Valjas, Holmes conquere Frozen Thunder distance race


American distance specialist Chelsea Holmes bested Dahria Beatty in the first skate battle of the season to win the Frozen Thunder race, Friday (Nov. 3) at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

Holmes motored around the track five times in 21:26.6 to take the win, while Beatty was 35 seconds back in second place. Holmes, who splits her time between Banff and Alaska, will begin the season on the U.S. world cup team.

Beatty, fresh off a dominant nine-second win in Wednesday’s classic sprint qualifier over Holmes, was satisfied with her races, as she jets off to Europe this week to prepare for the world cup season.

“I’m really looking forward to the season. I’m going to places I’ve raced before, and it’s nice to have that knowledge.

Emily Nishikawa finished third (22:18). India McIsaac was the top junior with an excellent fifth-place finish (23:11).

“It was really fun to get the season started. It was a shock to the system with the temperatures to get racing,” said Nishikawa, noting she is coming back to race shape after a difficult altitude camp in Park City, Utah.

Meanwhile, Len Valjas decided to jump into the 9.5-kilometre skate race, and pulled off a win in a time of 22:13. American Rogan Brown finished second (22:19), followed by Russell Kennedy (22:24) and Andy Shields (22:31).

Kennedy set a tough pace early on, and forced the world cup skier to catch him. The strategy nearly worked, as Valjas had to push hard on the final lap to catch his Canadian teammate.

“I’m very happy. I don’t expect much from myself at this time of year. Any time I can put together a solid race like that, it means I’m starting at a good point and I hope to improve through the winter,” Valjas said.

Valjas said laying down a good race effort was the goal of the day.

“The snow was pretty slow. It felt longer than a 9.5 km race,” Valjas said. “I paced it fairly well. In the second half I started to really work. I was 15 seconds off the lead, and had to work hard to bring Russell back … Russell had a very solid race. It took a lot to catch him. He’s skiing well.”

Valjas praised his competitors and will spend the rest of the week packing his life into luggage bags.

“It’s time to pack up and go to Europe for five months. This is my eighth year missing Christmas. It’s nothing new,” said Valjas, who is also planning a stop in South Korea in February.

Tallon Noble of Team Telemark was the top junior racer (23:26), followed by AWCA athlete Etienne Hebert (23:33).

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