Graham Ritchie Matches Career Best in 17th, leading four Canadian Nordic Skiers into World Cup Sprint Heats
DAVOS, Sui.—Graham Ritchie matched his best World Cup sprint result while Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt skied into the heats for the first time ever, highlighting a day in Davos, Switzerland that saw four Canadians ski into the elite group of 30.
Graham Ritchie, of Parry Sound, Ont., stormed into 17th place in the men’s sprint. The 24-year-old earned his first trip of the year into the head-to-head heats with the fastest-30 athletes after clocking the eighth-fastest qualifying time on the two-lap course.
“It felt really good to get a result right up there in the mix. These sprints have been so tight this year, so it is nice to have one go in my favour,” said Ritchie.
Heavy snow blanketing the picturesque 750-metre Davos loop yesterday sending wax techs scrambling in their preparation but race officials delivered the world’s best a sprint masterpiece with rock solid snow.
“This course here can be hard especially with the altitude, but it is a really fun one and always draws a good crowd which is awesome to have,” added Ritchie.
A former hockey player growing up in northern Ontario who didn’t focus on cross-country skiing until Grade 12, Ritchie held his own in the round of 30 heats that matches up six athletes at a time. The top-two athletes in each heat along with next two fastest times overall move on to the next round.
His day came to an end after a hard-fought battle up and down the hills of the Davos course where he crossed the finish line fourth in his heat.
“I was in a very strong heat, but I knew based on my qualifier that I would be able to put up a good fight against those guys. I felt strong, but it just wasn’t quite enough. It stings a bit to be so close to one of those Lucky Loser positions for a spot to move onto the semis,” said Ritchie, who has been struggling to find his top form early in the season. “This was an important race to get a good result for sure, and I’m hoping it secures a spot on the team for the Tour de Ski. It was a much better day and I’m excited to have this result heading into the break.”
Antoine Cyr (Gatineau, Que.) also secured a spot in the quarter-finals, qualifying 28th. Cyr, who teamed up with Ritchie to finish fifth in the team sprint at the 2022 Olympics crossed the line at the back of his heat to place 29th overall.
Italy’s Federico Pellegrino won the men’s sprint. Norway’s Johannes Klaebo skied to the silver medal, while Lucas Chanavat, of France, claimed third place.
The Canadian women also enjoyed a breakthrough day on the World Cup sprint scene with Dahria Beatty and Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt both earning spots in the heats.
Beatty, a 28-year-old from Whitehorse, lined up in the World Cup heats for the first time this year after chalking up the 24th-fastest qualifying time.
“I am happy to have the chance to ski some heats today. My qualifier was an improvement over the last couple of weekends,” said Beatty, who put up a hard fight, but was forced to the sidelines after finishing fifth in the opening round.
“I was a bit disappointed I wasn’t able to be more competitive in the heats. I know I am capable of a lot more than what I did today, but I just didn’t have what I needed in my legs,” said Beatty, who is focused on peaking for the Tour de Ski during the holidays. “It was a good reminder for me how fun racing heats is though, so I’m excited for one more race then a good training block over Christmas to find that bit that’s missing right now before the Tour de Ski which was my main objective going into the season.”
Beatty took a lot of pride sharing a spot in the heats with her Olympic teammate, Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt.
The Morin Heights, Que. product punched her first ticket into the heats on the elite cross-country skiing circuit, earning the final qualifying spot in the top-30.
“It felt amazing to race some sprint heats. To break through that top-30 barrier is a big moment for sure,” said the 30-year-old.
Anticipating an explosive start to her heat, Bouffard-Nesbitt went hard out of the gate but found herself further ahead of the field than she anticipated, preferring to sit back and draft the pack before making her move. The tactical learning dropped her to fifth in her heat.
“The race didn’t play out the way I wanted, but my skiing felt good, and I have no regrets right now,” added Bouffard-Nesbitt. “It felt great to ski with some pace. The speed that was lacking at the end of race might come with some training and smarter tactics. I’m happy I got to be a part of a strong sprint day for Canada.”
A Quebec City teen, Liliane Gagnon, made her World debut on Saturday. While Gagnon narrowly missed locking up a spot in the heats after qualifying 32nd, the 19-year-old was the sixth-fastest athlete under the age of 23.
Switzerland’s Nadine Faehnndrich was fastest on the course all day, winning the women’s race. Jessie Diggins, of the United States, charged into the silver medal position. Sweden’s Johanna Hagstroem was third.
The World Cup continues on Sunday with a 20-kilometre individual start skate-ski race.