2018 USSA Supertour Finals and Long Distance Nationals
The U.S. Ski & Snowboard (USSA) Supertour finals and L.L. Bean U.S. Long Distance National Championships held at Vermont’s Craftsbury Outdoor Center hosted athletes fresh from international competition, including the first American Olympic women cross-country-ski gold medalists, Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, along with all six Craftsbury Olympians.
Diggins (SMS T2) took home the first victory, winning the USSA Supertour women’s Classic sprint, with Sophie Caldwell (SMS T2) in second and Ida Sargent (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) in third, just edging out top-qualifier Sadie Bjornsen (APU) in fourth.
Andy Newell (SMS T2) delivered the goods in the men’s Classic sprint, besting teammate Ben Saxton (SMS T2) in second, followed by Erik Bjornsen (APU) in third. Newell, who won the qualifier as well, said, “Racing in the U.S. is always different because for the first time all season you feel like you are competing against your US Ski Team teammates. We really don’t have that feeling in the winter since we are all racing for the U.S.A. – it’s all one team.”
There was a pause in the racing for youth to gather round and ask the Olympians questions. The message of the day was to follow one’s dreams and stay with it, even during the toughest of days, because the sport can take you anywhere you might want to go. Just as with their skiing, the Olympians hit the mark. Many stressed that skiing and racing should indeed be fun.
When racing resumed, Diggins took home her second-straight victory, winning the USSA Supertour women’s 10km FR Mass-start race, with Sadie Bjornsen (APU) a close second, followed by Randall in third.
For Sadie Bjornsen, it was a fun day, where she did her best to hang on to Diggins (who tumbled at the bottom of the hill). Then Sadie Bjornsen did take over the lead, but Diggins was quickly back on the front by the bottom of the next hill.
Randall was stoked to finish third. “The level of the racing here has certainly come up over the last several years.”
Erik Bjornsen captured the men’s 15km FR Mass-start race, as Simi Hamilton (SMST2) battled to second place, followed by Tad Elliott (Ski Club Vail) in third. Hamilton took home his first distance podium for a superb end to his season.
Erik Bjornsen broke a pole on the second lap. “Simi actually grabbed one for me at one point. I was able to put a little gap in on the last big climb about a kilometre from the finish and then just stayed in the lead from there. I was happy to not have to sprint to the finish against Simi because there is a chance it would have played out differently.”
The big question about Nationals taking place in Fairbanks, Alaska was “What about that Mixed-relay title?” Would Stratton Mountain defend the Mixed-relay title at the championships.
“A lot of pride on the line tomorrow,” were Randall’s words the day prior to the race. “It was tough to lose the title to SMS last year, so you can guarantee Team APU is hungry to get the title back.”
Hungry wasn’t enough, as Stratton Mountain team bided their time in the Mixed-relay 4x5km to once again top the podium, defending their title over APU 1, with Craftsbury Green Racing Project 1 landing third on the podium.
Hamilton, Diggins, Sophie Caldwell and Patrick Caldwell marked their APU-1 rivals and kept them in check, as Erik Bjornsen, Sadie Bjornsen, Scott Patterson and Randall looked strong. Sargent, Adam Martin, Alex Howe and Caitlin Patterson from Craftsbury challenged early on, but settled for third.
Hamilton, Martin and Erik Bjornsen were the frontrunners on the opening leg and all tagged off together, with APU-1 having a slight edge. Then Sadie Bjornsen dropped Sophie Caldwell and Sargent and garnered a seven-second lead as she tagged Caitlin Patterson for leg three. Sophie Caldwell battled against Caitlin Patterson on the third leg and clawed back some time, as APU-1 anchor Randall enjoyed a four-second lead, but not for long, as Diggins soon joined her.
Randall could not contain her Olympic gold partner, as Diggins raced to victory for Stratton once again, with Randall taking second and Caitlin Patterson taking third.
“We knew it was going to be tough going against Stratton today based on how they were
skiing all week and we knew it would be key getting a little time going into that last leg,” said Randall.
“Scott gave us the gap, and I was hopeful going into the last lap. I tried to put the pressure on, but Jessie caught me at about 2.5K. She had a bit more and pulled away to take the win.”
The women’s 30km CL, their final race of the season, was both emotional and hard-fought as Diggins took home her third-straight victory in sprint to the line, with Sadie Bjornsen followed by Randall in third.
Sophie Caldwell, who was off the front early on, finished fourth, with Sargent taking home fifth. Liz Stephen (Burke Academy), who is retiring with Randall, was seventh, behind Rosie Frankowski (APU) in sixth. They were part of a foursome led by Randall that chased down Sophie Caldwell, who was skiing in no man’s land, having been dropped by Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen. Sophie Caldwell was caught on the final lap, as Randall put down the hammer for the final podium of her career.
Erik Bjornsen took home the men’s 50km Classic Mass-start victory in a close battle, with Martin in second at 1.5 seconds, followed by Scott Patterson in third, another 22 seconds behind. Erik Bjornsen reclaimed the title, having won in 2016, while Scott Patterson, the defending champion, settled for third.
David Norris ( APU) claimed fourth, and Hamilton, known for his sprinting prowess, had a strong day, finishing fifth at the final race of the 2018 L. L. Bean U. S. Long Distance National Championships. Finishing 10th was Canada’s Scott Hill from Team Hardwood.
Erik Bjornsen reclaimed the Men's 50km CL title in a close battle with Adam Martin.
Stratton Mountain defended their Mixed Relay title at 2018 US Long Distance championships.
Photo finish between Sadie Bjornsen (l) and Jessie Diggins in 30km CL, the final women's race of the season.
Special Q & A with Team USA at 2018 USSA Supertour Finals in Craftsbury