Video preview of the 10/15k distance course for tomorrow’s races with SuperTour Distance Champion James Southam.
ANCHORAGE – Three tough climbs, two or three times. That’s what’s in store for the racers here who will tackle the U.S. National Championship 10/15k distance freestyle race tomorrow. With temperatures warming and a difficult but straightforward course, there should be nothing to hinder the strongest athletes from rising to the top.
Currently the course is groomed very firm, but with about an inch of light frozen granular snow sitting on top. With some patches of dirt already showing through in a number of places, by the time the last of the 300 starters makes their way around the 5k loop, things could get a bit messy.
Taking this into consideration, USSA Nordic Director John Farra said that the race jury opted to send the top sixty athletes out first tomorrow—with the fastest of those racing last—to ensure that the course is in the best shape for the best athletes.
For the waxing, “dirt is going to be an issue,” said CXC Junior Coach and Wax Tech John Hugus.
Something with molybdenum—a type of wax used to resist dirt and wear—is “probably going to be on the line,” he said.
As for the layout of the course, the 5k loop starts by easing its way out of the stadium for about a kilometer before a long downhill leads sharply into the first climb—a short steep ramp that slowly crests into another descent.
Then comes the most challenging portion of the course—a long, switchbacking hill that “is going to be the decider,” said CXC’s Rebecca Dussault.
“This is where I’m going to be really glad I live at 8,000 feet,” she said.
The hill pitches steadily upwards for about half a kilometer and 135 vertical feet, with rolling terrain at the top offering no real respite for another 200 meters or so. At the bottom of the ensuing descent, the next climb begins quickly, and it’s another tough one—500 meters of up with a quick break in the middle.
From the top of that last hill, it’s a bit less than a kilometer of smooth, flowing descent back into the stadium, where racers will loop around for another lap, or two—the women ski it twice, the men three times.
“It’s sweet—I’m psyched,” said the U.S. Ski Team’s Noah Hoffman. “It’s all up and down. It skis tough, but it flows.”
For the women, Kikkan Randall is again a favorite after her strong early season of distance racing on the World Cup circuit in Europe. She’ll also be competing on trails in her home city, which her APU teammate Laura Valaas said should give members of the club an advantage—especially on the course’s one steep downhill.
Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola, Randall’s two female compatriots on the World Cup, also have the potential to turn out a strong performance tomorrow. APU’s Holly Brooks has been tearing up the domestic distance circuit. And after her second-place showing in the sprint yesterday, Dussault could also compete for the win—especially since she has typically excelled over longer distances.
On the men’s side, the fitness that has taken Kris Freeman to a pair of top-ten World Cup finishes this winter should allow him to score a win with ease tomorrow. James Southam, an Alaskan who was 33rd in the World Championship 30k pursuit last year, probably has some of the best chances of coming close, but even he may not be able to do so—especially over the less-demanding 15k distance.
Besides Southam, Garrott Kuzzy, Noah Hoffman, and Leif Zimmerman have all skied well on the domestic circuit. On a good day, one of them could get close to Freeman. But don’t bet on it.
Check back late today or early tomorrow for a video preview of the course with James Southam.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.