Fortin, Perras go the distance at Payak 

New course shakes up podium after disqualifications

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - BIG HONOUR Women's 30-kilometre winner Barbara Turner accepts her prize from Olympian Brittany Webster as Stephanie Cripps looks on.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • BIG HONOUR Women's 30-kilometre winner Barbara Turner accepts her prize from Olympian Brittany Webster as Stephanie Cripps looks on.

After a year away because of low-snow conditions, Sigge's P'ayakentsut made a strong return at Whistler Olympic Park on Feb. 27 and 28.

Over 420 racers registered for the adult loppet while roughly 160 little ones tried their hands the next day.

Both 50-kilometre races had some big names competing in them, though the results were mixed.

On the men's side, Scott Perras, a 2014 Olympian in biathlon, has recently tried his hand at longer distances. The Payak was his second 50-kilometre race. The first? Well, it was the weekend before.

"It gave me some experience and what to expect with fuelling, especially with water, but this one was a harder course but slightly smaller field," he said. "(I learned about) pacing myself and really understanding that you're really trying to cater to your body's needs to make sure you don't get too tired by the end. The last 5K, I was trying to make sure not to lose the race."

Perras pushed through and pulled across the finish line with a time of two hours, 12 minutes and 44 seconds (2:12:44), besting runners-up Tom Caslavsky and Cory Forest by 2:13 and 13:37, respectively.

Perras, who lives in Canmore, Alta., said he got off to a good start, but warm, wet conditions made it tough to power through the second lap.

"The first lap was really good," he said. "The second lap, because about 300 people had gone through at that point, it was pretty tough, mashed potatoes, but I didn't mind. I felt in good shape.

"(As a biathlete), I'm used to stopping and shooting every 3K, so when you have to ski 50 straight, it's a bit tough," he added.

On the women's side, Veronique Fortin, better known for road cycling, took the 50-kilometre win with a time of 2:38:54 to edge out Kamila Burotova by just over three minutes. Third-place finisher Freya Wasteneys was over 19 minutes back.

Fortin was initially the second-place finisher to Olympian Brittany Webster, but Webster was later discovered to have taken a wrong turn and was disqualified.

Fortin was pleased with her result as it was, and was glad to take first place.

"I was doing quite well on the course," the Gatineau, Que. resident said. "The descents are quite technical.

"The last 5-7K was hard because of the conditions."

Fortin, who was in town for a conference, first heard about the Payak two years ago and was planning to race last year before it was called off.

Chief of race Sherryl Yeager said a new route was implemented this year in response to participant feedback.

"The 50-kilometre (race) was too hard and it was scaring people away. And we want the 50-kilometre event to become our marquee event," she said.

However, though it was Webster's first time at the event, she was skiing with veteran Peter Findlay, who had finished third among the men but was also disqualified. Yeager said it was an honest mistake and Webster's pace still would have been good enough to win, but rules are rules.

"At the point where they come into the biathlon stadium on their second lap, her bib came loose and she lost her bib," Yeager said. "She got distracted, she lost her bib, missed the turn and her and Peter both missed four kilometres of the course.

"It was not an intentional thing and they were extremely gracious about it once we realized what had happened. It was a learning moment for everybody."

Yeager said organizers were planning to implement the new route last year before it was cancelled.

Webster, whose husband Mike recently began working at Whistler Olympic Park, drove in from Canmore, Alta. for the event. In addition to racing, she also presented medals and was featured at the kids' races on Feb. 28.

The 28-year-old enjoyed the atmosphere and said she planned to be back.

"It's amazing. To be honest, I haven't done many community races, but I loved this one," she said. "I already feel so welcome and I feel people here are really, really friendly and I love being a part of it and so I'm glad that I can be."

Meanwhile, in the 30-kilometre race, Barbara Turner crossed the line first in the women's race with a time of 1:50:29, besting runner-up Carolyn Daubeny by 3:25 and bronze medallist Stephanie Cripps by 4:53. Turner also won in 2014 and was happy to defend her title on the challenging day.

"I feel I was really lucky I didn't fall because there were a lot of places it felt like 'any second now, you're down,'" she said. "It was fortunate there was no rain and the course was really well put together."

Turner said the final sections were tough, but she was pleased to hold off the competition.

"Coming into the stadium, the last 2K and the end of the first lap, the sun was really warm and so it was slow," she said. "Then you think you've got to go around again."

As for the men, Kayden Sim finished in 1:24:05 to beat Skeets Morel by 4:59 and Dave Burch by 5:04.

There were also several age groups completing a 15-kilometre course.

For the women, Sofie Hill, Marin Lowe and Madeleine Pollock took the top three spots among in the 13-15 division, while Grace Fetherstonhaugh, Sarah Semkow and Kayla Holloway were top three for the 16 and 17s. Katie Weaver, Melanie Levesque and Heather Campbell were the top three for open women.

As for the men, Michael Murdoch, Ryan Goodwin and Wei Tien Ho were the top three in the 13-15 event, and Harrison Phillips and Nick Lindley-Peart were the two finishers among 16- and 17-year-olds. Tristan Galbraith, David Helliwell and Eric Zhao were top three in open men.

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