Ski Tour Canada: Historic North American Finish for FIS World Cup
For the first time in history, the FIS [International Ski Federation] World Cup concluded in North America with the Ski Tour Canada from March 1-12. Eight races were held over 12 days in a grand finale to the FIS World Cup season as the world's best cross
by Carrington Pomeroy
March 1 - 1.7km Free Sprints - Gatineau, Que.
Ski Tour Canada began with a bang for Team USA, with both Simi Hamilton and Diggins qualifying in second position. Both Americans skied strong in the heats as well, delivering third-place podium results at the end of the day. This marked the first time that an American man and woman stood on the podium at a FIS Cross Country World Cup on the same day.
Top honours went to Norway's Maiken Caspersen Falla and Russia's Sergey Ustiugov who attacked on the final uphill to power away from their competition and claim the first-ever Ski Tour Canada leader bibs.
Following Ustiugov was France's Richard Jouve in second, coming through just 0.08 seconds behind, with Hamilton a toe-length back in third. “It feels really good to start off this way; I was able to really throw some moves going over the final climb,” said Hamilton at the finish. “We don't get to do sprints of this length that often, so it was good to see that I had that power the whole way.” Harvey was the next-best North American in 15th and was happy to start off the Tour with a strong sprint: “Normally when I'm sprinting well, it means the body is there, so I'm happy,” he said. Making the sprint heats for the first time at a World Cup were American Erik Bjornsen, who finished 25th, and Canadian Knute Johnsgaard in 30th overall.
Sweden's Stina Nilsson claimed second on the women's podium, with Diggins third. “If you had told me at the start of the year that this is how it would go, I'd be, like, you're kidding me,” commented Diggins. “It was so cool to be able to hear my parents out there and see all the American flags.” Her teammates Sadie Bjornsen, Ida Sargent and Sophie Caldwell also made the heats, finishing 17th, 24th and 28th respectively. Canada's Maya Macisaac-jones impressed by qualifying for her first-ever World Cup heats and finished in 30th overall.
March 2 - 10.5/17.5km Classic Mass Start - Montreal, Que.
Switching venues from Gatineau to Montreal, the course snaked around the base of iconic Mount Royal. With little rest and snowstorm-like conditions resulting in slow and tricky conditions, the second day of Ski Tour Canada resulted in the first big time gaps of the Tour.
On the men's side, a three-man pack of Ustiugov, Petter Northug (NOR) and Emil Iversen (NOR) broke away in the early stages. Ustiugov did the majority of the pulling as the trio navigated the steep climbs and descents of Mount Royal, but in the end, Iversen proved to be the strongest. Pulling away on the last climb, he surged to the finish to take his first-ever World Cup distance win ahead of Northug in second and Ustiugov in third. The Russian collapsed at the finish, but had done enough to prolong his stay in the leader's bib. Canada's Harvey was the top North American in ninth and was followed by a resurgent Devon Kershaw in 17th and Ivan Babikov in 29th. For the Americans, Eric Bjornsen narrowly missed the points in 31st and Noah Hoffman was close behind in 42nd.
In the women's race, Therese Johaug of Norway held nothing back, besting the field by more than a minute despite starting in 26th position. Racing hard right from the gun, Johaug gapped the field at two kilometres and never looked back. Following her home were Heidi Weng and Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen for a Norwegian sweep.
The day was not without controversy, as Norwegian star Martin Johnsrud Sundby complained openly about the narrow hills and abundance of herringbone on the course: “I'm not sure what to say. We are trying to showcase our sport, but today I am unsure what we were doing. Was it cross-country . . . ?”
March 4 - 1.7km Free Sprint - Quebec City, Que.
The next stop of Ski Tour Canada was Harvey's hometown of Quebec City, and “La Prince de Quebec” did not disappoint.
In a down-to-the-wire finish, Harvey put on a show, taking silver and becoming the first Canadian male to reach the
podium on home soil. “Every time I went to the start line, the crowd got louder and louder and it really gave me wings; I was pretty much floating on the snow,” Harvey explained at the finish.
Baptiste Gros (FRA) took the gold with a massive finish charge, making history as the first Frenchman to win a sprint World Cup. Ustiugov claimed third to maintain his lead in the overall men's rankings at the Tour.
Following Harvey into the heats and having a strong day was Canadian Jesse Cockney. Cockney had one of the best races of his career, finishing in 10th place overall after making it into the semifinals. Hamilton joined Cockney in the semifinals, ending the day in eighth overall, while fellow Americans Erik Bjornsen and Andy Newell also made the heats, finishing in 20th and 29th respectively.
On the women's side, Sadie Bjornsen led the way for the Americans, qualifying an impressive first before getting out-gunned in the semis to finish in eighth overall. The race was won by Nilsson (SWE), ahead of Falla and Weng. Caldwell (USA) overcame illness to make the semifinals and ended the day in 10th position, just ahead of Diggins (USA), who suffered a fall in her quarterfinal to end her day in 13th, while Sargent (USA) finished 20th. No Canadians made the heats, but up-and-coming skiers Macisaac-jones and Dahria Beatty showed promise in 34th and 39th.
March 5 - 10/15km Pursuit Free - Quebec City, Que.
On the women's side, Norway continued its dominance, taking positions first through fourth with Weng, Johaug, Jacobsen and Falla. Diggins also continued her strong form, skiing into fifth position, passing Nilsson and Ingvild Fulgstad Oestberg (NOR). She was followed by Sadie Bjornsen in 10th and Liz Stephen in 29th. Emily Nishikawa was the top Canadian in 45th.
For the men's race, fans lined the 3.75km course to watch Harvey ski his way to fourth position in the tour. Harvey skied with Johnsrud Sundby for the majority of the race, maintaining time with leaders Ustiugov and Northug and gaining on Iversen. At the end of the day, Ustiugov won, finishing 17 seconds ahead of Northug in third. Kershaw continued to impress and was the next Canadian in 21st, just ahead of Babikov in 36th, after he had stumbled early on. Of note, Canada's Andy Shield moved up to 65th with the 30th-fastest course time of the day. The Americans packed spots 30 to 40, with Erik Bjornsen in 32nd, Hoffmann in 35th, Hamilton in 37th and Scott Patterson in 38th.
At the finish, Johnsrud Sundby was quick to comment on the incredible condition of the course: “There is nothing to complain about here; today was perfect,” and added that he would consider coming to vacation in Quebec City.
March 8 - 1.5km Classic Sprints - Canmore, Alta.
Despite crossing the country to Canmore, Alta. and swapping Old Quebec for the Rocky Mountains, the podium remained dominated by familiar faces. Day Five of Ski Tour Canada featured another Norwegian sweep of the women's podium. Falla once again showed she is the queen of the women's sprint World Cup, blasting away from her competitors on Canmore's notoriously long finish straight. Jacobsen and Oestberg (NOR) completed the podium.
On a day of slow conditions and huge time gaps, two North American women had career performances. Diggins appeared in her first-ever Classic sprint final, finishing in sixth position, while Beatty of Canada narrowly missed the semifinals in the race of her life, taking home 15th for the best World Cup finish of her young career. “My best result at World Juniors is 15th, so to be able to have that same result here on a World Cup is amazing,” Beatty admitted afterwards.
The American women continued to generate impressive results in the top 30, with Caldwell in 11th, Sadie Bjornsen in 18th and Sargent in 22nd.
On the men's side, the race was won by Federico Pellegrino (ITA), who took home his first-ever Classic sprint victory just ahead of Eirik Brandsdal (NOR) and Maurice Manificat (FRA). However, this was overshadowed by Norwegians Northug and Finn Hagen Krogh skiing very slowly in their
final heat in order to avoid an evening awards show.
Len Valjas of Canada returned from illness to show that he can still hold his own with the best, ending his day in the semifinals in 11th. Harvey finished in 21st and Kershaw was agonizingly close to the heats in 33rd. The American sprinters had an off-day, led home by Erik Bjornsen in 44th.
There was no end to the celebrations for Pellegrino and Falla, as they were awarded the FIS World Cup Sprint Crystal Globes to commemorate being the top male and female sprinters on this year's World Cup. This was the first time that these globes have ever been given out in Canada, with both Pellegrino and Falla being first-time recipients.
March 9 - 15/30km Skiathlon - Canmore, Alta.
Day Six featured Johnsrud Sundby back to his winning ways in the 30km Skiathlon, while the Canadian men posted an impressive result in putting four athletes in the top 30.
A lead pack of 11 formed early on in the skate portion and skied together until the final kilometres, where Johnsrud Sundby slowly pulled away to win by three seconds and pull back time on overall leader Ustiugov.
Harvey and Babikov finished in the lead pack in seventh and 10th respectively. Babikov was happy to see some of his old form return: “Finally! Everything just came together today. The skis and the body were both really good. I'm super-happy,” he said, following the racing. Not to be outdone, Graeme Killick (CAN) had a career-best World Cup placing in 19th, just ahead of Kershaw in 24th. The Americans were led home by Hoffman, who showed signs of things to come by placing 35th, just outside the points.
Diggins put in another impressive performance in the women's 15km Skiathlon, finishing 11th, just ahead of Sadie Bjornsen in 18th. Norwegians continued to rule the podium, as Weng out-kicked Johaug for the win after they broke away from the pack and Jacobsen once again rounded out the podium.
While Diggins was impressive, what was perhaps more significant was the depth of American women. The U.S. managed to put eight women in the top 35, showing that there is still more to come from this talented group of women. Most notable was Rosie Brennan in 25th, with 18-yearold Katharine Ogden finishing just shy of the points in 32nd.
March 11 - 10/15km Free Interval-start - Canmore, Alta.
After a much-needed day off, racing resumed with interval-start skate races on the notoriously hard Canmore distance courses.
Oestberg returned to the podium in style, showing some of the form she had earlier in the season by taking the win by more than 20 seconds. Teammate Weng (NOR) and Krista Parmakoski (FIN) completed the podium. Diggins continued her run of strong races, placing fifth, just 34 seconds behind Oestberg. She was followed home by Sadie Bjornsen in 17th, Caitlin Gregg in 19th – her best result of the season – and Chelsea Holmes in 22nd for her first-ever World Cup points. On the Canadian side, Emily Nishikawa continued to improve, finishing in 35th position, just 10 seconds from 30th.
Matti Heikkinen of Finland took a surprise win in the men's race in his best performance since winning the 15km Classic at the 2011 World Championships in Oslo, Norway. The rest of the podium was also filled with surprises, as Evgeniy Belov (RUS) and Marcus Hellner (SWE) took their first podiums of the year. Harvey also had a surprisingly good day, finishing in fourth. Traditionally, Harvey has struggled with climbing heavy courses at altitude, but was ecstatic about how his race went. Joining Harvey in the top 10 with an equally impressive performance was Babikov in 10th, followed by two more Canadians in the top 30 – Kershaw in 20th and Killick in 29th. For the American men, Hoffman broke back into the top 30 with a 23rd-place showing.
March 12 - 10/15km Classic Pursuit - Canmore, Alta.
The final day of Ski Tour Canada saw Weng of Norway and Ustiugov of Russia start off in the overall lead, but were both overthrown before the day was done.
Norwegians Johnsrud Sundby and Johaug left no doubt that they were the top overall skiers on the World Cup this year. Both started with more than 30 seconds to the leaders, but quickly reduced that gap to nothing. As if they were of one mind, both then continued right past their competitors and never let off the gas, putting close to a minute into the nearest skier.
Weng was the next female to cross the line, and was then followed in by Oestberg. Parmakoski finished fourth with the fastest time of the day, and Diggins ended up fifth for a historic American result. Sadie Bjornsen was next in for the Americans in 11th overall, narrowly outsprinting Swedish star Charlotte Kalla. With the 14th-fastest time of the day, Brennan moved up to an impressive 24th overall. Many more Americans found themselves just outside the top 30, and were led by Ogden who skied an incredible race; posting the 15th-fastest time of the day. Canadians were led home by Nishikawa in 37th and up-and-coming skier Cendrine Browne in 40th.
Ustiugov and Northug rounded out the men's podium, finishing just ahead of time-of-day winner Manificat of France. Harvey capped off an amazing Ski Tour Canada with a fifth-place finish overall. Babikov and Kershaw both secured top-20 results, coming in 14th and 16th, while Killick managed yet another top-30 day in 27th overall. Hoffman used the 19th-fastest course time of the day to be the first American across the line in 34th-position, while Erik Bjornsen also moved up to 42nd.
When all was said and done, Johaug and Johnsrud Sundby were 2016 Ski Tour Canada champions. But their awards did not stop there, as both were awarded the 2015/2016 FIS Distance and Overall World Cup Globes. “It has been a dream season,” said Johaug, having collected her second Distance and Overall Globes. In Johnsrud Sundby's case, these were his second Distance and third overall titles.
All participants agreed that the Ski Tour Canada was a great success. “The organizers have done a great job. It's been a success and I would love to come back,” said Oestberg.
Canada's Alex Harvey, dubbed the “Prince of Quebec,” did not disappoint hometown fans in Quebec City, claiming second in the sprint FR and fourth in the Pursuit to finish fifth overall.
(from top) American Sadie Bjornsen was impressive, topping in the women's FR sprint qualifications in Quebec City. Canada's Devon Kershaw claimed a respectable 16th overall. Rising USA star, Katharine Ogden, 18, posted the 15th fastest time in the Class
(above) Simi Hamilton and Jessie Diggins claimed historic third-place finishes in the FR sprint at Gatineau, Que., marking the first time that an American man and woman stood on the podium at a FIS Cross Country World Cup on the same day.