U.S. Distance Nationals (Fairbanks, Alaska): 30/50 k freestyle mass starts
On Sunday in Fairbanks, Alaska U.S. Distance Nationals came to a conclusion for the women as they contested a 30-kilometer skate mass start.
Spoiler alert: Diggins swept the week.
Marked from the start was Jessie Diggins of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) Elite Team and the U.S. Ski Team (USST). Diggins is coming off a World Cup campaign where she placed sixth overall and won a sprint silver and team sprint bronze at the 2017 World Championships in Lahti, Finland.
No doubt Diggins remains in form as she closed out her season on Sunday. She was the skier to mark as this much was a certainty: Diggins would at some point turn the pace-setting screws.
Early into the race, seven skiers separated themselves by a gap of approximately 12 seconds at the 5 k mark. (The 5 k split times were taken as the women completed their single lap of the South Tower Course Loop. The remainder of the race’s 25 k were comprised of three 8.3 k loops.) Speeding along in a pace line were Diggins, Chelsea Holmes of Alaska Pacific University (APU), Caitlin Gregg of Team Gregg/Loppet Nordic Racing, Kikkan Randall (APU/USST), Annie Hart (SMS Elite), Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green racing Project), Sophie Caldwell (SMS Elite), and Rosie Frankowski (APU).
“I wanted to take the opportunity at the start to work on my pack skiing, and because it’s the end of the season, it should be fun,” Diggins said after the race on the phone. “Around the 12-13 k mark, I decided to start upping the pace a little bit. And then I kind of slowly pulled away. Once I had made a gap, I said, ‘OK, now I need to stick with this,’ and settled into my pace.”
What was once a group streamlining thinned as the race progressed. Note: Diggins soon began to charge ahead solo. At the second split, the Diggins gap was 17 seconds on Randall, Holmes and Gregg.
Patterson at that point was skiing in fifth, roughly 46 seconds back. While Frankowski, Hart, and Caldwell trailed Diggins by nearly one minute and thirty seconds.
Just as Diggins separated herself, Randall and Holmes eventually pulled away from Gregg. The Randall-Holmes duo made it a two-skier race for second and third. They minimized their loss to Diggins up front and created enough of a buffer to those chasing from the back that minus a gear-breaking fall or a tumble-induced injury, they were a lock for the remaining podium spots.
Diggins secured her third individual and fourth win of the week as she won the U.S. Distance Nationals 30 k skate in 1:20:55.1 hours. Randall followed 1 minute and 37.2 seconds back in second and Holmes placed third (+1:50.4).
“At the end of the season it is one of those things where you need a little bit of luck, you need to be healthy, and everyone is in totally different places,” Diggins said. “I think it is a little unfair to compare how we ski right here to how we would ski during the season. That said, I have been working on a lot of things and working hard and so it is nice to have all that hard work show through during the races.”
Unofficially, with Holme’s third place, she’ll be the overall SuperTour winner on the women’s side. As the overall winner, the APU skier will earn World Cup starts for Period 1 of the 2017/2018 World Cup.
Gregg finished fourth (+3:27.5), Frankowski fifth (+3:36.2), Hart sixth (+4:38.4), Patterson seventh (+4:43.0), and Caldwell eighth (+5:08.1).
Liz Stephen (Burke Mountain Academy/USST) did not start the race, citing the onset of illness.
The junior women, who began their race in a group mass start with the senior women, raced a 15 k skate competition. Nicole Schneider of Northern Michigan University (NMU) placed first in 38:22.5 minutes. Margaret Gellert (Alaska Winter Stars) skied to second (+3.3), Anna Darnell (University of Alaska Fairbanks) was third (+30.9).
In the men’s 50 k that followed, APU’s Scott Patterson racked up his second win of the week, after winning the skiathlon, finishing first in the 50 k freestyle mass start race in a time of 2:19:36.3 hours.
While Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s (SSCV) Tad Elliott set the pace for the first 10 k, Patterson who was position just behind Elliott, eventually took over the lead before another 5 k. From then on, Patterson presided as the pace setter. He was followed closely by Stratton’s Paddy Caldwell (USST D-team), Team Gregg’s Brian Gregg (Loppet Nordic Racing), NMU’s Adam Martin, and Canada’s Michael Somppi (NTDC Thunder Bay).
Once given the reins, however, Patterson didn’t let up. He continued to dictate the lead for the remainder of the race, besting Gregg as the runner-up by 3:19.9 minutes.
Moving his way up during the second half of the race was APU’s Eric Packer, who finished third (+4:14.2). Another APU skier, Tyler Kornfield, crossed 22.4 seconds later in fourth (+4:36.6). In a photo finish, Caldwell placed fifth (+4:37.6) ahead of Martin in sixth (+4:37.6).
Four APU skiers finished in the top 10, with Thomas O’Harra placing seventh (+5:24.5). Elliott finished eighth (+6:52.1), Norway’s Håkon Hjelstuen ninth (+7:00.7) and Somppi 10th (+8:13.4).
In the junior men’s 20 k freestyle mass start competition, Alaska Winter Stars Gus Schumacher won the event in a time of 54:03.3. Ti Donaldson racing for the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks/Fairbanks Cross-Country placed second, just 5.4 seconds after Schumacher. Rounding out the junior men’s podium was Northern Michigan University’s Lars Sønsterud in third (+2:05.2).