Comp USA: XC Ski Dis­tance Cham­pi­onships

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Lex Treinen

by Lex Treinen

The third an­nual Mixed Team Re­lay kicked off the U.S. Cross Coun­try Ski Dis­tance Cham­pi­onships at Crafts­bury Nordic on March 24-26. As in the pre­vi­ous two years, the dom­i­nant teams looked to be SMS T2 and APUNSC, both of which fielded strong con­tin­gents of World Cup podium fin­ish­ers and Su­per­tour win­ners.

APUNSC'S first-leg skier, Erik Bjornsen, skied away from SMS T2's Simi Hamil­ton be­fore two kilo­me­tres of the five-kilo­me­tre course. SMS T2's sec­ond-team skier Ben Sax­ton fin­ished the leg in sec­ond, as Hamil­ton trailed a minute be­hind Erik Bjornsen at the tag-off.

APUNSC'S sec­ond-leg skier Rosie Bren­nan lost just two sec­onds to SMS'S So­phie Cald­well, while APU'S third-leg Scott Pat­ter­son gained another 20 sec­onds to give them a 1:23 gap go­ing into the fi­nal leg. It was still not done deal, how­ever, as SMS was an­chored by Dig­gins, whose World Cup win ear­lier this year came in the very 5km dis­tance and tech­nique. Af­ter the first lap, Dig­gins had gained back some 20 sec­onds on APU'S an­chor Chelsea Holmes, but it soon be­came clear that the gap was too big. Holmes coasted into the fin­ish for APU'S third-straight re­lay vic­tory over SMS T2. In fact, a com­pos­ite team fin­ished the race in sec­ond, but since the rac­ers were not reg­is­tered un­der the same club af­fil­i­a­tion, their fin­ish was unof­fi­cial. The of­fi­cial third place went to APU'S sec­ond team of Nor­ris, Reese Han­ne­man, Becca Rorabaugh and Jes­sica Yeaton.

Rac­ers were given another day's re­prieve be­fore the sea­son-fi­nale 30/50km Clas­sic race. In the women's race, Dig­gins fin­ished with a clean sweep af­ter win­ning the Su­per­tour fi­nal races as well, ski­ing away from the field af­ter her first of nine laps. The home­town girls Ida Sar­gent and Caitlin Pat­ter­son took the next two spots, fin­ish­ing just seven sec­onds apart.

The men's race proved to be more dy­namic. Af­ter tak­ing the first two in­ter­me­di­ate sprint bonuses, Hoff­man bonked on his fi­nal lap, turn­ing in the 44th-fastest time and fall­ing from third to sev­enth. Erik Bjornsen (APUNSC) mean­while pushed steadily un­til the 13th lap, where he was fi­nally able to drop Tad El­liott (Vail), who ended up in sec­ond. David Nor­ris (APUNSC) mean­while found him­self in third af­ter ski­ing most of the race on his own in fourth. Con­di­tions dur­ing the race were slow, hot and slushy, and many of the top rac­ers suf­fered bonks at some point dur­ing the race. Bjornsen fin­ished the race in an unusu­ally slow time of 2:43:56, at 1:39 ahead of El­liott. Be­cause of the 15-lap course and the dif­fi­cult con­di­tions, all but the top-11 fin­ish­ers were lapped by the lead­ers in the men's com­pe­ti­tion.

USSA Su­per­tour Wrap

Fol­low­ing the U.S. Na­tion­als in early Jan­uary low snow lev­els forced skiers to use an al­ter­nate course in­stead of the sched­uled Mount Van Ho­even­berg Olympic venue in Lake Placid, N.Y. on Jan. 30-31. The first day's freestyle sprint fea­tured a long climb fol­lowed by a de­scent into the fin­ish. Qual­i­fi­ca­tions were won by birth­day-girl Caitlin Pat­ter­son of Crafts­bury Green Rac­ing Pro­ject (CGRP) and Uni­ver­sity of Ver­mont (UVM) se­nior Cole Mor­gan. The heats proved a dif­fer­ent story for Mor­gan, who gapped the field on the climb, but was passed on the long de­scent in his semi­fi­nal and didn't ad­vance to the fi­nal. David Nor­ris of APUNSC, who qual­i­fied in 18th, proved to have the tac­tics right for the day, drop­ping back in the climb and tuck-skat­ing the fi­nal down­hill into the fin­ish. He beat his APU Nordic Ski Cen­ter team­mate Eric Packer for the win in the fi­nal, while new­comer Akeo Mai­field-carucci of Bridger Ski Foun­da­tion was third. In the women's race, Caitlin Pat­ter­son was un­able to hold on in the fi­nal me­tres and was out­sprinted by Mid­dle­bury Col­lege's Kelsey Phin­ney. An­nie Hart of Strat­ton SMS T2 was third.

The 15km Mass-start Clas­sic for the fol­low­ing day was resched­uled as a 10km in­ter­val start on a 2.5-km loop. Nor­ris shocked Olympian Kris Free­man of Free­bird with a 44-sec­ond win and got his sec­ond-ever Su­per­tour vic­tory in two days. Lex Treinen of APUNSC was third, another 14 sec­onds back. Caitlin Pat­ter­son re­ceived a be­lated birth­day win, dom­i­nat­ing the field to take a one-minute vic­tory over her team­mate Kait­lynn Miller. Chelsea Holmes of APUNSC fin­ished in third, just days af­ter re­turn­ing from a World Cup stint in Europe.

The next week­end's races on Feb. 6-7 were again changed due to snow con­di­tions, this time moved from Stowe, Vt. to Crafts­bury, Vt. Races again were held on a rel­a­tively flat, 2.5-kilo­me­tre loop with short­ened dis­tances for both men and women. Dart­mouth skier Patty Cald­well had a dom­i­nant per­for­mance to win the 10km freestyle by nearly 40 sec­onds over Tad El­liott of Ski and Snow­board Club Vail. Free­man was third, one sec­ond be­hind El­liott. Hart (SMS T2) ben­e­fited from a late fall by Holmes (APUNSC) in the 5km race and took the women's win by three sec­onds. Erika Flow­ers, also of SMS T2, was third.

The next day, Flow­ers was on top in the 10km Clas­sic race, beat­ing ju­nior team­mate Ju­lia Kern by 12 sec­onds. Lo­cal CGRP racer Liz Guiney was third, just ahead of Holmes of APUNSC, who opted to dou­ble-pole the rel­a­tively flat course. Nine of the top-10 men dou­ble-poled their race, and Free­man took a seven-sec­ond win over UVM'S Mor­gan, who is more known for his sprint­ing. Mor­gan's team­mate Jo­er­gen Grav, orig­i­nally from Nor­way, was third.

Af­ter a week­end off, rac­ers headed for Hay­ward, Wis. for the Amer­i­can Birke­beiner, Feb. 18-20, which gives half-points for Su­per­tour fin­ish­ers. The men's field was stacked with Euro­pean marathon teams, as a short­age of snow in Europe forced World­lop­pet or­ga­niz­ers to in­clude the Birke­beiner in the se­ries. Canada's Ivan Babikov was also on the start line, as he was sent home af­ter lack­lus­tre re­sults in the World Cup. It was Nor­ris who shocked ev­ery­body when he sprinted down Main Street af­ter 54 kilo­me­tres to take the Amer­i­can and over­all win, which gave him a brand-new Slum­ber­land mat­tress in ad­di­tion to the $10,000 in prize money and the Su­per­tour points he ac­cu­mu­lated. French­men Ivan Per­il­lat Boi­teux and Benoit Chau­vet were sec­ond and third. In the women's race, Caitlin Gregg of Team Gregg waited un­til the fi­nal few kilo­me­tres to se­cure her record fourth women's vic­tory over French­woman Aure­lie Dabudyk. Flow­ers of SMS T2 was third.

USSA Su­per­tour Fi­nals Re­cap

Or­ga­niz­ers at snow-starved Crafts­bury, one of the few venues in the East with any sort of ski­ing, pulled off an im­pres­sive 3.3km loop for the fi­nal races of the sea­son. The week be­gan with a 10/15km freestyle race. The women's race held no sur­prises, as 2016 World Cup win­ner Jessie Dig­gins of SMS T2 skied away with a 36-sec­ond vic­tory over APUNSC'S Sadie Bjornsen. Ri­itta-li­isa Ro­po­nen, a guest starter and World Cup vet­eran from Fin­land, fin­ished third, ahead of the third Amer­i­can, Holmes (APUNSC). The men's race proved to be a show­down be­tween APUNSC'S Scott Pat­ter­son and US Ski Team vet­eran Noah Hoff­man, rac­ing for Ski and Snow­board Club Vail. Scott Pat­ter­son missed out on the win by a frac­tion of a sec­ond af­ter get­ting a false split with 500 me­tres to the fin­ish, say­ing that he was 12 sec­onds ahead. Pa­trick Cald­well fin­ished just 11 sec­onds back de­spite ski­ing his fi­nal lap with a bro­ken-off pole tip.

In the next day's Clas­sic sprint race, Dig­gins was on top of the women's field again, win­ning the qual­i­fier by seven sec­onds over lo­cal Ida Sar­gent of CGRP. That was the or­der of the fi­nal, with Rosie Bren­nan of APUNSC com­plet­ing the podium in third af­ter qual­i­fy­ing in the same place. The men's qual­i­fier was won by Lo­gan Han­ne­man, the win­ner of the sea­son's first sprint in West Yel­low­stone, Mont. The younger Han­ne­man, Lo­gan, couldn't keep up with Erik Bjornsen or his older brother, Reese, in the fi­nal, and set­tled for third. Erik Bjornsen, who fin­ished a dis­ap­point­ing 15th in the pre­vi­ous day's dis­tance race, said the late-sea­son win was wel­come. “I'm still men­tally pretty mo­ti­vated, but maybe the body is a lit­tle flat,” he said. With the men's fin­ish, APUNSC nailed a podium sweep.

When the dust set­tled, Caitlin Pat­ter­son was the over­all women's se­ries win­ner, while Eric Packer took home his first USSA Su­per­tour ti­tle as well win­ning the men's se­ries.

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