S-CHANF, Switzerland — Coming off a bronze medal at Nordic World Championships, American Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) finished third in Sunday’s Engadin Skimarathon 42-kilometer freestyle from Maloja to S-chanf, Switzerland, just 7.6 seconds out from the win, which France’s Anouk Faivre Picon seized in 1:39:35.3.
Russia’s Ilia Chernousov won the men’s race by one-tenth of a second over France’s Robin Duvillard in 1:34:50.
Picon won the sprint finish, 0.8 seconds ahead last year’s Engadin champion Riita-Liisa Roponen of Finland. Gregg placed third and France’s Aurelie Dabudyk was 1:41.7 back in fourth. Two-time U.S. Olympian Holly Brooks (Team Santander) finished fifth (+1:53.3).
“My skis were awesome,” Gregg told FasterSkier after the race. “I felt so good in the race, and I’m so ready for the World Cups in Oslo next week.”
Gregg, who finished the Engadin Skimarathon for the first time, was surprised about the level of competition.
“The race was super aggressive from the start. The men come in on you all over, and it makes the whole thing really crazy,” she said, adding that it was difficult to keep track of where her opponents stood.
“I got to the hills by St Moritz, and I saw an opening, so I made a jump there and just kept hammering to get by as many guys as I could,” she explained.
Ropenen got a gap on Gregg, who also didn’t notice that Picon had passed her.
“The girls got cut off all the time, and during the sprint to the finish, about fifty guys swarmed around us,” Gregg said.
“It’s brutal out there for the women,” Brooks said, adding that she hopes the organizers will consider establishing a separate women’s wave to make the competition more fair.
The remains of the brutal battles were evident to the waves following the elite: the race course was littered with broken poles, baskets and equipment debris from start to finish.
The pile grew throughout the morning as more marathon racers descended on the track. In total, more than 13,300 skiers participated in the 47th Engadin Skimarathon, making the Swiss race the third-largest Engadin event on record.
Chernousov, who now lives near the Engadin finish in S-chanf with his wife Selina Gasparin of the Swiss biathlon team, secured a home victory in the men’s race. He won the photo finish over Duvillard by 0.1 seconds, while Switzerland’s Roman Furger was third 0.9 seconds back. Another Swiss skier Jason Rueesch, was just 0.2 seconds off the podium in fourth.
Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) was the top American man in 24th, 26 seconds behind the winner. David Norris of Alaska Pacific University (APU) placed 32nd (+40.2), Sun Valley’s Miles Havlick was 35th (+51.5) and APU’s Tyler Kornfield finished 61st (+6:21.2).
In the women’s race, Canada’s Karen Messenger placed 29th (+24:34.2).
The battle of the FIS Marathon Cup
With fifth place in the Engadin Skimarathon, Brooks is back in the FIS Marathon Cup leader bib with one race remaining.
“I accomplished one goal today, and that was to take back the red bib, but I’m not so happy with my race,” Brooks said. “I’m not in top shape, and I definitely feel that I haven’t raced much at altitude. Once we hit the hills at St Moritz, it was so hard to follow.”
With fifth place in the Engadin, Brooks has 455 points in the overall FIS Marathon Cup and is now just 4 points ahead of Tatiana Mannima of Estonia with only one race to go in the race series. Mannima placed 11th on Sunday, 6:15.4 behind the winner. She is 47 points ahead of Dabudyk, who’s currently third overall. The final event is the 50 k freestyle Ugra Marathon on April 11 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
“It all comes down to that race in Russia now, and it’s over a month until we race,” Brooks said, adding that she was next headed to Norway for the Norwegian Birkebeiner and potentially some other races to stay focused until the Ugra.
Petr Novak, who was 29th on Sunday, is still leading the overall 2015 FIS Marathon Cup. With 404 points for the season, Novak has a comfortable gap on Benoit Cahuvet of France in second place with 347 points and Sergio Bonaldi of Italy in third place with 229 points.
— Alex Kochon contributed reporting