After 50 hard kilometres of soft snow and brutal hill climbs the marathon Sigge's P'ayakentsut cross-country ski race came down to a head-to-head sprint. Canmore's Phil Villeneuve, a former national level ski racer, versus Elliot Holtham of UBC.
Holtham edged Villeneuve for the $250 prime, winning the long climb at the start of the second lap. But in the sprint to the finish, Villeneuve broke first and managed to hold off the younger skier to the finish. In the end they were separated by less than a ski length.
"I just wanted to ski today, I haven't done enough distance this year so I went out conservative and we exchanged the lead a lot," said Villeneuve. "I could tell that he was pretty strong and our skis were pretty much the same the whole way - maybe mine were a little better, but overall I had to ski smart.
"I let him take a few pulls on the latter part, I didn't know I was even going to last the whole way, and yeah, I was lucky at the end that I managed to pull a little more. I thought he had more juice in the tank, so I was surprised.
Villeneuve said having someone to ski with actually made the race easier because the two skiers could draft off one another. When you're on your own, he said, it's a lot more work. "It would have been a miserable 50km for me otherwise," he said.
Villeneuve crossed the finish line in 2:27:25.2, while Holtham finished in 2:27:25.9, 0.7 seconds later. Third place went to Dan Packman in 2:35.52.
The top female racer was Sarah Max, a fast American skier who placed sixth overall out of all the 50km skiers.
"I guess I was just running scared and trying to keep up with the guys at the start," she said. "But for the most part I was just doing my own thing. I could have used another gel or something, but it was okay.
The downhills were definitely a high point for me, I definitely could have used more of them... The whole thing was pretty great. (The course) was amazing, I loved it. It's really hard not to slow down and look at the views."
In the 30km category, the winners were both Whistler locals. Camille Cheskey won the men's event in 1:31:25, building a small lead on the first lap and then extending it.
"The first lap was pretty mellow and I decided to go for the prime, but nobody else did so I built a little gap, around 15 seconds on top of the hill and it was a minute for the end on of the race," he said. "I made the right choice (to go), and the skis were great, so that helped a lot.
The women's 30km winner was Sylvie Allen, who is recovering from a torn hamstring and wasn't sure she was going to race until a few days before when she started to feel better.
"I'm so glad it didn't creep up and haunt me," she said. "Almost fell on a downhill section when I was passing some people and I had a bit of a tweak, but I ignored it.
Allen said she didn't pay too much attention to the field, and wasn't even sure she won the women's prime. "I just tried to ski fairly smooth and keep up a good pace. I managed to eat a couple of Clif Blocks through the last lap, and almost had a heart attack after the prime hill, but I'm pretty stoked overall. I was limping for six weeks and three days ago I was still limping."
Note: In the original online version we misidentified women's 50km winner Sarah Max after an issue with overall standings. Our apologies for the error.
Complete results are online at www.zone4.ca.