Icy trails and strong winds greeted the competitors in the 2011 Gatineau Loppet in Gatineau, Quebec, Saturday.
A thaw in the previous two days reduced the snow pack significantly, forcing a few changes in the course. The race was rerouted to the widest and flattest sections of the Gatineau Park, the large area of park land where the race is held.
In the 49 k classic event, Juergen Uhl of Burlington, Vermont, took the win in a time of 2:30:26.1, just ahead of second place Matthias Purdon of Ottawa, Ontario, who races for the local competitive team XC Ottawa, in a time of 2:30:29.5. Nansen Weber of Chelsea, Quebec finished third in a time of 2:32:32.8.
Stephanie Howe, of Bend, Oregon was the fastest woman over 49 k, turning in a time of 2:56:44.
Uhl, a former NCAA champion and German import who is now skiing for VTXC, recently returned from World University Games in Erezeum, Turkey. Uhl represented Germany at the event, and suffered from the stomach flu, but if he was feeling an lingering ill effects from the trip, he didn’t show it Saturday.
The day was a difficult one for waxing – temperatures on Friday were well above zero, and then dropped overnight, creating frozen, icy tracks. Finally, just before the 9 AM start, it began snowing, and around 2 centimeters of fresh snow covered everything.
As a result, many found it either faster to double pole the entire course, or that was simply the only option due to a lack of grip. While the course featured some lengthy climbs, were mostly long and gradual, as the change in course took out most of the steep pitches in the back trails of the Gatineau Park.
After 48.5 kilometers, it came down to a three-man shoot out in the last 500 meters. Uhl was leading Phil Shaw of Rosemere, Quebec, and Purdon as they descended the last hill and entered the flat run into the stadium, and faced a 55 km/hr head wind. However, as they rounded the final corner, Uhl upped the pace, and the other two were unable to match him on the finishing stretch.
In initial results Shaw finished second, but the winner of the same event last year was later disqualified.
In the 28 k classic event, Sean Thompson of St. Bruno, Quebec, emerged victorious in a time of 1:24:46. But the battle was for second place, as Timothy Plante, also of St. Bruno, finished in 1:27:43.1, beating Nicholas Underwood of Queensbury, Vermont, who was just behind in 1:27:44.9.
The Gatineau Loppet continues Sunday with freestyle events, a 51 k and a 28 k, as well as a few shorter races. The two longer races have been modified to use a few more technical trails which have been determined in good shape.