Graham Ritchie Sprints into Tour de Ski in 21st to Lead Nine Canadians
VAL MUSTAIR, Sui.—Graham Ritchie opened his first appearance in the famed nine-day Tour de Ski with a solid 21st place finish in Val Mustair, Switzerland on Saturday.
Coming off back-to-back career best sprint and distance finishes on the World Cup prior to the holiday break, the 24-year-old showed flashes of his top form while posting the 14th-best qualifying time
in his two laps around the 765-metre loop for the skate-ski sprint race.
Ritchie, of Parry Sound, Ont., was the lone Canadian to qualify for the head-to-head heats with the fastest 30 athletes in the 100-man field.
“I am happy with today. It was a good qualifier, but it took a lot out of me, and I was a little tired in the quarter-final. I wasn’t able to ski as strong as I would have liked (in the heats),” said Ritchie.
Heading into the round of 30 in the heats against many of the top sprinters in the world, the 2022 Olympian dug deep but couldn’t muster up the energy that qualified him for his second appearance in the sprint heats this season on the World Cup.
Struggling to maintain pace with the frontrunners in his six-man heat from the sound of the start pistol, Ritchie placed fifth in his heat for 21st place overall.
“I think I’m still fighting a bit of a cold that I got over the Christmas break, so I think the qualifier just took a lot of energy out of me today,” said Ritchie. I was just battling to keep up during the heat.”
Norway’s Johannes Klaebo won the opening men’s stage. Italy’s Federico Pellegrino was second in the sprint final. Sindre Skar, also of Norway, skied to third place on the men’s sprint podium.
Eight other Canadians also began their first ever journey through Europe in the grueling Tour de Ski. Antoine Cyr (Gatineau, Que.) and Russell Kennedy (Canmore, Alta.) both narrowly missed the heats, qualifying less than half-a-second out of the top-30.
Cyr finished 32nd, while Kennedy placed 33rd. Olivier Léveillé, of Sherbrooke, Que., qualified in 55th. Sam Hendry, of Canmore, Alta., was 85th in his World Cup debut, while Remi Drolet (Rossland, B.C.) was 91st.
A trio of Canadian women are also testing their fitness in their first appearance on the Tour de Ski.
Katherine Stewart-Jones (Chelsea, Que.) was the top Canuck in the women’s sprint race, placing 48th. Dahria Beatty, of Whitehorse, opened the Tour in 56th spot, while Quebec City teen – Liliane Gagnon – was 66th.
Switzerland’s Nadine Faehndrich was tops in the women’s sprint race. Sweden’s Maja Dahlqvist opened the nine-day affair in second place. Norway’s Lotta Weng skied to third spot.
Modeled after the Tour de France in cycling, the 17th annual Tour de Ski is the ultimate test of fitness to determine the king and queen of cross-country skiing. The seven-race Tour through three countries in Central Europe tests the world’s best cross-country skiers in all race formats, culminating with a 425-metre climb to the top of Alpe Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy on January 8.
The second stage of the Tour de Ski is set for New Year’s Day with a 10-kilometre classic-ski pursuit race in Val Mustair.
Nordiq Canada is the governing body of para nordic and cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 60,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Swix, Lanctôt Sports and Pembroke – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium, Nordiq Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Nordiq Canada, please visit us at https://nordiqcanada.ca.
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