below freezing greeted 400+ racers at a continental cup hosted by Skibec, Centre National d’Entraïnemente Pierre Harvey (CNEPH) , and Club Nordique MSA.
MSA is a popular racing destination, as Nakkertok’s Bronwyn Williams explained: “I love racing at MSA because the trails are amazingly challenging! For some other race courses you need to work hard to bury yourself but at MSA the courses go out of their way to destroy you and if you’re not careful they will. That’s what makes it so fun though because you are not just racing your competitors, but you are also trying to survive the courses.”
Sasha Masson (CNEPH) kicked off the weekend with a win in the 20km skate, finishing in 47:44.9, 6.2 seconds clear of four skiers: Orford’s Léo Grandbois, Montériski’s Alexandre Bourque and Xavier Lefebvre, and Big Thunder’s Conor McGovern.
“It was a good day overall,” Masson wrote to FasterSkier. “I played it safe and skied with the pack for a bit, then used my legs to work my skis on the flats and the downhills. Today, pushing over the top and in the downs was essential and allowed me to win.”
For the women, it was the U20 show with Kanata’s Helen McCulligh winning in 59:08.5, followed by MSA’s Ophélie Grandmont at 8.9 seconds and Whitehorse product Constance Lapointe at 9.8 back.
“It was a very fast day out on the course,” McCulligh told Nordiq Canada. “It was my first ever time racing a 20km, so I didn’t know what to expect going in.”
As in Davos two days later, the new distance caused some learning moments and a change from ‘normal’ tactics.
“We had a really big group of girls, a big pack stuck together for a long time.”
Saturday brought a 1.1km skate sprint and a deeper field with the addition of many student athletes.
Chelsea’s U20, Ry Prior, now training with the Alberta World Cup Academy, won the Open men’s final in 2:20.53, ahead of CNEPH teammates Felix-Olivier Moreau at 1.58 back and Guillaume Pelchat at 3.25 seconds.
Chelsea’s U18, Tory Audet, continued her domination, skiing away from the group in each heat on her way to win in 2:35.94, 10.13 seconds ahead of Nakkertok’s Bronwyn Williams. Katherine Mason was third for Nakkertok, 12.54 behind.
Audet went with a straightforward tactical plan: “I didn’t think much about tactics,” she said. “I just tried to ski the course as fast and efficiently as possible due to the fact that it was a very short course.”
A very short course at MSA? There was a course change announced at 7:30am race day.
“The course ended up basically being a short 1km loop that had one really big uphill followed by a downhill and a loop of the stadium,” Williams explained in an email. “It was a wind tunnel through the end of the stadium and the snow wasn’t really fast because it was snowing. I found out pretty quickly that if I got out in front at the beginning, skied controlled until the middle of the big hill and then accelerated over the top of the hill and into the downhill that no one would be able to draft off me on the downhill and through the windy stadium. This tactic really helped secure my spot in the A final.”
The 10km classic brought more fresh snow but the same women’s winner. Audet won in 36:15.9, ahead of Williams in second again at 25.6 back. Lappe’s Hannah Shields was third at 1:37.0.
“The 10km classic race yesterday was definitely one of the hardest races I’ve done,” Audet wrote to FasterSkier. “The course had some epic climbs and with the fresh snow we got, there weren’t any tracks going up any of the hills making it very difficult. I felt good, I think I paced my race very well, and my skis were awesome!”
Williams, one of three athletes older than U23 to reach the podium this weekend, was not expecting to repeat her 10km victory from the previous weekend.
“The race was two times a crazy challenging 5km course that had huge hills and finished with about 1km of flat double pole…the bane of my existence. Tory Audet, my friend and an incredible athlete, started 30 seconds behind me, so I decided my goal was to see how long I could stay ahead of her.”
The strategy worked to the end, with Williams finishing with 4.4 seconds to spare.
For the men, Moreau moved up a step on the podium, winning in 32:13.1. Orford’s Nicolas Beaulieu was second, 4.6 behind to improve on his 6th in the sprint. CNEPH’s Mats Halvorsen was third at 12.7 back.
This brings Canadian ski racing to a holiday pause, with lots of positives to look back on: all the Canadians who raced World Cup period 1 have at least one top 30 result, first-year senior Liliane Gagnon earned her first World Cup weekend in Davos, eight days of FIS racing happened at three Canadian venues, the Para National team collected a suitcase worth of World Cup medals, and Nordiq Canada has signed on with Abuse-Free Sport, a significant upgrade from the previous SafeSport program.
Friday 20km freestyle mass start
Sunday 10km individual classic
The OC has Instagram content, with more photos, videos of sprint finals, and more.