Blue skies for Whistler Woppet

More than 100 racers tackle 'fast' race; Pemberton racers dominate 'cruiser' course

It was in perfect conditions that 105 racers set off to complete the varying challenges of the fourth annual Whistler Olympic Park loppet, aptly called the Woppet.

Competitors from as far afield as Big Sky Resort, Mont. and North Bend, Wash. were at the Whistler event on Saturday (April 7), choosing between a 7.5 kilometre cruiser, 15 km challenge, or 30 km quest.

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"This race is a great send off to the Nordic season at Whistler Olympic Park.The courses are different every year and we introduce new concepts to keep it interesting.This year weincludeda chariot class," said John Heilig, manager of Nordic sport at Whistler Olympic Park.

The action began at 10 a.m. as the 40 racers tackling the quest distance headed out, followed by the 15 km challenge and then the deceivingly-named cruiser race.

Dominated by Pemberton-based competitors, the 7.5 km race was won by Kaede and Toshi Kawano taking the girls and open men's titles respectively, with Joe Davies claiming the boy's title. Whistler competitor Jill Shewfelt tackled her first ever cross-country event and came in first place in the open women's category.

"The 7.5km distance is a great entry-level option for first-time racers, but it was fast right off the bat," said Shewfelt. "I just started cross-country skiing this year and everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. This event was so much fun, with lots of things for families to do like the Easter egg hunt, and the barbecue was an awesome finish to the day."

In the 15 km race, Gary and Angelica di Silvestri from Montana took the overall first place and open women's categories, respectively. Tammy Stothers from North Vancouver claimed the master women title and Kayden Sim, also a North Vancouver native, came in second overall, but first in the junior men. Alain Prat from Vancouver came in third overall and first in the open men's category. Seventeen-year-old Nicki Murdoch came in first for the girls, with her 12-year-old brother, Michael, hot on her heels.

"It was his goal to beat me, however I just managed to scrape a win," said Nicki Murdoch, who is part of the Whistler Nordics Development Team. "It was a very fast course and I beat my personal best by 11 minutes. There were a few tough hills, and this was my first 15 km loppet in Whistler, so I am really pleased with the result."

Washington's Kent Murdoch won the quest race in 1:15:16.0, coming in first overall. Vancouver's Martin Utely took the top spot in the open men's category and second overall. Heather Adamson, from Squamish, came in first in the master women's category, with Vancouver racer Jennifer Wildi just minutes behind her claiming the top spot for the open women's class.

However the whole concept of a loppet is that everyone gets involved. The 7.5 km chariot race overall winner was Nelson Dow from Squamish with a time of 26:48.4, with women's winner Lesley Clements of Whistler hot on his heels with a time of 27:38.3. It should be noted that even though they were pulling extra weight, these competitors were only three minutes behind the unencumbered 7.5 km racers.

"I was pretty fast on the climbs, but took the corners easy," said Clements, who pulled her daughter, Sedona, adding about 50 additional pounds with the weight of the chariot also considered. "It took a lot of practice and a good gliding technique to deal with the additional drag, but it's not a hard tow."

The Callaghan Winter Sports Club, which hosted the event, couldn't have asked for better conditions. With the sun high in a perfect, blue sky the event finished off with a great barbecue offered by Whistler Cooks.

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