QUEBEC CITY – As Alana Thomas stood in the finish pen on the Plains of Abraham and looked back beyond the line, she smiled as Perianne Jones cruised down the final stretch.
The Canadian National Team member was going to win by a mile – or maybe a kilometer, figuratively speaking in Canadian terms.
While Jones didn’t quite have a full lap on the 11 other teams in the open classic relay at the Canadian National Ski Championships on Saturday, she finished in 17:59.6, more than 24 seconds ahead of anyone else with the help of Thomas, her Nakkertok teammate in the club event.
“We drove here together this morning and we talked about kind of what we wanted to do,” said Jones, who flew into Quebec the night before from Canmore, Alberta. She previously spent a full season on the World Cup circuit in Europe.
“We were going to build into it,” Jones added. “I think we executed pretty well.”
They beat runners-up Amy Glen and Caitlin Patterson of the University of Vermont (+24.2), and Annika Hicks and Amanda Ammar of Canmore Nordic finished third overall (+31.4).
Jones and Thomas also won their first heat, nearly two seconds ahead of Hicks and Ammar. Hicks passed Thomas on the final leg of the 3×1 k race, (in which each racer competed three loops in the city park, tagging off in between), but Jones reeled in Ammar as the anchor.
While they worked hard in the qualifying round, the Nakkertok women made sure they had plenty left for the final. Jones said they planned to push hardest on the last lap while skiing relaxed throughout. Both did so and built a nearly 22-second gap by the end of the second leg.
Thomas said she was trying to hang in the pack and ski smart. She also skied ahead, and most importantly, managed to stay on her feet. Heidi Widmer and Marlis Kromm of Foothills Nordic had been in second place for most of the final, but Widmer fell victim to the slushy conditions about halfway through her last lap. She tagged off to Kromm, who finished 1 second behind Ammar in fourth place.
When Widmer slipped, Glen scooted around her and tagged off to Patterson in second. With Jones nearly 25 seconds ahead, Patterson held the position and clinched silver.
“We’re definitely more distance skiers,” Patterson said. “We’ve been doing a lot of 5 k’s, 10, 15. So in general, we feel like we’re skiing pretty consistently. We just have the endurance to take us to the third lap still strong.”
Fresh off a trip to the NCAA championships in Bozeman, Mont., the two helped UVM notch its first national skiing title since 1994. Glen became the second woman in UVM history to win a U.S. crown in the 15 k classic race.
After all that, Patterson said they jumped at the chance to race in Canada, about four hours away from their campus in Burlington, Vt.
“Our college season had ended, we were just out in Montana and had come back, [had a] little bit of school to tend to,” Patterson said. “Why not come up here?”
“I wanted to come check out the skiing at Mont-Sainte-Anne,” Glens said. “And this [city sprint], this is a huge draw.”
The two planned to race Monday and Tuesday in the interval starts and then head back to Vermont to prepare for the SuperTour finals in Craftsbury, which start next weekend.
While the relays didn’t count for much besides pride at Canadian nationals, several racers said they participated because of the atmosphere.
“Team sprints are special,” Thomas said. “I usually only get to do one a year so this is a nice day.”
Jones was a World Cup team-sprint veteran, but said the race was still her favorite and probably one of the toughest on the circuit because of its lack of recovery time. She found it especially fun at home.
“I’m pretty pumped,” Jones said. “The club brought me to where I am, so I love to come race today with Nakkertok; to do it with Alana is awesome.”