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Avatar Nathaniel HerzMarch 17, 20111
Andy Newell (left) going head-to-head with Torin Koos in last year's SuperTour Finals in northern Maine.

Andy Newell has a title to defend.

Having edged out Canadian Ivan Babikov at the finish of last year’s SuperTour Finals in northern Maine, the American sprinter will come into this season’s edition as the defending champion.

But with the rest of the U.S. Ski Team in attendance, Newell will have his hands full this time around, in Sun Valley, ID.

The full American squad will be in attendance at SuperTour Finals, which start next weekend, according to the team’s head coach, Chris Grover. Newell, Kris Freeman, and Noah Hoffman will headline the field on the men’s side, while Kikkan Randall will be the clear favorite among women.

This year, SuperTour Finals consists of a four-stage mini-tour, as well as the U.S. National Championship in the 50 k and 30 k classic, for men and women, respectively. In an e-mail earlier this week, Grover said that the U.S. athletes are planning on contesting all the events.

In addition to the Americans, a few national team members from north of the border will be racing. On the men’s side, there’s Stefan Kuhn—who won the U.S. 50 k title in 2009, the last time classic technique was used—while Babikov, who won last year’s 50 k freestyle championship in Maine, will make a decision after he completes this weekend’s World Cup Finals in Sweden.

“It’s not 100 percent,” Babikov wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday. “I’m planning, but I’ll see how…my energy [is] after Falun.”

Canadian Devon Kershaw, who paired with his teammate Alex Harvey to win World Championships gold in the team sprint earlier this month, has been sick and taking antibiotics, and likely will miss the races—he said there’s a five percent chance he’ll make it.

Kikkan Randall racing at least year's SuperTour Finals. (That's German Nicole Fessel's suit.)

“My body hasn’t been too happy with me the last couple weeks,” he wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday. “I think it’s ready for me to get home and go ski touring, and [on] some quiet sessions on the nordic skis up at the Canmore Nordic Centre, without so much travel and racing stress.”

Kershaw also wrote that Harvey would not be in Sun Valley, due to a commitment to one of his sponsors.

Who will challenge Randall? The way she has been skiing over the last week, the only women who would be guaranteed an overall victory over the Alaskan are World Cup stars like Marit Bjoergen and Justyna Kowalczyk—and their names aren’t among the confirmed registrants.

However, in addition to U.S. Ski Team members Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola, Canadian National Team member Chandra Crawford told FasterSkier earlier this month that she would be in Sun Valley. And Brittany Webster, a Canadian B-teamer, will likely be there as well, according to Chris Jeffries, her club coach at the Alberta World Cup Academy.

As far as domestic athletes, Americans entrants include club stalwarts from Central Cross Country and Alaska Pacific University, like Tad Elliott, Bryan Cook, and James Southam on the men’s side, and Jessie Diggins and Caitlin Compton among women. A number of collegiate competitors are also entered, including some from Dartmouth and the University of Colorado.

Jeffries said that his team will probably have a crew of roughly 15 competing, depending on how his athletes feel after the Canadian National Championships conclude in Canmore this week. That group includes Drew Goldsack, Joey Burton, Jess Cockney, and Kevin Sandau on the men’s side, along with women Alysson Marshall, Emily Nishikawa, Heidi Widmer, and Marlis Kromm.

According to Travis Jones, one of the club coaches in Sun Valley, three Japanese athletes will likely be in attendance—though it’s unclear how the disaster currently unfolding in that country will affect their plans.

As well, Jones said, a Swedish club team of some 12 junior athletes will be racing, along with another dozen or so from a couple of Norwegian clubs. In total, he said, there will be roughly 200 competitors.

Conditions are excellent in Sun Valley currently, according to Jones, and after some cloudy, stormy weather this week, it’s supposed to clear up by the time the racing starts.

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Nathaniel Herz

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.

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