Kevin Sandau overcame one of his biggest weaknesses to win the NorAm 10 kilometre classic race at the Canmore Nordic Centre, Saturday (Dec. 5).
Sandau edged fellow Alberta World Cup Academy athlete Knute Johnsgaard by a mere three seconds for the win, stopping the clock in 24:42.9 on slow snow. Racing on the biathlon trails, double pole skills were key, as all top five skiers chose to race on the strength of their back and biceps.
“This is my second biggest weakness beside sprints. Double pole races are definitely not my jam, but to see I can be competitive in it, it’s a step in the right direction,” said Sandau. “I hope we never have to double pole a classic race again this year.”
More and more ski races place a bigger emphasis on double pole skills as the sport continues to evolve. Many athletes have adapted to the change and Sandau is no different, focusing much of his summer on increasing his upper body strength.
“Today you had to double pole to be competitive. Once your arms lactate, it’s hard to clear it out. All I see guys like (Ian Murray) do all summer is double pole training. If you work on double poling, that’s how you get faster,” Sandau said.
The 27 year old skied a large chunk of his race with Murray, who ended up in third. Sandau said the two skiers helped pace each other, improving both of their times.
“I caught (Murray), and led him out a bit, but I couldn’t drop him, the little bugger. He repaid the favour on the final stretch and got me a few seconds there,” Sandau said.
Johnsgaard celebrated his birthday and the birth of twin nephews with his second place medal. He knew it would be close, as they traded the lead back and forth several times. It’s the second weekend of battling for the two, and it appears as if Johnsgaard and Sandau will battle hard against one another all winter
“We were getting splits that were one second down, or one second up. I knew it would be close, so I pushed hard to the finish and came up a little bit short,” Johnsgaard said. “This is a really special day for me – a podium in the first NorAm of the year, and two twin nephews born today.”
Murray was third, followed by Brian McKeever and Patrick Stewart-Jones.
First year senior Sophie Carrier-Laforte was a surprise winner in the women’s five-km classic race, posting a decisive win over a stacked field. Carrier-Laforte finished the five-km in 15:31.5, 10 seconds ahead of Katherine Stewart-Jones. Alannah MaClean was third, Jenn Jackson fourth and Andrea Dupont fifth.
“This is a little bit unreal. I didn’t really believe it at first. This is my first race as a senior and first actual good five-km of my life,” Carrier-Laforte said. “I took a risk by starting fast and then just tried to survive. I didn’t have any pressure today. I just wanted to have fun.”
Carrier-Laforte is known as a strong sprinter and she positioned herself well for a crack at a Ski Tour Canada spot if she can continue strong races in distance.
“I’m pretty lucky to have raced with that much double poling,” she said.
Stewart-Jones earned the first NorAm podium of her career with the second-place finish, surprising even herself.
“I was aiming for a podium, I just didn’t think it would be in this race I would make it. It was a lot of double poling and I thought I wasn’t much of a double poler, but I think I skied pretty well,” Stewart-Jones said.
The terrain suited the first year senior very well, and she believes many athletes underestimated the difficulty of the trails.
“People thought the hills wouldn’t be that bad. You didn’t have much rest in this race because it was flatter. You had to work the whole time,” Stewart-Jones said.