Ricard, Sands win at Red Bull 400 Worlds 

B.C. defends home turf at Whistler Olympic Park

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - GUTTING IT OUT Alexandre Ricard (right) edged out Erik Resell to win the Red Bull 400 World Championships at Whistler Olympic Park on July 13.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • GUTTING IT OUT Alexandre Ricard (right) edged out Erik Resell to win the Red Bull 400 World Championships at Whistler Olympic Park on July 13.

Beating the defending world champion isn't easy at the best of times.

Alexandre Ricard did it in an event he'd never challenged before during the Red Bull 400 World Championships at Whistler Olympic Park on July 13.

In the end, in the contest where racers clamber up the park's ski jumps up angles at times reaching 37 degrees, Squamish resident Ricard held off Norway's Erik Resell to earn the title of world champion in his first crack at the race. Crossing the line in three minutes and 29 seconds (3:29), Ricard came in just one second ahead of Resell.

"[It feels] incredible," Ricard said in the start corral after the race. "I came here to try the race. [It's my] first time here. I train a lot in Squamish, with lots of hill training and climbing up the Chief."

In a clash of styles, Ricard remained upright in the final quarter of the course, a steep wooden ramp, while Resell and third-place finisher Jakob Mayer of Austria, made their way on all-fours. Emerging as the top qualifier during the 11-heat, 615-athlete first round, Ricard acknowledged that he felt he might have left himself gassed for a second dash up the slope for all the marbles. However, he had just enough left to top Resell, whose qualifying time was 41 seconds slower than Ricard's.

"I was just thinking it must be painful for [Resell], too," said Ricard, who is originally from Quebec and has been in Squamish for roughly a year. "I just had to push forward and take the win."

Crediting his new hometown of Squamish, Ricard said he trained doing short bursts on uphill sections of trails such as the Stawamus Chief.

Ricard, a massage therapist at the Scandinave Spa, said he plans to return in 2020 to defend his crown.

For his part, Resell said as the course's end neared, he felt fatigued and while he made a valiant effort to keep pace with Ricard, it wasn't quite enough.

"I had some energy left, but the Canadian guy [Ricard] was really strong in the last metres. I was completely drained in the last metres," he said.

Resell explained that the Whistler course had some fairly significant differences from his home hill at Trondheim, Norway, with the biggest of those being that the major uphill climb in Whistler is on grass, while the Norwegian hill is on hard plastic. As well, the course at Bischofshofen, Austria, where Resell won his World Championship in 2018, has a similar setup.

The difference, Resell estimated, affected his time to the tune of about 20 seconds.

"This course is completely different from the one I'm used to in Trondheim. The surface here is much softer," he said.

Resell warmed up on the small jump after arriving in Whistler to try to discover his technique, but couldn't quite find those extra two seconds to reclaim the championship.

"I was maybe not prepared enough, but I'm really looking forward to going back to the plastic hill again," he said. "I think it's better for me to have a harder surface."

On the women's side, another first-timer took the crown as Maple Ridge's Madison Sands came out on top with a winning time of 4:18. The Grouse Grind women's record holder held off Brooke Spence by 12 seconds while defending champion Robyn Mildren rounded out the podium 23 seconds off the pace. All three podium finishers bested Mildren's course record of 4:45, set in 2018.

As a newcomer, Sands said she came in not expecting much. Like Ricard for the men, she was the top women's qualifier and, even though she won in the final, second-guessed her strategy to come out so quickly in the heats knowing another climb is coming.

"I didn't really know what to expect so I went out full force in the first round and I went full force again in the second," said Sands, who also plans to defend her title next year. "Maybe don't come out so strong in the first round, but we'll see."

As a first-timer in the race, Sands explained she heard about the Red Bull 400 after winning last year's Grouse Grind and decided to challenge this contest as well.

Sands, a part-time fitness instructor, sought to keep her training fresh to prepare for the race effectively.

"The key, I think, is variety, high intensity, staying positive," she said.

Full results are available online at www.startlinetiming.com.

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