Despite the warm weather, which has already complicated plans for teams and race organizers all across Scandinavia, the season still managed to kick off on Friday with a classic sprint in Muonio, Finland. Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) cruised to victory over the women’s field, while Andreas Nygaard (NOR) fought off Russia’s Egor Sorin and Nikolay Bolotov in a close race for first.
Ida Sargent (CGRP/USST) had the best American finish of the day, finishing 10th overall after qualifying in 9th on the point-to-point course. She completed the qualifying round 15 seconds behind Kowalczyk’s winning time, and was three seconds out of third.
Rounding out the results for Craftsbury were Hannah Dreissigacker (33rd) and Clare Egan (82nd). There was no points cutoff imposed on the start; 125 women competed in all.
Only the top 16 went on to the quarterfinals, where Sargent just missed moving on the semis. CGRP coach Pepa Miloucheva thought Sargent had a solid qualifier, but said she wasn’t feeling 100%.
“It was a hard point-to-point course that didn’t have any downhill,” said Sargent, the lone American to qualify for the heats on Friday. “It was fun to ski in a heat…and really good to burn some nervous energy and finally race.”
As there were only two tracks set on the narrow, man-made course, Sargent started in the second row of the quarterfinal, directly behind Kowalczyk.
Conditions, and an athlete’s ability to adapt to them, seemed to rule the day. The course was “slushy, dirty and soft,” and there wasn’t a lot of time for testing skis or wax. The men, whose qualifier went off second, weren’t able to get on course at all before their start, which amounted to not getting on skis at all before toeing the line.
“This is hard for classic race, so they had some trouble to make the skis work and be able to push,” said Miloucheva.
The Craftsbury men, she said, had a hard time out on the course. No one qualified for the rounds: Pat O’Brien led the way in 72nd, followed by Tim Reynolds (104th), Dylan McGuffin (141st) and Ethan Dressigacker (152nd).
Craftsbury’s skiers are the only Americans competing in Muonio. Last November, with the first World Cup in relatively nearby Gallivare, Sweden the following weekend, the U.S. Ski Team (USST) also raced, but the uncertainty with the opening World Cup this year has the team training through the lead-up to Sjusjoen, where all but Sargent will put on a bib for the first time in 2011-2012. Many other World Cup teams are using the FIS distance skate races at Bruksvallarna, Sweden this weekend as their final pre-season warm-up.
The forecast doesn’t call for the temperature to dip below freezing in Muonio tonight, so race organizers will have their work cut out for them repairing the course to be ready for tomorrow’s 5/10 k skate.
Multi-race weekends are all about recovering, both physically and mentally, from the first day of competition to be ready to go again. As she looks ahead to two more races, Sargent said her goals are to ski smoothly and pace herself better.
More athletes are arriving in Muonio for the weekend. “Tomorrow the field is even bigger, I think there are more than 500 people racing,” said Miloucheva. “[We] will see what is going to happen!”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.