The 38 women that aren’t wearing bib one in today’s U.S. National Championship in the 30 k classic have a tough task ahead of them: figuring out a way to beat Kikkan Randall.
The 28-year-old Alaskan is in the midst of the best season of her life, having collected four sprint podiums, two wins, and a career-best 11th place in a distance race.
She’ll be the favorite in Sunday’s 30 k in Sun Valley, and with her combination of speed and fitness, she can probably win any way she wants to—either by breaking away or out-sprinting a pack.
While the race is Randall’s to lose, there are plenty of other women with enough horsepower to make her work, and even to win. Namely, there are four of Randall’s own teammates from the Alaska Pacific University club team, two of whom—Sadie Bjornsen and Holly Brooks—just returned from competing at the 2011 World Ski Championships in Oslo.
The others, Morgan Smyth and Kate Fitzgerald, didn’t make the cut, but their racing in the early season was almost as strong.
Then, there’s the U.S. Ski Team’s Morgan Arritola, who’s on her home course in Sun Valley, and excels in long races and on tough terrain, which the course has in spades.
After a string of strong performances in Oslo, it would also be unwise to count out 19-year-old Jessie Diggins, who’s racing for CXC. And Maria Graefnings, a Swede who is skiing for the University of Utah, just won an NCAA title in Vermont earlier this month.
From north of the border, there’s Brittany Webster, a Canadian who has been inconsistent, but close to world-class at her best. She’s strong in classic, and just won a national title at the Canadian championships two weeks ago.
Chelsea Holmes (Sugar Bowl Academy) also skied well at Canadian nationals, grabbing a win—though not a title, as an American—of her own in the 30 k freestyle. She has been strong all year, but told FasterSkier on Friday that she prefers skating over classic, and didn’t seem too confident about her chances.
“I’m glad it’s a mass start, especially because it’s classic for me—hopefully I can hang in there for a while,” she said. “That’s kind of my goal, I guess.”
Liz Stephen (USST) would likely be one of Randall’s biggest rivals, but she’s not starting—according to the U.S. Ski Team’s head coach, Chris Grover, Stephen has been suffering from foot problems.
Racing gets underway at 9 a.m. MST/11 a.m. EST.
We’ll have live updates during the race on our Continental Cup blog, and on @FasterSkier on Twitter—and, of course, a full report afterwards.
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.