Graeme Killick (Alberta World Cup Academy) may have felt more confident about his classic ability going into Saturday’s SuperTour 10 k classic in West Yellowstone, but certainly didn’t expect a win. Nevertheless, strong execution on a frigid morning in Montana brought the 22-year-old Canadian his first victory of the season, a nice cash prize, and a certain amount of confidence going into the Silver Star NorAms in two weeks time. Sylvan Ellefson (Team Homegrown) took another second (+8.9), with Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) in third (+16.2).
Mike Sinnott (SVSEF), who podiumed in all three West Yellowstone races prior to Saturday, finished in sixth (+32.7), which was good enough for him to hold onto the overall SuperTour leader bib.
All three podium finishers in the 10 k prefer the classic discipline, and as each received splits partway through the race telling them that a few seconds here or there could lose or gain them the lead, the race came down to who could respond to the information and maintain intense effort through the finish.
Killick said he got his first spit at the end of the first lap, where he was informed he was the race leader. “Up until that point I went out pretty hard; really hammered the uphills,” he said after his race. “I just totally, almost maxed out there. I thought, if I’m anything other than in first here for the split, then I’m out of this.”
Going into the second lap Killick knew he was in the lead, but wasn’t sure by how much. So he focused on gliding as much as possible and maintaining speed on the flat section before the big climb to the high point of the 5 k loop.
“For this type of…rolling, gliding uphills, I find that’s my strength,” said Killick. “As long as grip and glide is good, you can save a lot of energy with long strides and staying smooth.”
Killick’s strengths clearly suited the course well, and he came through the finish with strong form to take the lead as one of the final starters of the men’s A-seed.
After finishing, runner-up Ellefson complemented Killick’s effort as “one heck of a race.” The Vail, CO native was aiming for the win, but was still excited to have two second-place finishes in a row in Yellowstone, the best early season of Ellefson’s career so far.
“It was a good day, I felt pretty fast,” he said. “I had the same plan as yesterday; big and strong on the first lap, and see if I could hold on in the second.”
Ellefson skied more of a head-to-head race than Killick; after catching and passing Rune Oedegaard (University of Colorado), who started 30 seconds in front of him, Ellefson had Oedegaard hot on his heels all the way to the end. Oedegaard outsprinted Ellefson to the line and ended up in eighth (+ 39.1), no doubt benefiting from riding Ellefson’s tails for the majority of the race. The two men congratulated each other as they left the finish pen.
With three out of four performances this week that landed him in the top four, Ellefson made significant gains on Saturday in the overall SuperTour standings. His 13th in the opening classic sprint set him back, however. If he is to make a serious run at the leader bib by the end of the Bozeman, MT races next weekend, and the accompanying World Cup start rights, he will have to keep performing well and hope that the current leader falls off the pace. Sinnott currently sits on top of the standings by a wide margin.
Bjornsen, after battling through sub-optimal races earlier this week, was finally able to land on the podium on Saturday.
“[Today] felt a lot better than yesterday, that’s for sure,” he said before heading out for a cool-down. “I tend to be a better classic skier, and I like the 10 k distance.
“I’m pretty excited for it,” he said of his result.
When Bjornsen got splits that he was five or 10 seconds out of leading, he said he wasn’t sure how to take it. “I thought a lot of the faster guys were behind me,” he said, and just focused on pushing himself over the top of Telemark Hill and double poling through the finish.
Other performances of note on Saturday were Matt Gelso (SVSEF) in fourth (+20.0) for the second day in a row and Miles Havlick (University of Utah) in fifth (+ 21.8) for a strong collegiate showing.
Gelso, who struggled out of the gate last year in his first season out of college, was happy to have put up strong results in West Yellowstone this week (he was fourth in the 15 k freestyle on Friday and third in the freestyle sprint). He attributed his success so far to finally managing to dial in his off-season training to be ready for early season races.
“I was able to come into these races prepared for the first time in a while,” he said. “In college, you’re not [usually] ready to rip right now; you’re focused on later in the season…[so] it’s nice to come into these races prepared.”
Saturday’s classic events wrapped up the opening SuperTour in West Yellowstone. Much of the elite field from this week is headed for the next round in Bozeman, MT from December 2 – 4, which will conclude the first period of SuperTour racing.
Topher Sabot contributed reporting.
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.