Whistler 2023: Norwegians Dominate, North Americans Surge in U23 20km Classic

Gerry FursethFebruary 1, 2023
Norway’s Margrethe Bergane (#1) pushing the pace early on first lap. (Photo: Doug Stephen @vr45photography)

Day four of the Junior Worlds at Whistler Olympic Park brought new weather and more excitement in mass start racing.

The day dawned with a light snowfall at -8C. The wax techs were as secretive as ever, but it was clear at the finish that most athletes were on hard wax. While Norway, Germany, and France owned the podiums, it was also a good day for North American skiers.

Women’s 20 k Classic

The women’s race started fast, with Norway’s Margrethe Bergane animating the race. After the first of four laps, 15 women were skiing together, including USA’s Sydney Palmer-Leger and Canada’s Liliane Gagnon. At the halfway point, Palmer-Leger and Italy’s Martina Di Centa were working together behind a lead group of eight, while Gagnon had been joined in pursuit by teammate Jasmine Lyons and USA’s Novie McCabe.

Bergane continued to push the pace, reducing the lead pack to three in the final lap. Norway’s Kristen Austgulen Fosnæs attacked on the final hill, opening a gap she held to win in 1:01:40.0, 2.3 seconds ahead of Germany’s Lisa Lohmann. Bergane was very happy with third, 7.2 seconds back.

Fosnæs was unable to stop smiling half an hour after adding a gold medal to her sprint silver on Sunday.

“It’s unbelievable,” she exclaimed. “This is getting better and better. I feel like I’m dreaming.”

“I felt like it was really hard from the start, Margrethe she put up some really fast speeds. I tried to lay back and save some power to the end.”

Fosnæs liked everything today, laughing with joy: “I love [the course], I love being in Canada.”

Lohmann was also smiling. “My day was simply perfect, because I won a silver medal.”

“My tactic was to follow the Norwegian guys, it was a good plan to not be in the front.”

Bergane was on a different plan: “I tried to go fast from the start and I’m happy with the bronze.”

“The two other girls, they were very strong in the finish.”

Bergane was happy, but picked the Alpe Cermis stage of the Tour de Ski as her favourite race this year. Because it was fun? “Yeah, it was hard.”

The battle for top North American wasn’t really a fight, as US and Canadian skiers worked together to pick off skiers who had pushed too hard following Bergane.

“I had an incredible day,” Palmer-Leger said. “I was right in the lead pack, top ten from the start, stayed relaxed and up there the full time.”

After Bergane put in a concerted effort that reduced the lead group to eight, Palmer-Leger and Di Centa worked together to chase. Palmer-Leger led the flats with her better glide and Di Centa led the climbs with better kick before Palmer-Leger won the double pole sprint for 8th at 1:25.9 behind.

“I’m a first year U23, I’m only 20 years old, I didn’t have any expectations,” Palmer-Leger told FasterSkier during her cooldown ski. “I just wanted to go out there, go hard, enjoy the race. That’s what I did, and it was a pretty incredible day.”

The next North Americans were Canadians Gagnon in 12th at 1:40.7 and Lyons in 13th at 1:48.2.

Jasmine Lyon leads Liliane Gagnon into a downhill. (Photo: Doug Stephen @vr45photography)

“It was a slower start, got caught up in there, but then made my way up, slowing catching up to those other groups,” Gagnon said. “I definitely tried to be more chill in the beginning, keep the technique good, try to catch my breath in the downhills, and it really paid off the the last lap, I was able to push to 12th place.”

“I’m definitely pleased,” Lyons said of her 13th place. “We had super-great skis from our wax techs, they’ve been working so insanely hard all week. I got to work with my teammate Liliane.”

“The grinding double pole sections are pretty hard. We skied with so many North Americans, we tried to match each other’s rhythms and work as a team to catch some people ahead.”

Asked about skiing with Gagnon for much of the race, Lyons said “Definitely working together, exchanging the lead. We’re great friends, definitely working together.”

Lyons and Gagnon will continue to work together as they are both headed to Planica for senior World Championships.

McCabe finished 14th at 2:01.6, and was visibly disappointed with her day. She was working with the group, but was short of grip later in the race, causing her to yoyo off the back.

Canada’s Emilia Wells was 27th in her first international race, 4:20.9 back.

“It’s being an amazing experience, being part of Team Canada,” Wells said. “All the coaches and staff are amazing, and the races have been so much fun.”

Teammate Anna Parent was 30th, a little ahead of USA’s Anabel Needham in 33rd.

“It was kind of hard, my first mass start at a big event,” Needham said. “There was a point where I just wanted to finish the race. I’m happy I stuck with it, and I really liked my coke feed.”

Like so many athletes here, Wells, Parent, and Needham were here to gain experience. Judging by the enthusiasm of their coaches, they are getting it.

Sophia Laukli, who started with bib 2 to match her ranking, was one of five who did not finish the demanding course.

The lead pack stretched and regrouped. Andreas Fjorden Ree leads Jonas VIka, Edvard Sandvik, and Gus Schumacher near the top of the long climb. (Photo: Doug Stephen @vr45photography)
Men’s 20 k Classic

The men’s race was also animated by racers who didn’t want to sprint at the finish. Early in the second 5km lap, Gus Schumacher and Zanden McMullen were leading side by side into the long climb. On the final lap, it was a group of 11, with Switzerland’s Nicola Wigger and Cla-Ursin Nufer pushing the pace with help from Schumacher.

In the final kilometre, it was Norway’s Jonas Vika who attacked up Hermodt’s hill and entered the stadium with a gap. Norway’s Edvard Sandvik closed the gap to 1.3 seconds with Julien Arnaud collecting the first medal for France at 3.6 behind. Two packs of four sprinted for the minor places.

In an interview that is completely inaudible due to wildly celebrating Norwegians, Vika was very happy, described a Norwegian plan to keep the pace fast but save energy for the final hill, and admitted to practising the right hand turn into the stadium where he spectacularly saved a bad line choice in Sunday’s sprint.

“I had a nice day today, sadly second behind this guy,” Sandvik said, pointing to Vika beside him. “but I’m happy.”

“We figured that there was no breakaway [coming], so the last two laps were save energy and move cheap around the pack,” Sandvik explained. “I missed a bit of the start of the last sprint uphill and Vika got a good lead and it was all about the second place.”

The European athletes are much more experienced with working in larger packs in deeper fields, and it showed today.

“To take the third place was just fantastic,” Arnaud said, “and I am very happy to share that with my teammates and coaches who make incredible wax on my skis.”

His tactics were simple: “I just follow the first place … I want to put all I have in the last kilometres.”

Schumacher was in the next group of four, finishing seventh at 6.3 seconds.

“I got to start in bib 3, which is nice compared to 30 on the World Cup,” he told FasterSkier at the finish. “The start was pretty chill, the hills were solidly hard every time, but [the group] stayed together.”

“My skis were really fast, so I knew I could give up a little time on the top and just ski back through. The Swiss guys put a big push towards the top, strung it out a bit, but again it came back together. Positioning down those last hills was pretty big and I thought I did a good job of finding a spot, but I didn’t have enough kick in the end.”

“I’m happy with it, it was really fun to ski at the front and not just, like World Cup, where I stay on the line the whole time. That’s what I remember loving about racing, the tactics, and being able to keep your head out there.”

The top Canadian was Whistler’s own Joe Davies at 46.5 seconds back in 15th. Unfortunately, he was representing Great Britain. More on him Friday when he skis his favourite format on the trails he grew up on.

Rémi Drolet was dropped on the third lap, hanging on for 17th at 1:18.5, just ahead of McMullen.

“I made a couple of mistakes in the first few laps that cost me energy,” Drolet said. “You had to be a little bit lucky to be in the right position, or position yourself, and I wasn’t quite able to do that. It was a good learning experience.”

“I was definitely starting to slip a little bit,” Drolet said of the last two laps. “I’m not sure if it was the skis or I was just getting tired and having trouble skiing them properly.”

“I definitely blew up there, trying to chase the lead pack. Overall, I had pretty good skis today. If the body was there, they were good enough have a result.”

Drolet raced his first Tour de Ski this season. “A good experience overall. I did get pretty sick once I got there. I think it’s on the mend now, and this race felt better than previous ones this year, and I’m optimistic that there will be more good races to come.”

“It was rough,” McMullen said. “I had higher hopes, shooting for the top ten, but I just didn’t have it when the pack made that move.”

From there, it was John Steel Hagenbuch in 23rd at 1:38.2 back, then Max Hollman in 25th, Luke Jager in 33rd and Erikson Moore in 40th out of 58 finishers.

Canada’s Sasha Masson had a good ski despite a crash: “First lap felt really good and then coming out of the feed zone, got caught up with some skiers and went head over heels. Did a little front flip and got back on skis, tried to reconnect.”

Masson did not get a good result as he was disqualified later, possibly for skiing outside the v boards just after the start. The coaches from Canada, USA, Norway, and Chile have all been emphasizing that this a development event, with learning the priority, and here is just one example of an extra lesson.

The event page has more links, including the full results for the eight days. Update: The livestream videos are not disappearing after a day, they simply move to the very bottom of the page under ‘rewatch the action’.

Gerry Furseth

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