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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Becca Rorabaugh, Jessica Yeaton, and Reese Hanneman each claimed a pair of podium finishes on the weekend, while Alaska Pacific University (APU) senior skiers took 11 out of 12 total podium spots in the season’s first two Junior National qualifying races at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska. But the single most noteworthy result may have come from U18 skier Gus Schumacher (Alaska Winter Stars), who was third overall in the distance skate.
The Besh Cup series, named for former Alaskan skier and ski coach Tom Besh, is Alaska’s six-race selection series to determine the athletes who will race for Team Alaska at U.S. Junior National Championships. There are three race weekends throughout the state, one each in December, January, and February. The December races are traditionally held in the Anchorage area and attract a stacked field, including APU skiers tuning up for nationals and locals who ski collegiately but are home for Christmas.
(The December races are International Ski Federation (FIS) certified. The men’s winner in the distance skate earned a respectable 41.22 FIS points for the victory, which is not quite comparable to a SuperTour race but is getting pretty close.)
The podium for Saturday’s 1.4-kilometer classic sprint would not have been out of place at a SuperTour or national championship: Rorabaugh (APU), Yeaton (APU and Australian National Team), and Lauren Fritz (APU) in the women’s race. Likewise for the men: Reese Hanneman, Logan Hanneman, and Tyler Kornfield (all APU), all of whom have won a SuperTour or National Championship sprint. Reese Hanneman controlled the day, winning the qualifier by 6.23 seconds over younger brother Logan, several hours before winning the final in the mid-afternoon twilight.
The parade of APU blue continued on Sunday, as the women raced a 10 k freestyle mass start around two laps of a 5 k course while the men raced three laps for a 15 k skate mass start. Yeaton (26:29.9) and Rorabaugh (+0.3) traded places this time, with Yeaton nosing out Rorabaugh in a sprint to the line. Rosie Frankowski (APU), who led for much of the race in an attempt to keep the pace honest on the rolling hills, was third, 4.8 seconds back.
On the men’s side, Scott Patterson (APU) destroyed the field, skiing away from the 78-skier pack at the gun to cross the finish line unchallenged in 33:49.5. Reese Hanneman was second, 1:37.5 back. Schumacher was 0.3 seconds behind him. (Logan Hanneman, in fourth, came within 9 ½ seconds of making it a second fraternal podium.)
Behind the senior skiers dominating the podium, a number of age-group skiers put up impressive results in their quest to be named to Team Alaska.
In Saturday’s 1.1 k classic sprint, girls winners were Kaya Ratzlaff, Annie Gonzales and Kendall Kramer in the U16 division, and Quincy Donley, Marit Flora and Hjelle Personius in U14. For the boys, it was Zanden McMullen, George Cvancara and Eli Hermanson for U16, and Rudy Schumacher, Rowan Morse and Aaron Maves for U14.
On Sunday, both genders and age groups raced a 5 k skate (one lap of the course). Top U16 girls were Helen Wilson, Kramer and Ratzlaff. Top U14 girls were Donley (first overall in the combined U16/U14 race), Personius, and Alison Ulrich.
On the boys side, McMullen, Hermanson and George Cvancara paced the U16 division. Rudy Schumacher (Gus’s younger brother), Konrad Renner and Rowan Morse were tops among U14 boys.
At the front of the field, meanwhile, the U18 and senior racers were using the Besh Cup weekend as a springboard to bigger things. “I felt good today and am hoping to build on that heading into U.S. Nationals in Utah next month,” Sunday’s 10 k skate champion Yeaton wrote in an email to FasterSkier.
“It’s always fun coming home to race the Besh Cups,” Yeaton added. “Rosie made today’s race tough from the start by pushing the pace, and it was awesome having a sprint battle with Becca at the finish.”
Patterson, who won the men’s 15 k skate by over 90 seconds, is similarly looking toward the future. As the race began, he recalled in an in-person interview, “It was cold in the start, so I figured I’d go out real fast, and basically sprinted the first lap, and was able to pull away with that.” But “going into Nationals,” he continued, “I tried to push it the next two laps, and built a pretty good lead.”
Patterson must be comfortable with his own thoughts by now; he has made a habit of time-trialing the approximately 24-mile Crow Pass Crossing backcountry marathon completely on his own, running by himself for most of a three-hour race. “I do pretty well, honestly,” Patterson told the Alaska Dispatch News after winning last summer’s race by more than four minutes for his fourth victory in five years. “I can handle it.”
On Sunday, he was asked what he thinks about when he’s time-trialing a ski race. “A lot of it, once I’m out there on my own, it’s about building fitness, getting ready for more important races,” he explained to FasterSkier. “So it’s really still trying to make those surges, trying to push all the way in. I mean, I gave it a sprint finish, all on my own.”
Patterson clarified that he won the sprint.
Patterson tends to win 15 k races, or at least to do very well in them: In his last eight domestic 15 k races, dating back to West Yellowstone in November 2015, he has eight podium finishes, including five wins. But he is quick with an answer when asked about the last 15 k skate he did not win: “This spring,” Patterson instantly replied. “At Craftsbury Spring Series. I lost to Noah Hoffman by point six seconds. I was quite disappointed with that one.”
He hopes to avoid future disappointment with his goals for next month’s U.S. Nationals: “Win. Two races. 15 k and 30 k.”
If Patterson, in first, is part of the present of American men’s distance skiing, then Gus Schumacher, in third, may portend the future. Schumacher, 16, who was first profiled in FasterSkier as a 13-year-old racing at Spring Series in Anchorage in 2013, was 0.3 seconds behind Reese Hanneman in the race for second, but well ahead of the chase pack of seven racers that finished within the next twenty seconds.
The race was “really fun,” Schumacher said in an in-person interview. “Lots of familiar skiers out on the course. Not too hectic at the start, good starting spot. It was fun to be able to relax and ski with some really technically good skiers.”
Schumacher confirmed that Patterson had simply skied away from the field off the start with relative ease.
“The last time I saw Scott was probably 0.2 k in,” Schumacher said. “He was gone.”
A large chase pack formed behind Patterson, including the Hanneman brothers. “And then Reese and Logan crashed on one of the icy corners on Rollercoaster, and fell back to the second pack.” The reconstituted chase pack “cruised for pretty much most of two laps,” Schumacher recalled, “and then it started to break up with some attacks.” Reese Hanneman put a move on the field with about 4 k to go on the final lap, “and really started to spread things out.”
While Schumacher has narrowly won both of the first two races on the competitive Anchorage high school circuit, like Patterson he shared more national- and international-level goals for the rest of the season: “I want to make Junior Worlds in SoHo [at U.S. Nationals], and then be able to race hard and competitively at SoHo again in February. And then keep my fitness up, and try to have some good results at Distance Nationals” in Fairbanks.
Besh Cup racing continues with skate sprint and classic interval start races at Soldotna’s Tsalteshi Trails in January.