After the quarters and semifinals of Friday’s classic sprint in Sun Valley, it looked like there would be two separate races in the men’s final.
The first would be for Andy Newell (USST/SMS), who had dominated his first two heats and looked to be in a class by himself.
The second would be between Lars Flora (APU) and Mike Sinnott (SVSEF), who were locked in a battle for first place in the overall SuperTour sprint standings. Friday’s race was the last in the series, and with the two separated by just one point heading into the sprint, whoever placed higher would take home a $2,000 winner’s check. The other man would go home with nothing more than their prize money from the day—if they were lucky enough to get any at all.
As Newell began pulling away in the first half of the finals, it looked like the race would unfold as it was scripted. That is, until behind him, Sinnott uncorked a huge move on the course’s only climb that dropped Flora, vaulted him past Newell, and propelled him to a convincing win in the sun, in front of his home crowd. Newell held on for second over Flora, but neither were close to the win.
After some frustrating races here—and being snubbed for the U.S. team headed to this season’s World Championships—it didn’t get any better for Sinnott.
“I was digging deep, and…a lot on my mind,” he said. “I really wanted this one—it’s good to be home.”
More than just being home, though, Sinnott said that it was good to simply be butting heads in a sprint race.
He had planned on contesting two of them in the last two months, which should have given him a near-insurmountable lead on Flora in the SuperTour. But both were cut from the schedule—one in Madison, WI due to a massive political protest, and another in Tahoe, when it didn’t have sufficient entries.
“I’ve been wanting to sprint race for a while,” Sinnott said. “They keep cancelling ’em.”
Sinnott was sixth in the prologue, nearly five seconds off the fastest time set by Newell. But that was at 9 a.m., on a slick, boilerplate surface after a freeze overnight, and the track quickly dissolved into a sloppy mush that no one used, once the sun got higher in the sky.
How much did things change from the qualifier to the heats? Newell’s first-place effort in the morning clocked in at 3:03, while the fastest time in the finals was 3:38—a full 35 seconds slower.
“It’s like sprinting in slow-motion,” Newell said.
While Newell had skied like a freight train through to the finals, Sinnott had been almost as convincing, winning his first heat by more than seven seconds. His second was a little tighter, with Flora just a second behind, but the pair was nearly 10 seconds clear of their closest challenger.
While Sinnott was flying on Friday, it also helped that he had a pair of skis that he said were “perfect.”
The sprint course in Sun Valley was fairly tame—heavy on double-poling and light on striding. But there was no getting
around its one steep hill, three quarters of the way through. Known as Coach’s Climb, it’s only a hundred meters long, but it stymied a number of athletes and coaches, who couldn’t nail the right combination of kick and glide.
Some skiers charged up the hill, only to have their competitors pass them on the ensuing downhill into the finish like they were standing still. While both klister and zero skis were competitive, they weren’t always equal.
“It was all over the place,” said Eric Pepper, the race service director for Boulder Nordic Sport, who was waxing skis for Noah Hoffman and Kris Freeman, among others, on Friday. “It wasn’t clear. There was a mix….a lot of that depends on the pair of skis, and the application of klister, and all those things.”
Sinnott ended up on klister, and he said his skis were ideal, especially on the climb.
“Every single time I got to that hill, and I’d been watching everyone, I just felt great charging up that thing,” he said. “My skis were perfect—free, but just awesome pop climbing.”
In the finals, he said, his strategy was just to stick as close as he could to Newell, then drill it on that uphill.
Newell, the clear favorite after several World Cup top-10’s this season, looked good early in the finals. He stretching the pack, then gapping it a little bit, as the men headed into the flats and the gradual uphill leading into Coach’s Climb.
But at the tail end of a long season, in which he has consistently struggled to hold his pace through three sprint heats, he didn’t have enough to stay with Sinnott.
“I don’t have a very good top gear right now,” Newell said. “He had wicked good skis in the flat section, so he gained a ton of time right there. And then, [I] just couldn’t really make anything back.”
Sinnott had been tight with Flora, but he left him behind and closed down the gap to Newell coming into the climb. Then hammered his way up, all the while exhorted by screaming spectators.
One of the effects of the sun was on the conditions; the other was on the crowd. With temperatures hitting the high 50’s, a raucous group of athletes, coaches, and fans had gathered at the crest of Coach’s Climb.
Some were shirtless; others had beer. While these last four races in Sun Valley are officially labeled the SuperTour Finals,
the crowd, and the conditions, were a good reminder that the events used to be called Spring Series, and for good reason.
“That crowd over the top there was just deafening,” Sinnott said. “I could hardly see straight, but those guys kept me going.”
Rather than save anything for a drag race with Newell, Sinnott had put everything into the move, confident that his skis would hold any advantage all the way to the line, thanks to their speed on the downhill.
“That was something I noticed early,” he said. “I wasn’t afraid to go over the top quickly, and have a gap…I knew that I’d actually pull away, rather than [leave] any kind of draft.”
As he crested the climb, Sinnott had a gap of a couple of seconds over Newell, and a few more over Flora, and it held, as he came to the finish with an emphatic fist pump. The race, and the $2,000 check, was his.
Flora and Sinnott are friends, having skied together on the Saab Subaru Factory Team. But Flora certainly wasn’t giving Sinnott any gifts—there was even some good-natured hectoring at the beginning of the day, with each of the two men suggesting that they were paying off their teammates to take the other out.
But in the end, Flora said, the money went to the right guy. Sinnott’s three heats–quarter, semi, and final–were the three fastest of the day.
“When someone skis like that, they deserve to win the two thousand bucks,” said Flora. “I’m psyched that he won, because he just crushed us in the final.”
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.