BOZEMAN, Mont. — There are days when multiple teams can share the glory of a race well done, and days where a lone set of athletes shines above all others. In the case of the women’s classic sprint at Bohart Ranch on Saturday, the latter scenario played out like it has many times before. Led by Sadie Bjornsen’s consistently strong skiing, Alaska Pacific University pretty much cleaned up.
Bjornsen won a three-way photo finish with teammate Lauren Fritz and Dartmouth’s Corey Stock, who wound up second and third, respectively. The fourth, fifth and sixth place finishers — Rosie Brennan, Kate Fitzgerald and Becca Rorabaugh —were all in APU’s blue and black. For those five women, the final was basically a team workout.
“It was fun to start on the line with all my teammates; it was just like training,” Bjornsen said. “When you’re with teammates you’re not as timid and you can really get after it.”
“The finals were just: ‘Hey, intervals!’” Fitzgerald added.
The final, as finals usually are, was a harder fought battle than any of the other rounds. Finishers in the quarters and semis were spread out by the time they came through the line, but the desperate lunges from Bjornsen, Fritz and Stock at the end was the product of a very competitive sprint between athletes familiar with each others’ style of skiing.
“It was definitely the scrappiest round out of all of them,” Fritz said, whose second-place was a SuperTour career best for a true sprint.
“We were just hitting each other with poles; Sadie and I almost took each other out a couple times. It was just — not dirty, but being teammates, we’re friends but not afraid to push each other.”
Bjornsen appeared to be the clear favorite when lined up against her teammates. She had skied in control for the rounds, winning her quarter and breezing through in second to Stock in the semis. A near-stumble in the stadium put her off the front for the beginning of the final, however, and she was forced to ski a different kind of race: from the back and aggressively, as there were only 1.3 k of track to make up the time.
On the backside of the hill she tried to make moves around the first corner, but choppy snow made gaining ground difficult. Around the final corner before the finish, Bjornsen finally made progress.
“I took the outside lane and just double poled by and we were all just going for it from there. I’m glad we did so much double-pole work this summer.” she said.
Bjornsen’s pass then spurred on Fritz, who was leading with Brennan, and increased her tempo to keep up.
“It definitely made me take it up a notch,” Fritz said.
Bjornsen won the final lunge, but noted afterwards that Fritz’s strength came as a surprise.
“I didn’t train with [my teammates] as much this summer so I didn’t realize how strong she was; I was really impressed,” Bjornsen said.
Fritz said she was “pretty psyched” with the result given that she hasn’t had the results she’s wanted so far this winter. She placed tenth in the freestyle sprint two days ago and 42nd in the West Yellowstone 9 k.
“It’s pretty cool to be in there with all your teammates,” she said. “Hopefully this’ll bump me up for the World Cup [qualifying] rankings.”
The U.S. Ski Team will announce its Quebec and Canmore World Cup teams by December 3.
Equally as impressive as APU’s 1-2 punch was Stock’s navigation of a stacked final to third place. The Dartmouth freshman trained with APU over the summer and did not appear intimidated as she lined up for the final.
“It was a great day,” Stock said. “We were basically all together switching positions throughout, then all six of us came down the last double pole field before the finish… It was so fun to be able to race with them.”
While Bjornsen and Fritz enjoyed racing against their teammates, the back half of the pack found the scenario challenging.
“I have a hard time racing my teammates because I want us all to do well,” Brennan said, who placed fourth after skiing in the lead earlier in the race. Her plan was to get out front and stay out of trouble, which worked until the course started going up.
“Then everyone passed me. I guess I didn’t have as much left as I thought I did,” Brennan said. “[Bozeman] is the first time I’ve gone through the rounds this year. It’s tough to get back into that mode of skiing between each heat, so it was good practice.”
— The fact that athletes had the chance to practice heats at all in Bozeman was significant. Rain soaked the course on Friday, forcing the venue to be moved to higher ground. Volunteer shoveling efforts managed to adequately cover the trail, though as the day progressed snow got sloppier. Overall, athletes said the conditions exceeded their expectations and the races were fairly run.
“I was very surprised this morning; I was expecting far more mud,” Brennan said. The first climb got steadily muddier as more people traveled over it, but “it was the first one so if you didn’t have your best shot up that hill, you still had time and the rest was fine,” she concluded.
— Though the top athletes agreed the racing was clean, there were some complications to the overall race production. University of Utah athletes Rose Kemp and Parker Tyler, who qualified in 20th and 17th, respectively, were originally left out of the top 30 due to an accidentally tripped starter’s wand that went unreported. The resulting confusion, compounded by circumstances of the modified venue, required timers to reissue bibs and delay the start of the heats.
“You just have to go with it,” Bjornsen said of the delay. “Everyone’s in the same boat, everyone’s standing in the cold with you as well so it’s no big deal… You just have to learn to be patient so it wasn’t so bad.”
— Once again, APU’s successful day began before dawn with strong World Cup performances from Kikkan Randall and Holly Brooks in Kuusamo, Finland. APU head coach Erik Flora’s day began, again, with a lot of cheering. With the rest of his team’s results in Bozeman, it ended with more cheering.
“Five lades in the A final is something to be really happy about,” he said. “It was a very strong day, and everybody skied well.”