A Look Back At The 2005 Colorado International Spring Series presented by Devil’s Thumb Ranch
By Mike Trecker
Voice of the CISS
Ahhhh Spring, what can you say, other than â€˜How Sweet it is’? What a fantastic week of fun and racing at Devil’s Thumb Ranch this week we had indeed. I can’t even begin to express the true nature of Spring Series, it has to be experienced first hand to truly understand what it’s all about. It all begins with the end of the Nordic season, pressure to perform eases and the fun starts as soon as the California Gold Rush is over. Traveling to Colorado means there will be snow and sun as well as some fun racing and partying. The following is a review of the week we had from my perspective as the announcer for the Spring Series.
Stage 1, The Devil’s Thumb opener Pursuit:
It was in the opening race that the stage was set for the following week. Subaru’s Ivan Babikov broke his pole just 20 meters into the pursuit event and that sent him into a frantic battle to pass 50 guys on the narrow trails of the legendary Black Ten loop at Devil’s Thumb. Meanwhile on the front, sensing the Russian’s disadvantage early, the U.S. Ski Team’s Kris Freeman and Andrew Johnson broke away to secure a big lead. After a rough sprint, which saw the two teammates collide with 150 meters to the finish, Freeman emerged with the win and Johnson second. Brayton Osgood held off the hard charging Babikov for third, but with the Russian in 4th, the two leaders from the U.S. team knew it would be a long week of trying to stay away from the Super Tour winner Babikov.
The women’s event saw an in-form Abby Larson from Team Subaru make her bid for overall victory with a comfortable solo win in front of Wendy Wagner from the U.S. Ski Team and Dasha Gaiazova from Team Canada. World Cup skiers from the Czech Republic Martin Koukal and Kamila Rajdlova effectively lost the overall on the first day. With too much time to make up, the pair would continue to elevate their form and by the end of the week had picked up a total of five stage wins to take back to Czech.
Stage 2, The Wells Fargo Team Sprint:
Babikov continued his battle towards the front, this time teaming with World Championship bronze medallist Koukal in the classical team sprint. In a tight battle, the Russo-Czech combo took the close win in front of Team Norge with strong men Oesten Petterson and Simen Oestensen. The U.S. Team #1 with Chris Cook and Andrew Newell took third just in front of the Freeman brothers Kris and Justin. The Norwegians would continue to impress the crowd for the rest of the week while the battle for the overall would rage on.
The women’s division saw Norwegian sprint specialist Sigrid Aas, this week representing Alpina/Madshus, burst out in front on the opening lap and tag off to Dascha Gaiazova with a substantial lead. Gaiazova would use this stage as the beginning of her ultimate rally towards the overall championship while Wagner and Larson battled to remain in contention. Aas and Gaiazova took the win in front of Wagner/Gredig and the Alpina/Madshus duo of Camilla Brinchman and Irene Eder.
Stage 3, The Salomon Sprints:
Former World Champion at the 50k distance, Martin Koukal showed his overall skating prowess by taking out the sprints with relative ease. Making it look all too easy the Czech glided to victory in every heat while shutting off the power early. Even in the final against some of the best from the U.S., Koukal appeared to gauge his effort as he held off the challenge from Kris Freeman, Lars Flora and Torin Koos. The women’s event saw Dascha Gaiazova continue her assault on the Spring Series with a surprising win over the powerful duo from Rossignol, Karin Camenisch and Brooke Baughman, Aas finished fourth. With the win came a 30 second time bonus and Gaiazova took the jersey from Larson.
Stage 4, The Snow Mountain Ranch Individual Time Trial:
After a rest day, which was not very restful for some, the individual skate races looked likely to strongly effect the overall stage race. While wearing the neon yellow leader’s jersey, the seemingly untouchable Kris Freeman showed a chink in his armor, and the other contenders exploited his apparent weakness on this day. Martin Koukal brought himself back into contention for the overall with his third stage win in a row, but it was Andrew Johnson who inherited the lead with a strong showing and a second place finish over Babikov. Freeman would lose a minute to Koukal over the second 5km loop and wound up 1:08 off the pace at the finish. This is where Freeman ultimately lost the overall championship although he was not done attacking and would pick up another stage win along the way.
The women’s race saw Gaiazova pull the hat trick of stage wins and also secure the overall lead from Subaru’s Larson. The Russian born Canadian has been making steady progress the last two years and on this day everyone finally believed they were seeing the future in Gaiazova. Rajdlova and Larson came home in 2nd a 3rd while Wagner truly lost her chances for the overall on this day.
Stage 5, The Swix Criterium:
The signature event of the Spring Series is the Swix Criterium at the base of the Winter Park Ski Area and the fans were not disappointed. Organizers once again built a jump in the middle of the descent on the crit loop that added drama and excitement to an already electrically charged event. While Freeman and Babikov battled to drop Koukal in the race for the stage and the overall, jumpers contended for crowd preems based on reaction to tricks and big air.
Having dropped Koukal, Freeman sensed a chance to get back into the overall lead. However, there was one problem, Subaru’s Babikov. If the Russian could hang on to Freeman’s blistering attack, Babikov would take the jersey, and that is exactly what happened. Not only did Babikov stick with Freeman, he attacked on the last lap and took the win and the jersey. The overnight leader was Andrew Johnson but he broke his pole in the first 10 meters and spent the next 5 laps chasing the front. With Subaru’s Nathan Schultz in third and feeling guilty for breaking Johnson’s pole, the Natron Bomb pulled to the side and let Johnson through to claim third and the larger time bonus. The classy move by the Subaru veteran left AJ still in contention going into the last day.
The women’s race saw Wendy Wagner attack the front right off the gun, but when the U.S. Team leader fell coming off the jump for the first time, the other contenders came through strong. Led by Gaiazova, Rajdlova and Larson, the field attacked to distance themselves from the fallen Wagner. In the end Kamila Rajdlova showed that she was coming around by taking a 15 second win in front of Gaiazova who maintained her overall lead. Rossi’s Karin Camenish picked up her second podium finishing third while Larson lost her bid for the overall this day when she came in 4th, 50 seconds down to Gaiazova.
Meanwhile, back at the jump, chaos ruled the day. With only a few women attempting big air, it was the senior from the University of New Mexico, Martina Stursova who took home the cash from the crowd. Stursova continually attacked the extra big kicker on the right side of the jump scoring big air and crowd reaction.
In the men’s competition several contenders rose to the challenge presented by Andrew Newell the last year. With Newell suffering from the flu and having broken a ski on his first attempt at a helicopter, Oesten Pettersen emerged as the new king of the crit. Pettersen attempted both back and front flips on the big jump but after his first try he suffered a badly dislocated thumb on his right hand.
After getting it checked in the pits by the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, Pettersen slowly climbed back up to the jump to try again. The crowd went absolutely crazy when the big gun from Norway handed off his poles to try again. For his incredible bravery and desire to thrill the crowd Pettersen was rewarded handsomely with the crowd preem and the Cipotle Fun Leader’s jersey. Western State’s Jesse Crandall pulled a switch, backwards take off to thrill the crowd but came up short as Rossignol skier Colin Mahood was the only true challenger to Pettersen’s dominance. Mahood flew like a bird but the climb wore him down and his last lap heli attempt only went 90 degrees around and Mahood blew up spectacularly on the landing. However, for his efforts, he received second from the crowd and a fresh bottle of Norwegian Aquavit for the aprÃ¨s-ski party.
Stage 6, The Devil’s Thumb Ranch Classical Mass Start: It all came down to the final day in the battle for the overall just as the organizers had hoped. The men’s 15 kilometer classic was held on an extra tough course and with Kris Freeman only 24 seconds down to Babikov, the tactics became clear. Koukal had been eliminated the night before in the crit and the chances that Andrew Johnson could break free of Babikov and Freeman was unlikely. The whole crowd knew that Freeman would attempt to rid himself of the Russian at all cost. This was the last stage of the last race of a very frustrating season for the U.S. star and he wanted this one badly.
Sure enough, on the third of three laps, Freeman finally left Babikov behind. He knew he needed 24 seconds by the finish to win and Kris pressed all the way to the line with super human strength. But it was not to be as the strongest skier in North America, Babikov, flew down the finishing straight to finish second only 15 seconds adrift and held on to the yellow jersey by just 8.5 seconds. Freeman’s consolation was that he scored overall victories in both the hill climbing and sprinting competitions. However, it was yellow that Freeman really wanted and witnesses at the finish could tell that this bitter pill Freeman had to swallow would help drive his attempt to medal at next year’s Olympics in Italy. Koukal rallied while Johnson cracked and it was the Czech that picked up the final podium spot 1:36 down to Babikov.
The women’s race was a beautiful affair as Rajdlova showed her true strength that had been in hiding for most of the week. Rajdlova scored a 45 second solo win and moved to third overall, a fine showing for a racer that had never been to such high altitudes. Meanwhile, behind Rajdlova, it was a coronation for Gaiazova who held on to her overall lead finishing fourth on the stage. It was Wagner and Camenisch who finished second an third but it was Gaiazova who was the toast of the town. Having held off all challengers, Gaiazova also dominated the climbing and sprinting competitions, pulling on all three of the leader’s jerseys on the final podium. Second overall went to Subaru’s Larson, 1:27 down but holding off the strong challenge from Rajdlova who finished third overall 1:48 behind Gaiazova.
We also witnessed great racing in the junior and citizen divisions with fantastic stage wins on the final day by Boulder’s Ian Havlick and Steamboat’s Sarah McCarthy with overall awards going to Alaska’s Paul Shauer and Michigan’s Cassidy Edwards. Overall Fun leaders awards went to The King of Spring, Andrew Johnson and The University of Utah women, Sandra Gredig, Nicole Naef and Ashley McQueen.
The Devil’s Thumb Ranch Spring Series was about as good as it gets and we have to thank all of the major sponsors that helped us out. We also have to congratulate all of the competitors on a fine week of racing and relaxation and we hope that you can send even more racers from your respective regions next spring. Check the website; springseries.com in the next few days to get all of the latest results and we really look forward to next season. Thanks to one and all for coming to Colorado and making the Spring Series everything that it was meant to be.
Pictures from the Skate race at Snow Mountain Ranch taken by Mark Birdseye:
Kris Freeman and James Southam