BOZEMAN, Mont. — Something rare happened partway through the women’s 11 k classic race at Bohart Ranch on Sunday: Sadie Bjornsen began to falter. On the heels of her classic sprint victory, she charged out of the meadow in front and appeared to settle comfortably in the group for the first lap. But on lap two out of three, the wheels started coming off.
“I had this moment of weakness,” Bjornsen laughed afterwards.
Chelsea Holmes (SVSEF) and Rosie Brennan (APU) began to lay the hurt on in the second lap and pulled away from her. Sophie Caldwell (SVSEF), meanwhile, tagged Bjornsen closely. But rather than let the weak moment last for the rest of the race, Bjornsen dug deep, started the backburners and reeled the leaders back in to win by a healthy 17 seconds. Holmes held on to second and Brennan, on her twenty-fourth birthday, took bronze (+0:27).
Despite only recently coming back to a full training load, Bjornsen was still the odds-on favorite to win on Sunday given her consistent sprint performances earlier in the week (silver in the freestyle technique and gold in classic). Holmes made a gutsy decision to push the pace on a course suited to her light, quick style of skiing.
“This course flows really well and it’s hard, but the timing is good for me,” she said. Knowing this, Holmes chose to pick up the pace on the second lap to avoid a packed sprint finish.
“Sprinting is clearly not my strength,” Holmes said. “I did not really want to lead, but I don’t like being around a million people, so I just did that. It’s not smart sometimes but…”
Had Bjornsen not found second wind, it would have been a brilliant choice, as Brennan ended up far behind Holmes. But return Bjornsen did, and Holmes was left to hang onto second.
“I just thought about the girls in Europe,” Bjornsen said. “I was like, ‘No, those girls are pushing so hard!’”
Thinking of her teammates, one of whom was fifth on the World Cup earlier that morning, she left it all on the course. Thought it may not have been an ideal way to race, the Bjornsen said the weak moment ended up being instructive for her.
“It worked out well that I had that little thing in the middle. It’s good to remember racing is hard and you have to dig a little bit deeper than you realize you can,” she said.
Holmes was positive about her result after finishing. “Everybody wants to win — obviously I wanted to win and wanted to kind of break away — but those girls are strong,” Holmes said.
Brennan, who led Holmes early on, said she didn’t feel quite as strong as Holmes might have imagined.
“I tried to get out in front and then some other girls took off at a really aggressive pace,” Brennan said. “I didn’t know if I could sustain it, so I backed off the first lap and just tried to keep my own pace going.”
After settling in, picking people off, breaking away with Holmes and then getting passed back by Bjornsen, Brennan was generally pleased with her placing.
“I felt pretty good, it was a decent race,” she said.
Brennan, Holmes and Bjornsen, along with Caldwell and Caitlin Patterson (CGRP), who was fifth on Sunday, were all named to the American team for the Canmore World Cups on December 13 – 16. The stakes were quite high heading into Sunday, but as the women’s distance field has been generally more stable than the men’s, there were few surprises.
For Bjornsen, who resumed interval work only a month ago after nursing a foot injury this fall, the whole week has been additionally important as a way of racing back into shape. And perhaps most significantly, she was able to regain confidence coming off injury.
“When you’re coming off of injury, your biggest weakness is your confidence,” Bjornsen said. “So that’s really important.”
Lastly, she’s been able to be home with more of her APU teammates and witness the effect the American women’s World Cup performances have had on them in such a short amount of time.
“You wake up in the morning and see Kikkan and Holly at the top and the whole house has a-buzz, like, ‘We can do this!’ It’s been fun to be part of that, too. With them making history, but also it’s fun being the generation below watching how it affects everybody.”