Conditions were cold and somewhat windy for the first SuperTour race since US Nationals were held the first week of January. After two races were cancelled at Mt. Itasca last weekend, temperatures were just “warm” enough to hold the freestyle sprint event at the Marshall School in Duluth, Minnesota. The Marshall School held a very successful event in their first time hosting a SuperTour race.
The sprint loop featured mostly flat and gradual grades with one major exception, a tough, steep uphill about one-third of the way through the course, reminiscent of the two “walls” on Mcall Idaho's 2001 US Nationals courses.
With a number of top US competitors busy racing the World Cups in Canada, the he fields were thinner than usual for a SuperTour, though perhaps not quite as thin as organizers anticipated, at least for the men. Organizers had decided in advance that in order to ensure a fast qualifying round with representative points, only the top 8 finishers would advance to the head-to-head heats.
Rossignol's Martina Stursova along with Aurelia Korthauer (University of Alaska Fairbanks) tied for the fastest qualifying time of 3:12.7. There was approximately a 19-second spread among the top 8 women. On the men's side, it was another Korthauer (Marius, also of UAF) who put up the fastest time of 2:37.3, with the rest of the top 8 coming in within 4 seconds. A number of familiar top skiers missed out on the heats including former World Cup racer Andrey Golovko (Salomon Factory Team), Atomic's Bryan Cook, and CXC teammates Matt Liebsch and Andre Watt, among others. Two out of four Canadians from Thunder Bay got into the top 8. (Click here for qualifier results: http://www.pttiming.com/raceresults/100290-QualifierResults.pdf )
The finals were great for spectators, who could see much of the course from the hill overlooking the stadium. Former US Biathlon coach Chad Salmala provided some enthusiastic and exciting commentary/narration as the racers went all-out on the 1.4km course under the lights.
In the men's A-final, APU's Bart Dengel took the early lead and had roughly a 1-second gap after the big hill. Chasing him were Rossignol teamates Mark Iverson and Kevin Hochtl, and Korthauer. For awhile it looked as if Dengel would come in unchallenged, until Korthauer put on an enormous burst of speed to catch him and pull clear away in the last 150 meters. Dengel hung on for second while the two Rossignol skiers lunged for the line in a fight for the last podium spot, which went to Hochtl by a hair.
For the women, it was Martina Stursova all the way, leading out of the start, up the huge climb and all the way home, chased by CXC's Johanna Winters who came in roughly 2 seconds behind. The Salomon Factory Team's Kristina Strandberg finished third ahead of Korthauer, who lost ground after being in second place at the top of the big climb. (Final men's and women's results: http://www.duluthxc.com/supertourresults.htm )
The SuperTour now moves to the historic Telemark resort in Cable, Wisconsin, well-known as the starting location of the American Birkebeiner. Racers will compete in freestyle individual-start races on Saturday (5km for women and 10km for men) and mass-start classic races on Sunday (10km and 15km.)