Saturday marked the final day of racing at the 2015 Canadian Ski Nationals in Thunder Bay, Ontario. With temperatures dropping into the minus teens, under blue skies and strong winds, local favorite Michael Somppi of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) and Canadian National Development Team, originally from Lappe Nordic, racked up his third gold medal in the men’s 50-kilometer freestyle mass start.
Somppi beat veteran and 2014 champion Ivan Babikov of the Canadian World Cup Team by 28.2 seconds in 2:05:18.8. Kevin Sandau (AWCA/NST-Dev.) came in third (+47.2).
“I felt great skiing today,” Somppi wrote in an email. “It was a hard race but I was surprised I was able to win without going to my absolute limit. It was just an amazing feeling coming into the finish with the home crowd cheering me on. Maybe that’s what helped me feel so good today and really, this whole week.”
By the 20 k mark, the peloton narrowed down to a small group. Babikov then launched an attack with around 15 k to go. “I knew Ivan would make a strong decisive attack somewhere towards the latter stages of the race and my plan was to do my best to follow,” Somppi explained.
“He made his attack around 37 k into the race, I pushed hard with Graeme Killick to follow. We were both able to stay with him initially, but Graeme started to fade so I went by him and skied right up behind Ivan,” he continued. “The rest of the way, it was down to the two of us, exchanging the lead. When we neared the final kms, it was apparent Ivan’s legs were cramping up and as we crested over the second last big climb, I noticed I had a small gap on him. So I just blasted with everything I had left and opened up a good margin to the finish line.”
After traveling and competing on the World Cup circuit for the past weeks, Babikov explained he was not able to fully recover for Saturday’s long-distance race.
“Race plan was to save as much energy as possible and push the pace hard on the last two laps, which I did but my legs were feeling very tired from the beginning,” Babikov wrote in an email. “On the last 2 k, my legs just gave up on me, started cramping very badly so I even had to double pole some sections. I feel like travel and all 180 k of racing that I’ve done in the past four weeks finally caught up to me.”
On the women’s side, Cendrine Browne of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH) and national U23 team took gold in the 30 k mass start with a time of 1:23:02.4, edging out Emily Nishikawa (AWCA/NST-Dev.) by inches (+0.37). Dahria Beatty (AWCA/NST-U23) finished third, 6.1 seconds after Browne.
The three women and Andrea Dupont of Rocky Mountain Racers (RMR) quickly distanced themselves from the pack. On the final lap, Browne and Nishikawa sprinted for first in a photo finish.
Browne was the bronze medalist in Tuesday’s 10 k classic race.
- 30/50 k freestyle mass start: Results
— François Léger Dionne