It’s been 10 years since Dan Roycroft made his Olympic debut in Torino, but the retired cross-country skier turned back the clock, sprinting to victory in the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet and relay Sunday (Jan. 24).
Plowing through a layer of fresh snow on the restored 71 kilometre trail, Roycroft punched the clock in 4:59.04 to win the 2016 edition of Banff’s most popular loppet.
“This is a good race. At 71 kilometres you don’t have to get into that high end (heart rate) range the athletes train for,” Roycroft said. “When the sun is just rising from the east, and you see the sky change, that’s really something.”
Roycroft, 37, last won the loppet in 2008. He hasn’t raced in five years, as he has turned his attention to building his company, Zone 4. He managed to double pole the entire race and had a secret stash to power his push to victory on the Bow River.
“My wife made a bunch of Farmbox juice that I drank at the top of the Sunshine overpass. Boy that made a difference,” Roycroft said.
He managed to catch the top team of Kathy Davies, Maria Hawkins and Theresa Gawron in the final three kilometres, dodge a herd of elk on the Bow River and take the win.
“I didn’t catch Kathy until the final three kilometres. I didn’t think I’d see her again,” Roycroft said. “I worked with (second place finisher Wes Savill) and the team of Maria, Cathy and Theresa – they were really strong.”
Since the 2013 flood, the loppet has been cut short, finishing at the Sawback campground. Now that the Healy Creek Bridge has been restored, the race is back to its full distance.
Savill, 26, the 2015 champion and a nordic combined athlete, said the extra km made a big difference in his race. He was happy to have help plowing through the fresh snow and ski with an Olympian.
“It was more Dan working for me. He was awesome. He’s a guy I have looked up to as a skier. It was a pretty neat experience,” Savil said.
He doesn’t get to ski great distances often due to his training, but relished the chance to ski the parkway once again.
“It’s the most beautiful place in the world to race. Plus, my normal race is 10 km. This was like stacking seven races on top of one another,” Savill said.
Hawkins, Davies and Gawron were extremely strong throughout the day, and easily took the team title with a time of 4:59:05 – one second behind Roycroft. Banff resident Hawkins is an Olympian herself, having represented Canada at the 1992 summer Olympic Games in road cycling, Davies is a ski technique coach with Canada’s national biathlon team and Gawron is an accomplished masters skier.
The trio held onto the lead for large portions of the race, breaking trail in slow conditions and pushing the pace for the solo athletes.
“It’s a race that’s a backcountry race. It’s a bit of an expedition, an adventure, versus the hard rail, hard packed Canmore Nordic Centre. The conditions aren’t perfect, so it’s fun that way,” Davies said.
The team has entered the loppet every year for a decade, and joked their old age gave them an advantage over the young solo skiers.
“With three old gals, it’s the camaraderie that keeps bringing me back,” Gawron said.
Marg Fedyna won the women’s solo race and the women’s 50-plus race in a time of 5:21:55, with an incredible performance. Ivana Novosel was second and perennial favourite Jessica Stichelbout of Field, B.C. was third.
In the men’s 50-plus solo category, Carl Pryce won with a time of 6:00:18, followed by Mark Dantzer and Ray Potvin. Norbert Meier won the men’s 65-plus category, finishing ahead of Eric McAvity and Graham MacDonald.