In an incredible race, Valérie Maltais ended the Long Track Speed Skating World Cup in Quebec on Sunday by winning the overall title in the mass start, a feat she never thought possible at the start of the season.
First in the standings with three priority points ahead of her compatriot Ivanie Blondin before the start, Maltais knew the fight for the big trophy would be tough. “I realized that I came first and that I needed a miracle to stay there,” she explained after sharing her moments of joy with her family. My mouth was dry and I was really nervous. I’m very proud of my race management and that I handled the chaos well.”
Photo Didier Debusschere
Shortly after the start of the 16-lap race, a group of seven skaters who had no ambitions for the overall ranking fled. In the second main field we found mainly Maltais and Blondin, the Dutch Irene Schouten and the American Mia Manganello, who were in the race for the title. Nobody had any interest in taking the refugees back.
Photo Didier Debusschere
“I had no interest in closing the gap,” explained Maltais, who finished the race in 9th place. All the girls in our peloton were aware of the points deficit and were looking at each other, but I felt good and confident in the peloton. With two laps to go, the girls in our group attacked, thinking there was only one lap left, and wasted laps. For my part, I knew there were two laps left. There was also an argument. Everything worked out well for me.”
Blondin was at the center of this clash. “There was a lot of confusion about how many laps we had to do and it's hard to keep track when there's so much action,” she said. It's frustrating because it's a bug that's beyond my control. There was also the skater who passed me on the inside and fell in front of me.
“I should have gone there before the gap became too great,” Blondin continued. Our plan, Valérie and I, was to follow the Dutch. It's a strange race that isn't satisfying, but I forget about it and turn to the World Championship, where the strategy will be different.
Blondin was only six points behind the world champion and was happy about the Canadian double and for her teammate. “It’s great that we finished first and second in the overall standings and I’m really happy for Valérie winning the title.”
This cumulative title had a special seal of quality for the two-time Olympic champion. “It's really special. At the beginning of the season I couldn't imagine that I would win. Last year after the season I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue with the mass start. I rediscovered my little love for the event and re-examined the way I set goals.”
Before the mass start began, Maltais achieved the best result of his career in the 1500 m race by finishing 4th. “I had a very good weekend with the energy from the crowd, which you could really feel. The community responded well to the expectations of this new event and Quebecers did not live up to their reputation for being eager to encourage their athletes. The audience support was phenomenal.”