E Load Marathon Race Report: Gatineau Loppet 49km Skate
Note: pictures courtesy of Jo-Ann Holden (www.musicianonskis.ca), with the exception of the last one, taken by Freida Hjartarson.
From a racing point of view, a few developments made things interesting, largely having to do with some hard work and innovations brought about by the organizing committee. For the second year in a row, snow conditions forced the organizers to alter the route. Everyone with XC Ottawa was very pleased that course included Ridge Road, 1A, 1B and 24. Thanks very much to the groomers and everyone involved in the effort that went into making that happen.
Also, the prize money scheme and Cross Country Canada sanctioning of the 49km skate event led to some hemming and hawing and hedging of bets by some of the top skiers. Briefly, one would normally have predicted that the 49km skate event would be the more exciting, competition-wise, of the two thanks to tradition and CCC sanctioning (also new this year). On the other hand, the prize money was going equally to only the winners of both 49 km skate and classic events. So, to a degree, people were asking themselves what they wanted most: a shot at the prize money? CPL points? The most competitive event?. Or, maybe skiers simply had a preference for either classic or skate.
In the end, in terms of XC Ottawa skeirs, Sheila Kealey raced in the 49km classic and 29km skate race, Anna Geiger-Whitlock did the 49km classic, and Megan McTavish, Justin Demers and Karl Saidla were in the 49km skate. See a report on the 49km classic event here:
The 49km skate event included some somewhat slow and variable snow conditions, with some fairly humid powder snow falling on top of a granular base during the event. This year’s race was quite competitive with past winner Robin McKeever and 2009 Canadian World Championship team member Chris Butler making the trip from Canmore, and also Josh Smullin, skiing for Rossignol and coming all the way from Steam Boat Springs, Colorado. Local skiers including XC Ottawa’s Karl Saidla and Justin Demers, and Nakkertok’s Aidan Lennie were hoping to give the “out of towner’s” at least a good run for their money, perhaps along with some help from people like Chris Algar of Nova Scotia, a regular top 10 finisher at the Gloppet.
Among the women, Megan was looking at some seasoned competitiors in Kelly Skillicorn (fomer winner of the American Birkebeiner, Renee Hamel, and Susann Nevala, all the way from Kajaani, Finland.
In the men's event, the race broke up on the last major parkway climb before Penguin (sometimes we call this one Turkey Hill) following a strong move by Robin McKeever. Chris Butler then led Karl and Robin up Penguin, followed shortly by Aidan Lennie and Josh Smullin, with Chris Algar a little after them, choosing an intelligent strategy he called “appropriate pacing”.
Chris leading Karl and Robin above the lookout on Penguin. Nobody likes this pitch....nobody.
By the top of Penguin these groups were clearly established and people seemed to be working well together and keeping the pace relatively high. The open and generally downhill parkway helped to keep these groups together as the kilometres ticked by. Keeping the pace consistent and continually drinking E Load (handed to us by our many helpers on the course) helped our skiers stay as fresh as possible all the way to finish.
Aidan Lennie and Josh Smullin bringing it home. Great first 50k for Aidan!
Chis Algar, the cagey veteran, reeling them in.
Justin with, among others, Fraser Mills-Connery of Banff Ski Runners. "Now's the time to start hurting"
Finally, Robin McKeever used a blinding burst of speed to open up a gap over Chris Butler and Karl Saidla with 1.5km to go. He widened this gap all the way to finish, with Chris outsprinting Karl for second place.
Chris Algar’s “appropriate pacing” paid off when he finally caught up to Josh Smullin and Aidan Lennie with less than a kilometre to go. At the finish, however, Josh Smullin took the three way sprint for 4th place, with Chris and Aidan close behind in 5th and 6th.
Megan McTavish spent her day racing with a large group of men, alternately trailing, skiing with, and leading them. While she didn't know i at the time, Kelly Skillicorn was still very much in contention in the early stages of the race, trailing Megan by less than two minutes roughly 30k in. Everyone knows things can change quickly in the second half. In the end however, Megan widened her lead coming home on the Parkway and said she felt better this year than she ever had before. She swears it has nothing to do with not having to climb Mont Bleu Hill at the finish. As expected, Kelly Skillicorn took second place, with Renee Hamel in third, followed closely by Susanna Nevala.
Megan pulverises the parkway
Karl's instructions on how to get your last feed: First, recruit your mom. Then, make sure she wears a pink jacket. Finally, smile so she knows you appreciate it!
Thanks from XC Ottawa to everyone who helped to organize the event, and to everyone who helped us out with handing out E Load, spare poles etc.
Hope to see everyone again next year!