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

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Car­ring­ton Pomeroy

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.

(from top) Cana­dian Graeme Kil­lick matched his ca­reer-best World Cup re­sult, plac­ing 19th in the Skiathlon at Can­more. Amer­i­can So­phie Cald­well over­came ill­ness to fin­ish 10th in the Que­bec City sprints. Ivan Babikov was happy to see some of his old for

(top) His­tory was made when over­all FIS World Cup se­ries win­ners Martin John­rud Sundby (l) and Therese Jo­haug from Nor­way re­ceived the fa­bled Crys­tal Globes in Can­more, mark­ing the first time they were awarded out­side of Europe. (above left) Maiken Caspe

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