Canmore World Cup – Updated

Callum Watson finished up a great week of racing at the Canmore World Cup with a career best 47th place in the 30km Skiathlon on Sunday December 16. Watson was gunning for a top 40 result for most of the race, fading on the final lap to lose a few places and end up under six minutes behind the winner Maurice Manificat from France. The previous day Esther Bottomley scored her best % of field World Cup result since 2010, placing 46th in the Freestyle Sprint. It has been a successful three weeks of racing in Canada, with Phillip Bellingham hitting the top 50 in Quebec and Paul Kovacs going under 120 FIS points for the first time and making his WC debut in Canmore.

The Canmore World Cups started on Thursday with the 10km and 15km Classic mass starts. Watson was the only Australian racing and he put in a very creditable performance to take 56th place in the 15km, 10.4% behind the winner Tim Tscharnke from Germany. The pace was hot from the start on the hilly Canmore 3.75km loop, and Watson dropped off the main pack early on. However as the race went on he started moving up in the field of 65 skiers, and on the final lap was sitting in a pack containing places 51 to 56. Watson had a crack at breaking away, but as it turned out he probably went too early and didn’t have the legs to match the others when they started sprinting for the finish. 56th was still a great result and easily his best result in a mass start World Cup (at least up until Sunday).

All four Australians raced the Sprint on Saturday, with Bottomley having the best race in 46th place, 16 seconds behind the fastest qualifier Kikkan Randall from the USA. It was a step up from Bottomley’s performance in the Noram sprint on the same course two weeks earlier, she knocked off a number of quality athletes and it should give her a confidence boost as she now heads to Europe.

Watson, Bellingham and Kovacs placed 66th, 68th and 70th in the men’s sprint, but for Bellingham it could have been a result similar to his breakthrough performance in Quebec the previous week. Heading into the main downhill he poled his own ski and fell, flipping onto his back and coming to a complete stop right at the point where it was critical to carry good speed. To still finish just 3 seconds behind Watson after such a fall showed that he was having a good race. In his World Cup debut Kovacs fought hard all the way and was happy for the experience and not to sign the list! Sprint isn’t his specialty, however currently Australia can only start one man in a distance World Cup and Watson has that spot sown up.

The Australian race of the week was Watson’s 30km. He skied much of the race with Andy Pohl from New Zealand, and the two worked together well particularly on the skating leg. Changing from classic in 43rd and 44th place, they reeled in some handy skiers including Cherepanov from Kazakstan and Bjornsen from the USA. Half way through the skate leg they had a pack of six and a top 40 finish was in sight up ahead – a target that Watson was aiming for. However on the last lap the pace was on and the pack split up with Watson in the middle of it. Cherepanov and Bjornsen caught him on the last hill and he couldn’t hold them off. Pohl ended up 10 seconds ahead in 44th, also a personal best for the Canmore based New Zealander. Watson’s 47th was a PB in three different ways – his best WC place and first time inside the top 50, his best percentage behind the winner at 7.5%, and his best percentage of field (ie, 47th out of 64). All up an impressive performance by the 23-year-old University of NSW student, showing that all the hard work  is starting to pay off.

Bottomley and Bellingham will race next in Europe, joining up with the junior team at the OPA cup in Germany at the start of January, while Watson and Kovacs are heading down to California with coach August Teague before taking on the US Nationals in Solider Hollow also at the start of January.

Images from Canmore coming soon!

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