It felt as though the sound of wedding bells should be heard tolling at the finish line of the second annual Woppet on Saturday (April 3), as iLmar Heinicke scooped up Megan Tandy in the home stretch and skied across the line at the Callaghan Country base with his fiancée in his arms and a veil on his head.
Later that afternoon, the Squamish-based elite biathletes were due to get hitched.
The loppet, hosted by the Callaghan Winter Sports Club, essentially signalled the end of the cross-country ski season, and the end of being technically "single" for Tandy and Heinicke.
By the time Sunday's (April 4) bike races rolled around, with the Squamish Off Road Cycling Association's Super Toonie Sunday offering up a chance to pedal to complete a first annual Pole and Pedal competition in conjunction with the Woppet, the biathletes could launch their married life along with the start of the 2010 bike season.
A laughing Tandy, Squamish's 2010 Olympian and World Cup racer, said the couple wanted to race the loppet on the day of their wedding because sport is a "big passion in life" for both of them. Heinicke is currently the head coach of the B.C. biathlon team.
"(Sport is) how we met; it's what brought us together. And we kind of thought, with the Pole and Pedal, we could have our last single race before the wedding, and then the next day our first man-and-wife race. So we said, 'Yeah, let's do it!'" Tandy explained.
Even though she was given a romantic lift across the finish line by her then-fiancé, Tandy won the women's category in the 30-kilometre race for the second annual Woppet. Heinicke wound up in seventh place on the men's side, though he waited at one point on course to ski the last lap with his bride-to-be, and he finished about seven and a half seconds behind victorious Max Saenger - a race organizer and the manager of biathlon for the Whistler Olympic/Paralympic Park - in the 30-kilometre event.
Tandy joked that she entered the cross-country race hoping primarily to "rock the ski (to) make up for the damage on the mountain biking," as she feels she's just starting up in mountain biking and lacks the technical skills.
But she hung on for the women's Pole and Pedal win, with her combined time of two hours, 50 minutes and 16 seconds from the two races putting her ahead of Emma Lunder and Julia Ransom.
Saenger held off Wesley Savill, the national-team Nordic combined athlete, to top the men's category in the overall Pole and Pedal standings too. Savill finished the tough 30-kilometre Woppet about 11 seconds behind Saenger, and wound up with a total time of 2:23:59 to Saenger's 2:22:02.
Heinicke beat both of their bike times and wound up third in the men's Pole and Pedal rankings with his time of 2:28:31. Whistler's Munro Duncan, who crashed across the Woppet finish line neck and neck with Kevin Hodder for a joyful finish to the 30-kilometre race, wound up seventh in the Pole and Pedal men's standings with his total time of 2:40:37. Hodder posted a DNF in the bike portion.
"It's the end of the ski season and the start of the bike season, so finish it off and start the next one," Saenger said, smiling at the Woppet finish line.
The second annual Woppet had a strong turnout, with about 110 skiers taking on the 30- and 7.5-kilometre events for a last hurrah in the cross-country ski race season. On a day full of classically variable Whistler weather conditions, where patches of sun and blue skies traded places with bursts of snow, everyone seemed out to have a great time and give a good send-off to skiing.
"This is a super end-of-the-year event. Tons of people come out and have fun," Saenger said. "We've got a ton of food today, nice decorations, the weather cooperated - I hope this turns into a long-lasting end-of-year celebration where people just come out and have a great time."
Savill said he'd been "definitely in it to win it," but he still had a lot of fun, even though he was exhausted after chasing Saenger across the finish line in a "painful, painful course" that he described as "so much hillier than any other loppet I've ever done."
After racing the 7.5-kilometre course and winning the Open Men category, Paul Beswetherick of the Whistler Nordics commended those who whipped the courses into shape after an earlier dumping of snow, and admired the turnout and evidence of the sport's growth in the corridor.
"It's always fantastic to see people out here enjoying this facility, which is just the most incredible legacy of the Games here. We're so lucky to have this place, and it's great to see all the interest from clubs like the Callaghan Winter Sports Club," he said.
Beswetherick enjoyed the 7.5-kilometre race, where he crossed the line just after speedy young Nicki Murdoch of the Whistler Nordics' Sea to Sky Devo Team, who finished first overall and won the Under 20 Women age category with her time of 28:42.
"It was a great race, and I was just blown away by how fast Nicki Murdoch was on her skis. It was like a Slinky - I was catching up to her on the uphills, then she would just fly away from me on the downhills. It was really fun," said Beswetherick, who enjoyed the race with 16-year-old daughter Marlin, Murdoch's teammate and the seventh-fastest skier in their category.
Other Whistler Nordics Woppet results:
30 kilometres - Men: 4. Antoine Arcand, 21. Sean Anderson, 28. Birken Metza; Women: 4. Maria Lundgren, 11. Andrea Peiffer; Men 45-plus: 2. Brent Murdoch, 3. Robbie Metza; Women 45-plus: 2. Margot Murdoch, 3. Cheryl Morningstar;
7.5 kilometres - U12 Boys: 1. Michael Murdoch; U12 Girls: 1. Iyla Nordin; U20 Men: 2. Braden Metza; U20 Women: 3. Jenya Nordin, 4. Lauren Doak, 5. Jennifer McTavish, 6. Sarah Bowers; Open Men: 4. Jim Bowers, 6. Boyd McTavish; Open Women: 1. Lorraine Vollmer.