MONT SAINT-ANNE, Québec – If there was a date circled on Chandra Crawford’s calendar, this was it.
Well, it may have been one of many, but she at least took a mental note and had plenty of ambitions for Saturday’s 30-kilometer classic mass start at Canadian Ski Nationals.
A Canadian National Team member and 2006 Olympic gold medalist in the skate sprint, Crawford had been thinking about the 30 k since last June. Third in the long-distance classic race at nationals two years ago, the 28-year-old wanted to win it this time.
Despite jet lag, Crawford felt energetic at the start and jumped out to an early lead. Teammates Dasha Gaiazova and Perianne Jones followed close behind with two Norwegians, Ragnhild Haga and Britt Ingunn Nydal.
On the third of six laps, Jones dropped off the back while the remaining four stayed together. Crawford said everyone was good about sharing the workload up front, but she liked to lead.
Leading Gaiazova and the Norwegians by about three seconds at the start of the last lap, Crawford decided to go for it. She attacked on the uphill and Nydal worked hard to follow, but in the end, Crawford said her skis were faster on the backside downhills.
She skied away to the win, 13.74 seconds ahead of Nydal in 1:36.51.66. Haga was third (+54.42) and Gaiazova placed fourth (+1:00.85). Jones was fifth after skiing the second half of the race alone, finishing 5:27 after Crawford.
“This has been a secret goal of mine to win this race,” Crawford said. “Like, ‘I want that 30 k classic, I want it,’ and worked on my classic relentlessly for 12 years so it’s nice to see it’s starting to be more comfortable.”
She said it was important to improve her distance racing if she wanted to get faster in the sprints. After placing 50th in a World Cup 10 k classic mass start in Rogla, Slovenia, this year (which she noted was third to last), Crawford turned around and placed second in the freestyle sprint the next day for her first podium in four years.
“The value of making the heart and lungs work so much there’s no arguing with,” Crawford said. “The ‘Kikkanimal’ [Kikkan Randall] approach is not for everyone, but as much as I can assimilate that kind of work ethic into my racing and race as much as I can, I’m seeing benefits all over the place.”
The victory was Crawford’s second straight at Canadian nationals after winning Thursday’s freestyle sprint. Haga, a 21-year-old Norwegian National Development Team member with World Cup experience, said she knew what Crawford and Gaiazova were capable of.
“We knew they had a good sprint at the end,” Haga said after her second podium at nationals. She was third in the 5 k classic individual start on Monday.
“My strategy was at least to try to go quite fast on the last loops,” Haga added. “But they were strong today.”
While she managed to hold off Gaiazova, Haga couldn’t keep up with her teammate on the last lap. After struggling with the pace early on, Nydal said she felt better as the race wore on.
“At the start of the last lap, [Crawford] broke away,” said Nydal, 22, who represented Norway with Haga at the 30 k World Cup race at Holmenkollen in Olso, Norway, earlier this month.
“I tried to break away, and me and her had a fight to the top, but she was so strong in the last kilometer double poling,” Nydal added. “I didn’t have a chance against her.”
After hard-packed and slick conditions for the men’s 50 k on Saturday morning, conditions softened by the afternoon, leading many women to ski outside the track.
Crawford saw that as an advantage. She had skied outside of the track while in Europe with little snow in November.
“It’s so good to embrace adversity and make it hard,” Crawford said. “It’s cross-country skiing. You don’t want to go out there and make it easy. Train accordingly and that could be a real boost on days like this, 30 k outside the track.”
In Gaiazova’s first 30 k of the season, she said she forgot how to pace it and may have started too hard. Regardless, she had fun.
“It was fast for first 15 k’s and it felt really good until the last loop,” Gaiazova said. “It was at the end where Chandra started to push a little more and I just realized that I kind of had the same speed left, but couldn’t give it a little extra.”
More than anything, she was excited to take part and complete the week, which was mostly about the development of the sport, Gaiazova said.
“I remember when I was younger and when Beckie [Scott] and Sara [Renner] came over it was a huge deal for me to get a picture with them and get them to sign my skis,” she said. “I think it’s important that we do that for the kids, and it’s important that we come to nationals and race and lead by example for the next generation.”
Following Gaiazova and Jones across the finish line, Emily Nishikawa of the Alberta World Cup Academy and Senior Development Team placed sixth.
In the last 5 k, Nishikawa pulled away from Zoe Roy (Rocky Mountain Racers) after skiing in a chase group with her for most of the race.
Roy was seventh, Alysson Marshall (AWCA/NST) finished eighth, Erin Tribe (NDC-Thunder Bay) was ninth and Andrea Lee (Lakehead/NTDC) was 10th.