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Top skiers get first taste of Nordic centre

New Canadian Ivan Babikov beats world’s best skiers in Whistler

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“The heavy snow makes these conditions really tough. It is hard to plant your poles in the fresh snow, but I do find the course challenging with good climbs and I think that is one of my strengths.”

Graham Nishikawa of Whitehorse was second, followed by Lars Flora of the U.S.

On the women’s side, Sara Renner poled her way to third place behind Americans Liz Stephen and Kikkan Randall.

For Renner, who is used to the colder weather of Canmore, the fresh snow and warm temperatures were a learning experience.

“You need to have an amphibious mindset here because it is wet with lots of precipitation,” she said. “It can be challenging here because it is really different from a lot of World Cup sites. The weather here is like no other.”

In the individual sprint on March 21, two of the top-ranked Swedish racers put on a clinic with Emil Jonsson in first and Peter Larsson in second. Devon Kershaw was the top Canadian in third, one spot ahead of Olympic champion Bjoern Lind.

“It was a good race and I tried all of the tactics needed to make it happen,” said Kershaw. “Coming third is bittersweet for me, but to be the national champion is the icing on the cake for me.”

On the women’s side Sara Renner moved up one spot into second, just behind Kikkan Randall of the U.S. American Lindsay Williams was third.

Crawford, an Olympic and World Cup medalist in sprint, did have the lead heading into the finish but planted her pole inside her ski and tripped. She finished in sixth place.

The final day, March 23, was also the toughest for the racers with about 20 cm of new snow overnight and temperatures warming through the day. Some racers opted to skip the wax in favour of “hairying” the bases of their skis with sandpaper to get a better grip on the slush.

Whatever their strategy, it was a long race for most competitors. Babikov picked up his second gold medal in the men’s 50 km classic, ahead of Torin Koos of the U.S. and Ryan McKeever. Babikov was on course for 2:22:02, or about 15 minutes longer than the top racers at the Olympics.

“It was definitely challenging out there today,” said Babikov. “I was really slow on the downhills but made up time on the climbs.”

Renner finished on top of the women’s 30 km race, followed by Crawford and Canada’s Dasha Gaiazova.

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