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U.S. Nationals 10/15 k Freestyle Preview and Predictions

Sophie Caldwell and Sadie Bjornsen dueling for the lead during the women’s classic sprint on Wednesday. As equally strong distance skaters, they’ll be two athletes to watch for in Friday’s 10 k freestyle. Photo: Bert Boyer.

MIDWAY, Utah — One down, three to go. The opening event of the 2013 U.S. Cross Country Championships was as exciting as they come, but it’s a new day on Friday. The slate is wiped clean and athletes have another shot at redemption, qualifying spots and/or personal bests at Soldier Hollow.

Snow piles wait to be spread on Hermod’s Hill on Wednesday. It doesn’t look like much from this far away, but it’s a killer.

The 10/15 k individual freestyle is up next, and the course is brutal. Race organizers have worked their army of snow guns overtime to ensure that the 5 k loop is absolutely pristine, but no amount of corduroyed perfection will make these climbs any more pleasant. The course is not the Olympic 5 k, but the modification still features an insufferable ascent up the fabled Hermod’s Hill. In Maine they have High School Hill, here they have elevation and that monstrosity to the right. Women make two laps and men circle the course thrice, and with no head-to-head competition to push them it will be important for athletes to transition well, use the downhills and be light on their feet.

Tad Elliott (SSCV Team HomeGrown/USST) is the lone defending champion present this year to attempt going two in a row; he won this event in Rumford last year by less than three seconds against runner-up Matt Liebsch (Borton Volvo XC United). The altitude should work to Elliott’s advantage, as will his slighter build, but there is a full field of hungry contenders that will be breathing down his neck. Mike Sinnott (SVSEF) is determined not to finish second again, Leif Zimmermann (Bridger Ski Foundation) is always a freestyle distance contender, Liebsch is back for more glory after a strong start in Yellowstone and Sylvan Ellefson (SSCV Team HomeGrown) is back to feeling healthy after an illness-plagued December in Europe. Erik Bjornsen (APU) will be hungry for another shot at the podium and Eric Packer (SMS T2), I am convinced, will start showing signs of his 2012 self any day now.

The men’s race could honestly go to anyone but the women’s field is relatively more predictable. Sadie Bjornsen (APU/USST), despite just missing the win on Wednesday, appears to be in top racing shape, as do her teammates Rosie Brennan, Kate Fitzgerald, and Becca Rorabaugh. Caitlin Gregg (CXC) is one of the best climbers out there and will be able to power up Hermod’s like no one else. Chelsea Holmes (SVSEF) is also quick on the climbs, Caitlin Patterson (CGRP) had a strong start to her pro career in Montana and Sophie Caldwell (SMS T2) has had one of the most impressive early season results of anyone this year. Jennie Bender (CXC) is clearly on the upswing, and the 10 k will tell whether her distance chops are also back to normal.

There are a bunch of college skiers that could be in the hunt, too. David Norris (MSU) has already proven himself to be in top-level shape while Miles Havlick (UU) had an impressive classic sprint and is also a good distance skater. Sam Tarling (Dartmouth), who was sick in Rumford last year, has been here acclimating for weeks and could be in the mix. In the women’s field Liz Guiney (UNH) had a strong start to her season in 9th on Wednesday and Corey Stock and Annie Hart (Dartmouth) had strong fall races and should be up there for the Big Green. And forget college kids, how ’bout that Ben Saxton (F.A.S.T.)?

The 5 k course profile. Yikes.

For our predictions we’re doing something different this time. Our own powers of foresight have been wildly inaccurate as of late (two out of six correctly-guessed starters for the men’s A-final? Unacceptable), so we recruited an avid fan from the masses to make things interesting. Charlie Von Thaden, who is racing this week for Colorado University, wants to bet he can guess the top five men and women better than we can. Loser has to eat six chiles rellenos from Tarahumara on Main Street in under ninety seconds, no water.

Here are our top picks. It’s on.

Start list.

 

Von Thaden’s top five:

Men’s 15 k

1. Tad Elliott

2. Mike Sinnott

3. Matt Gelso

4. Miles Havlick

5. Sylvan Ellefson

Women’s 10 k

1. Sadie Bjornsen

2. Chelsea Holmes

3. Rosie Brennan

4. Kate Fitzgerald

5. Sophie Caldwell

 

FasterSkier’s top five:

Men’s 15 k

1. Mike Sinnott

2. Tad Elliott

3. Matt Gelso

4. Erik Bjornsen

5. David Norris

Women’s 10 k

1. Sophie Caldwell

2. Sadie Bjornsen

3. Chelsea Holmes

4. Caitlin Gregg

5. Rosie Brennan

About Audrey Mangan

Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.

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