Canada’s Antoine Cyr Holds Strong in 12th at Cross-Country Skiing World Cup in Finland
RUKA, Fin.—Antoine Cyr dropped one spot on the field in a men’s 15-kilometre skate-ski pursuit race, but still hung on for his second-straight top-15 finish at the cross-country skiing World Cup opening-weekend in Ruka, Finland.
One day removed from a career-best 11th-place finish, the 23-year-old led a group of three Canadian men and two women into the elite group of 30 with a stellar 12th-place finish on a bitterly cold day in Ruka.
“That was really good today. I skied really well. The course was tough, and the weather played in the favour of us Canadians who are used to being in the cold,” laughed Cyr. “This was another huge race for the whole team.”
Starting time-behind-the-leaders based on the results of the first two races of the mini-tour this weekend, the resident of Gatineau, Que. dropped one spot on the field with a time of 36:22.5.
The Russians swept the men’s podium. Alexander Bolshunov was first across the line at 35:23.7. Sergey Ustiugov finished on his heels in second at 35:24.2. Artem Maltsev completed the medal sweep for the Russians with a time of 35:24.4.
Two other Canadian men also posted career-bests results while skiing into the top-30. World Cup rookie, Olivier Léveillé of Sherbrooke, Que., was 17th, while Olympian, Russell Kennedy of Canmore, Alta., placed 21st at 37:03.6.
“It’s huge for the whole team – having Olivier and Russell along with both of the women all in the top-30 – shows us this is not a joke. We can race against the best in the world,” said Cyr. “This is the first weekend of the World Cup, and it is always hard, but this shows we all deserve to be on the World Cup and can perform here too.”
Competing in just his third-ever World Cup cross-country ski race, Olivier Léveillé, bolted 12 spots up the standings into 17th place. The 20-year-old Léveillé was the third-fastest athlete in the field of nearly 70 under the age of 23 after clocking a time of 36:24.4.
“This was an awesome start to the World Cup for us,” said Léveillé. “Last year I watched Antoine learning as the season went on and was getting better and better. I think he took that training into the season and made the best of it. All of us on the team skied really well today.”
Starting in 26th spot, Russell Kennedy shook off heavy legs to improve his career-best distance result to 21st place. The veteran of the young Canadian squad, who also guided for Brian McKeever at the Paralympic Games in 2018, stopped the clock at 37:03.6 after completing his three loops around the hard-packed Finnish trail.
“My legs were heavy from the start, so it was a battle out there, but it was super good to still have pace for a good result,” said Kennedy, who skied with Olivier for a chunk of the race in an effort to close the gap on the frontrunners. “I was super impressed with Oliver’s ability to close the gap, and continue skiing well throughout the race. These races are super important for us all as we get to feel the pace. We are really excited to have a great start.”
The two Canadian women who suited up on Sunday also locked up spots in the top-30 with hard-fought efforts.
Katherine Stewart-Jones, of Chelsea, Que., did not let two delays in the start of the race rattle her. The 26-year-old darted 12 spots up the standings into 21st place with a time of 28:40.1 in the women’s 10-kilometre pursuit race.
“It was a really fun race, but was a bit of a stressful morning with the delays,” said Stewart-Jones. “I’m happy with how I dealt with the situation and felt much better than yesterday. I had more fight in me to hunt people down slowly and not gas myself from the start.”
Cendrine Browne, of Saint-Jérôme, Que., took advantage of good skis to battle her way into the top group, finishing in 28th spot on the challenging trail with a time of 29:56.1.
“I had a tough starting position so I’m really happy with today’s race,” said Browne, who added she is proud the Canadians were able to stay focused and ski well despite the cold weather delays. “I had good feelings today and was able to pull myself up into the top-30. My skis were super-fast thanks to the wax techs. This gives me a lot of confidence for the next World Cup.”
Norway’s Therese Johaug was the top woman on day, skiing to the gold medal with a time of 25:56.0. Sweden’s Frida Karlsson finished 7.8 seconds back in the silver-medal spot at 26:03.8. Norway’s Heidi Weng rounded out the women’s podium with a time of 26:33.9.
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