MONT SAINTE-ANNE, Québec – After a whirlwind tour of Europe, in which Ida Sargent of the U.S. Ski Team/Craftsbury Green Racing Project came home just once for U.S. Nationals in January, the 24-year-old took on relatively simple task in Canada on Monday.
She needed to pass one person and push hard in a 5-kilometer classic individual start.
With soft conditions and temperatures upwards of 7 degrees Celsius (45 degrees Fahrenheit) at Canadian Ski Nationals, that was easier said than done. Sargent also needed fend off several top-notch competitors behind her.
In the randomized start, which put the best seeds first but not necessarily in order, Sargent started second in a field of 99 women and successfully clocked the fastest time to win outright in 15:16.0.
Perianne Jones of the Canadian National Ski Team and Nakkertok was the closest contender, finishing 13.9 seconds back in second. The top Canadian, Jones claimed her first national title.
Rounding out the podium, Emily Nishikawa (Alberta World Cup Academy/Senior Development Team) was third (+26.0).
Slated to start third after Annika Hicks (AWCA) and Dasha Gaiazova (CNST), respectively, Sargent found that she had only Hicks to chase. (Gaiazova and Chandra Crawford scratched while traveling back from their last World Cup races in Europe.)
Sargent said she caught Hicks within the first kilometer and stayed focused from there. What she lacked in expectations, she made up for in grit.
“I was just out there by myself trying to stay motivated,” Sargent said. “You’ve just got to keep going fast and ski your own race. … It was hard, but it’s short.”
Unsure if she’d race at all a few days earlier, Sargent opted to join her Craftsbury teammates in Canada and see how she felt. She decided to race the 5 k and was considering Thursday’s freestyle sprints to stay sharp for the upcoming SuperTour finals in Craftsbury, Vt., March 24-31.
After a full season on the World Cup circuit, Sargent was happy to soak in a more laid-back atmosphere at nationals.
“I was just having fun and enjoying being home,” said Sargent, who hails from just south of the Canadian border in Orleans, Vt., about a four-hour drive from Mont Sainte-Anne.
“Not really too focused on results at this point,” she added.
Jones did her best to downplay the pressure of being a favorite as well. The lone World Cup national team member at Monday’s races (as well as Saturday’s), Jones started in bib No. 9 and picked off a few people to finish first among the Canadians.
She said Sargent helped her do so. Around 1 k, Jones heard she was 3 seconds behind the American. The gap grew to 20 seconds, which motivated Jones to dig even harder at the end.
“Five-k racing is pretty fun because you can just hammer from the gun and see how long you can last,” Jones said. “It felt like I should be the one on the top of the podium today.”
Jones was excited to race against her teammates, Crawford and Gaiazova, next in Tuesday’s 10 k interval start skate.
“It’ll be fun out there,” Jones said.
Nishikawa said Monday was about finding her groove, which was a little hard to do on a hilly one-lap course in draggy snow.
“I felt like I didn’t really get into that top gear,” Nishikawa said. “It was such a short race, but I think it was a really good warmup for tomorrow and looking forward to that race.”
She started two places after Sargent and also lacked splits, but Sargent’s time turned out to matter most. Nishikawa first heard she was 7 seconds back at 1 k, and then up to 26 seconds behind the leader.
“It’s awesome to have all these fast girls here from the states,” she said. “Tomorrow the guys from the World Cup [including Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey and Len Valjas] are coming in so it’s probably the most competitive nationals we’ve had.”
On the international podium, Amy Glen (University of Vermont) was fourth, Hannah Dreissigacker (CGRP) finished fifth and Sophie Caldwell (Dartmouth College) was sixth.
Kate Brennan (AWCA) was the third Canadian and seventh overall. Erin Tribe (Team Hardwood) placed eighth, Maria Stuber (CGRP) was ninth and Amanda Ammar (Canmore) was 10th.