After an off-weekend following the opening SuperTour events in West Yellowstone, MT, the SuperTour action picked up again with athletes from all over the country converging at Bohart Ranch, site of the 2002 US Nationals.
The races were moved from the originally-planned location (Lindley Park in downtown Bozeman, MT) to the upper meadow of Bohartâ€”about 20 minutes from Bozemanâ€”where there was just enough snow to set some good classic tracks. There had been a moment of doubt as to whether the races could be held at all, when warm temperatures and rain washed away all but an icy base up at Bohart. Thankfully a few inches of snow fell just in time and with the shoveling help of many hardworking volunteers, the trails were in good shape by go-time on Saturday morning.
The 1.3k classic sprint course consisted of a brief false-flat into a solid uphill climb out of the start, followed by a hairpin corner that turned downhill into the woods for a long rolling, windy, gradual descent. The grade seemed to be just gradual enough in most places to not allow much rest, requiring almost continuous double pole with only a few 3-second opportunities to tuck and recover. The last 300m or so featured a wide open gradual uphill which saw people trying everthing from double pole to double-pole kick to striding, before leveling off for the final 100m stretch.
Both the men’s and women’s fields seemed stronger and deeper than at last year’s Bozeman SuperTour events. Skiers from University of Utah, Montana State, Alaska’s APU team, the Midwestern CXC team, the Maine Winter Sports Center, Team Rossignol, The Subaru Factory Team, the Fischer/Craft team, Bozeman’s own Bridger Ski Foundation and various others made for some exciting high-level domestic racing.
Despite a light snow, the track was mostly hard and fairly fast for hardwax conditions. Even Sletten (UU) for the men and Katie Ronsse (DU/APU) for the women put up the fastest qualifying times, leading the way for the 30 men and 30 women who would advance to the quarterfinals. Five heats of six skiers fought to finish their heat in the top 2 for an automatic start in the semifinals, with two additional skiers getting to start in the semis as well depending on finish time in the quarters. Several skiers bravely opted to double pole the entire course on skate skis, even right up through the finals, however the majority of the racers in the heats did use kick wax and regular classic technique and equipment.
Some top contenders were eliminated in the quarterfinals, including CXC’s Garott Kuzzy, who won the opening freestyle sprint in West Yellowstone, US National Champion James Southam, veteran Factory Team skier Chad Giese of Minnesota, and Craftsbury Marathon champion and 2005 World Cup starter Eli Enman of Vermont, to name a few. Overall, the heats had a minimal amount of tangle-ups, crashes, and intentional impeding, with a few exceptions as in any sprint race.
One notable exception was what appeared to be a broken pole out of the start for one of the pre-race favorites, former World Junior sprint champion Even Sletten (Norway) skiing for the University of Utah. In the end it was Sletten’s teammate Snorri Einarsson who powered to a clear victory ahead of a bunch sprint for the remaining podium places. Sletten managed to grab second place ahead of Rossignol’s Kevin Hochtl, one of the ones who fared well double poling on skate skis.
On the women’s side it was APU’s Laura Valaasâ€”no stranger to the top step of the podium in SuperTour sprints to say the leastâ€”who held off a close charge by US Development Team racer Lindsay Williams. Prelim leader Katie Ronsse came through in third to grab the final podium spot.
Sunday it’s a whole different ballgame, with individual start freestyle distance racesâ€”16k for the men, and 12k for the women.
Photos from the sprint can be found at http://www.bsfnordic.com/ . Full sprint results and videos from the men’s and women’s A and B finals to follow shortly here on FasterSkier. Stay tuned!