Loppet brings the pain 

Soft snow wreaks havoc for cross-country racers

click to flip through (2) Skiers had to double pole downhill at 28th Loppet. Photo by Val Burke.
  • Skiers had to double pole downhill at 28th Loppet. Photo by Val Burke.

It was slow going for participants in the 28 th annual Whistler Loppet this past weekend, as a surprise snowfall left about 25 cm of snow on Lost Lake and Nicklaus North cross-country trails.

The groomer did squeeze in a lap before the start of the race, but it wasn’t long before athletes were wallowing in soft snow. Several very fit athletes in the 30 km category decided to pull out at the halfway point, while others who ventured a second lap of the 15 km course found it even slower going the second time around.

To give you an idea of just how challenging the race was:

• Skiers had to double pole and skate in order to ski downhill;

• Vesa Suomalainen, the winner of the 2004 Loppet (the 2005 race was cancelled because of lack of snow) was one of the skiers who pulled out halfway;

• The fastest time for the whole 30 km was about 23 minutes slower than in 2004, when the conditions were a lot faster.

According to overall winner Cyrus Kangarloo of Calgary, it was tough going.

"It was crazy. Luckily the groomer did an awesome job, or I’d still be out there. The conditions were as good as they could have been for that first lap, but on the second lap you were just trying to follow whatever tracks you could see. It was a mess," he said.

"When I had to skate my way down the first hill, and there were some steep hills on this course, I said to myself it’s going to be a long race.

"I was in a 53 km race last weekend in Ottawa, and this 30 km race hurt a lot worse that that. On an icy course you can just fly along, get into a rhythm, but this was just a slog, there was no rhythm to it at all."

Kangarloo led from the beginning and had no idea how close his competitors were. He managed to build a 40 second gap after the first lap, and then turned on the gas.

"I just kept trying to go faster and faster. I was sure everybody was right behind me the whole time, skiing in my tracks, so I kept pushing to the finish."

As a result, he had over four minutes on his closest competitor by the end of the race, as he crossed the finish line in 1:36:38. In a testament to his fitness Kangarloo was smiling and talking to people within a minute of crossing the finish line.

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