Sprint to the finish wins Payak 

Close to 700 skiers take part in third annual Whistler Olympic Park XC races

click to enlarge POLE POSITIONS

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 prize after the first lap, winning the long climb to start the second. But in the final sprint to the finish, Villeneuve broke first on the way up into the stadium and managed to hold off the younger skier all the way 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 a little 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 of Bend, Oregon, a fast American skier who placed sixth overall out of all the 50km skiers. Her online time was incorrect — she finished at least five minutes ahead of the next female racer.

"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 (energy) gel or something, but it was okay.

"The downhills were definitely a high point for me, I 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 came with me so I built a little gap, around 15 seconds on top of the hill, and I built that into a minute by the end on of the race," he said. "I made the right choice (to go), and my skis were great, so that helped a lot. I think the course got a little faster for the second lap."


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