As if skiathlons weren’t rare enough, Friday’s 10- and 20-kilometer races at Junior World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, posed another unique challenge with 2 1/2 feet of new snow from the night before. Tracks had to be set for the races that combined both classic and skate disciplines.
For American Patrick Caldwell, of Dartmouth College, this was his first skiathlon. After not feeling great following the long trip to Europe, Caldwell wrote in an email: “I think the sprint really helped wake me up and get me ready.”
Caldwell’s strategy in the skiathlon was to hang on in the classic race, then try to gain ground in the skate.
“Overall this strategy worked very well,” the 19-year-old freshman said, after finishing 10th for a career-best in his first Junior Worlds.
Snow kept falling continuously early Friday morning and continued up to the first race: the junior women’s 10 k skiathlon. According to a press release, the Russians took the lead in the classic leg with Alisa Zhambalova and Natalia Nepryaeva, followed by Germany’s Julia Belger and Sarah Schaber, as well as Norway’s Lotta Udness Weng.
Zhambalova was first through the exchange with about 10 competitors close behind her, and Sweden’s Anna Dyvik led the chase group while trying to close the gap. Halfway through the fourth lap, Weng, Belger, Schaber, and Zhambalova accelerated to the front, but Belger crashed on the second-to-last descent. Schaber stayed on her feet and dropped the pack on the final climb, winning the skiathlon by 2.1 seconds in 30:45.8. Zhambalova placed second and Dyvik outsprinted Weng and Nepryaeva for third (+3.0).
Japan had a solid showing as well, with two women, Yukari Tanaka and Kozue Takizawa, placing in the top 16.
Canada’s Anne-Marie Comeau, 17, of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH), was the top North American in 21st, her second-best individual result at her third Junior Worlds. Dahria Beatty (Alberta World Cup Academy) placed 29th, Frédérique Vézina (CNEPH) was 30th and Katherine Stewart-Jones (Nakkertok) 31st.
American Sloan Storey (University of Utah) was not thrilled after finishing 39th, but was happy to be the top American female and to have made it to this level of racing.
“Today’s race was tough but really fun!” she wrote. “I always find myself getting very nervous before these international races with all the insanely fast-looking Russians, Germans, Norwegians, and Swedes warming up around me, but then I remind myself how amazing it is that I just get to compete against these girls and experience racing at this level. My nerves begin to settle and I just get excited.”
Unlike Caldwell, Storey, a 19-year-old sophomore, competed in this event last year (and placed 32nd in Nove Mesto), which made her more comfortable with the race format. Regardless, she wrote that her warmup was pretty unorganized and hectic because of the races’ delay of an hour due to continuous snowfall.
After Storey, Nichole Bathe (University of Alaska-Fairbanks) placed 47th, Stephanie Kirk (University of Vermont) was 52nd and Maggie Williams (University of Vermont) placed 59th.
On the junior men’s side, Russia dominated yet again as Alexey Chervotkin and Evgeniy Vakhrushev took the lead in the classic part of the race. They were followed by France’s Jules Lapierre and Petr Knop of the Czech Republic.
Norway’s Eirik Sverdrup Augdal and Johan Hoel joined the lead pack after the transition zone, and formed a chase with the Russians. The Norwegians and Russians both finished with a solid day as Augdal won in 56:09.6, Chervotkin placed second, 10 seconds back, and Hoel took third, 1.3 seconds later.
Russia had four in the top nine with Vakhrushev placing seventh, Evgeniy Grigoriev in eighth and Alexander Bakanov in ninth.
While Caldwell was the lone North American in the top 39, Americans Adam Martin (Central Cross Country) placed 40th and John Hegman (University of Vermont) was 59th.
Scott Hill (NDC Thunder Bay) led the Canadian men in 51st, Ricardo Izquierdo-Bernier (Fondeurs Laurentides) was 57th, Alexis Dumas (Skibec) 60th, and Benjamin Wilkinson-Zan (Nakkertok) 68th.
– Alex Matthews contributed reporting