Liz Stephen skied away from Morgan Arritola in the second half of the 30Km, and Ivan Babikov left Factory Team-mate Andrei Golovko in the final 10Km to repeat as victors in the USSA National Distance Championship/ SuperTour 30K and 50K races, respectively. Stephen and Arritola skied with a pack that included Sigrid Aas, Nicole DeYong, Kassie Rice and Kristina Strandberg for the first, short (5.5Km) loop. On the first long (8Km) loop, Stephen and Arritola separated themselves from that group, and looked stronger and quicker, especially on the long steep climbs up from the bottom of the course. Arritola's wax looked a little grippier on the steeps, but Stephen was able to hang with Morgan through that section.
On the second long loop, Stephen started to pull away from Arritola, coming through the lap lane for the final time with an 18-second lead which expanded to 1:31 by the end of the race. Strandberg soloed in for third place, one minute behind Arritola and 30 seconds up on the next skier.
“I feel like it's been a pretty good season and it's always nice to end things on a good note. I think it's a great way to end the season. I'm in a really good place right now for sure.,” Stephen said. “These really were some of my favorite events so to be able to come out here and do this well is really special and it means a lot to me.”
The best race of the day was for the final position on the US Championships podium, between Kristina Owen who had started conservatively but came on strong during the middle of the race, and Kassie Rice, who skied steady.
Owen was 30 seconds back of the leaders after 5.5Km, but fought her way through the pack into fourth place, pushing the pace in all types of terrain. She put a pretty good cushion between herself and Rice with about 5-6Km to go.
As they came through the stadium the final time before the finish, with 1.6Km to ski, Owen was still pushing, but beginning to struggle, but Rice was charging away from pre-race favorite Sigrid Aas, whom she'd been skiing with for several Km.
When they came back in site 115m from the finsh line, it was Rice in 4th overall, 3rd American, having overtaken Owen less than 150m from the line. Though a disappointment, it was certainly a breakthrough race for Owen.
“Overall I am really pleased. For the ladies side it was great, I was really happy with that,” said US Cross Country Head Coach Peter Vordenberg. “They showed that the training that they do is really bringing them right along.”
The men's race was extremely challenging, with two steep, long climbs each lap, and a total of over 1850m of climbing.
At the conclusion of the 5Km start loop, a pack of about 15 skiers poured down the lap lane, with Zach Violett in the lead. Also prominent at the front of the pack were APUNSC coach Frode Lillefjell, Ivan Babikov, Andrei Golovko, Marius Korthauer and Lars Flora, who would later retire from the race.
The same pack, with the exception of Flora, led after the first long (7.5Km) loop. Soon the field broke into a series of packs, with Babikov, Golovko and Lillefjell skiing more or less together, then Violet in no-man's land, with Korthauer also skiing solo, then Kris Freeman with Junior Noah Hoffman, then a sprinters' pack with Torin Koos, Andy Newell and Colin Rodgers.
Things stayed pretty much in that order until later in the race. Freeman made a pit-stop to scrape some ice and wax off his skis and dropped back to the sprinters' group. Noah Hoffman began to fade on his 5th lap. Korthauer, who would later fall asleep in the waxing “cave” moments after the race, also began to fade, as did Zach Violett.
On the last lap, Babikov took advantage of a cramping Golovko to put some time on his teammate on the steep Black Funk climb, and soloed in for the victory, looking very strong and relaxed for the entire distance.
Meanwhile, back in the pack, things were getting interesting.
As the middle of the pack began working its way back through the field, the sprinters were looking stronger and stronger and working their way forward. On the 6th of 7 laps Koos separated himself from his fellow sprinters Newell and Rodgers, and began his pursuit of Lillefjell, who was more than two minutes in front of him.
About this time it was learned that Lillefjell (a native of Norway), as a resident alien “green card” holder, was eligible for USSA Championships medals. This information was relayed to Koos, who began his pursuit in earnest. On the penultimate lap, Koos brought the difference down from 2:07 to 1:24.
As they entered the final lap, it was obvious that Lillefjell was beginning to struggle. His nose had begun to bleed on the 5th lap, and there was a small bloodstain on his cheek. Koos was looking strong and quick – eager for his second outstanding 50Km result in 7 days.
As they headed out to the South Tower climb, the difference had come down under a minute. Koos caught sight of Lillefjell for the first time at the top of the Tower loop. Before that he had thought that coaches were telling him he was catching Lillefjell simply to motivate him.
With Lillefjell in sight, Koos tightened the screws yet again, bringing the difference down to about 30 seconds as he came off the Tower Loop and headed down the White Bear, for the next-to-last major climb of the day.
Back into the stadium 1.7Km later, the difference was down to 15 seconds. Lillefjell knew the chase was on and dug even deeper, the effort apparent on his face. Koos, with Lillefjell in his crosshairs, turned on the turbos for the final kilometer in a last-ditch effort to take the gold medal for the US Championships.
Lillefjell appeared first under the elevated walkway, with Koos not far behind. Frode was able to hold on for the third-place overall and the US Gold Medal, with Torin only 5.7 seconds in arrears. Newell (in his first 50Km) and Rodgers made it a sprinters day taking 5th and 6th overall and 3rd and 4th among US Championship-eligible skiers.
“It's exciting. It was pretty surprising. I hadn't expected it, but the 50K classic has always been a good event for me,” Lillefiel said. “I wanted to ski a hard race and enjoy it. The course up there was really tough, but I was looking forward to a hard battle.
“The organizers and the committee up here in Fairbanks did an amazing job. It's probably the best place in America to ski right now.”
“On the men's side, I'm happy with the way Torin and Andy skied,” Vordenberg said. “Those are our sprint skiers and they skied well for such a long distance.”
“I think today was a good example of how the season has gone. We've had some real highlights and also some races that have shown that we have quite a ways to go,” Vordenberg continued. “So it was a really good day, but also a day that revealed some weaknesses that we need to work on.”
Complete Results with lap times are available here (scroll down after clicking link)
1. Elizabeth Stephen, 1:38:48.6; 2. Morgan Arritola, 1:40:20.0; 3. Kristina Strandberg, 1:41:19.2; 4. Kasandra Rice, 1:41:52.6; 5. Kristina Owen, 1:41:56.8; 6. Sigrid Aas, 1:42:09.9; 7. Laura Valaas, 1:42:49.0; 8. Nicole Deyong, 1:43:14.4; 9. Lindsay Williams, 1:44:32.8; 10. Lindsey Weier Dehlin, 1:46:05.5; 11. Martina Stursova, 1:46:12.2; 12. Kate Pearson Arduser, 1:47:02.4; 13. Amy Glen, 1:47:35.3; 14. Anna Coulter, 1:48:10.0; 15. Ingrid Olson, 1:49:20.2; 16. Julia Coulter, 1:49:54.2; 17. Johanna Winters, 1:51:03.6; 18. Kate Fitzgerald, 1:52:13.0; 19. Krynn Finstad, 2:02:51.1; Kristina Trygstad-Saari, DNF; Tazlina Mannix, DNS; Natalie Dawson, DNS;
1. Ivan Babikov, 2:32:36.9; 2. Andre Golovko, 2:33:29.9; 3. Frode Lillefjell, 2:35:00.9; 4. Torin Koos, 2:35:06.6; 5. Andrew Newell, 2:36:51.1; 6. Colin Rodgers, 2:37:53.6; 7. Marius Korthauer, 2:39:04.7; 8. Kris Freeman, 2:40:11.4; 9. Martin Rosvall, 2:40:39.6; 10. Zachary Violett, 2:40:57.1; 11. Vahur Teppan, 2:41:10.4; 12. Bryan Cook, 2:42:08.0; 13. Mike Sinnott, 2:42:38.4; 14. James Southam, 2:43:02.4; 15. Brent Knight, 2:43:18.0; 16. Owen W Hanley, 2:43:33.8; 17. David Norris, 2:44:42.8; 18. Christopher Cook, 2:45:30.8; 19. Einar Often, 2:45:33.4; 20. Max Treinen, 2:45:55.3; 21. Bart Dengel, 2:47:13.4; 22. Tyson Flaharty, 2:47:34.8; 23. Trond Flagstad, 2:47:45.9; 24. Thomas Oyberg, 2:49:23.4; 25. Lex Treinen, 2:49:53.8; 26. Brian Gregg, 2:49:56.0; 27. Noah Hoffman, 2:50:21.2; 28. Ian Case, 2:51:07.9; 29. Dylan Watts, 2:51:55.2; 29. Matt Briggs, 2:51:55.2; 31. Ray Sabo, 2:53:43.9; 32. Andre Watt, 2:56:10.8; 33. Peter Kling, 2:56:13.4; 34. Matt Liebsch, 2:56:21.1; 35. Seth Downs, 3:07:15.5; 36. William Coleman, 3:10:28.0; Dave Chamberlain, DNF; Lars Flora, DNF; Paul Schauer, DNF; Leif Zimmermann, DNF; Galen Johnston, DNF; Bobby Miller, DNF; Kelsey Boyer, DNF; Brayton Osgood, DNS; Petter Eliassen, DNS; David Arvey, DNS; Eric Packer, DNS; Michael Matteson, DNS;
Junior Women's 5Km
1. Kinsey Loan, 18:00.3; 2. Hanna Gillis, 19:21.4; 3. Anna Rix, 20:45.7; Sarah Tegeler, DNS;
Junior Men's 12Km
1. John Parry, 35:44.1; 2. Reese Hanneman, 38:10.2; 3. Donald Haering, 38:18.0; 4. Noah Brautigam, 38:58.2; 5. Erin Phillips, 39:46.9; 6. Zach McGill, 41:07.2; 7. Patrick Nugent, 41:27.7; 8. Wyatt Mayo, 42:12.9; 9. Kyle Barnhart, 42:13.5; 10. Alex Morris, 42:18.7; 11. Steven Bender, 42:28.2; 12. Abe Schmidt, 43:49.2; 13. Simon Gilliland, 44:46.5; Taylor Bearden, DNF; Eric Hoffman, DNS; Alex Loan, DNS;
USSA contributed to this article