SuperTour competitors got a Thanksgiving respite from racing on Thursday in West Yellowstone, MT, but are gearing up again for tomorrow’s 10/15 k individual-start freestyle. Athletes will have to watch their turkey consumption, as too much tryptophan would not be ideal for tomorrow’s grueling course, which features two loops of a 5 k for women and three for men.
Wednesday’s Sprint Showdown was the first domestic race of the season, which is always a highlight simply because no one knows for sure exactly how fit their competitors are, and everyone is raring to get the winter started. Thursday’s distance is just as big of a deal, however. The distance discipline is an entirely different game, and tomorrow’s field contains men and women aiming to perform well in the longer event.
Last year’s men’s SuperTour distance leader, Brian Gregg of Central Cross Country (CXC), said he’s looking forward to getting in a good effort tomorrow, and qualified this race as high-ranking in importance to his season.
“I’d put this right up there; we only have two SuperTours in Period 1,” he said. “There’s a bunch of guys going for the overall SuperTour title, and along with that the start rights for racing over in Europe.”
The course features plenty of variation—fast, rolling terrain suited for V2, and another ascent (or two, or three) up Telemark Hill, which featured prominently as the finishing climb in Wednesday’s sprint.
Athletes said they’re focused on skiing smooth and relaxed throughout the course, which doesn’t contain a lot of recovery.
“Telemark hill is pretty tough, I think it’s going to be important to keep the speed up on the first half of the course, it’s pretty rolling,” said Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST). “[I’m] just going to try to stay in V2 and keep the rhythm going.”
With snow accumulation expected tonight and tomorrow, and a high of 29o F in Friday’s forecast, the course could be soft for a 10:00 am women’s start.
In addition to most of the field from the Sprint Showdown, a few more college athletes are putting on bibs tomorrow. Middlebury College athletes are only looking to get a race under their belts, but Colorado University proved on Wednesday that they can hit the ground running.
Here are our staff predictions for the 10/15 k freestyle:
- Caitlin Gregg – Clearly in fine form. Great skater and hill climber
- Jessie Diggins – Hard to bet against her, but she is shooting for later in the season.
- Kate Fitzgerald – Strong and consistent.
- Morgan Arritola – Also a great skater. Will excel if the course is soft.
- Jennie Bender – Good form in the sprints will carry over.
Dark horse: Rosie Brennan. After skipping the sprints, she is a bit of an unknown quantity in her first season out of college
- Graeme Killick – Strong Canadian all-arounder
- Mike Sinnott – Always a threat in any race
- Leif Zimmermann – Basically a home course for Leif. At this point a better distance skier than sprinter
- Sylvan Ellefson – Team Homegrowner will represent
- Sam Tarling – Collegiate skier will pop one.
Dark horse: Torin Koos – Hard to consider the three-time Olympian a darkhorse, but hasn’t had many skate distance starts recently.
- Morgan Arritola – Morgan is light on her skis and super fit, perfect for slower conditions at altitude.
- Caitlin Gregg – Always flies up the steep climbs, especially skating.
- Jessie Diggins – She has continued her roll from last year and the conditions should be perfectly suited for her.
- Kate Fitzgerald – Race winner from last year and proved she is ready to start the season during the sprints.
- Jennie Bender – In great shape for these early races and you have to vote for someone that always has a smile on her face.
Darkhorse: Evelyn Dong. Really good climber, strong skater, and if it snows the soft conditions should be good for her.
- Mikey Sinnott – With new snow expected overnight it seems like the conditions will be perfect for him.
- Leif Zimmerman – He’s used to the altitude and knows this course well.
- Sylvan Ellefson – He seems to be on form for these early races and he too is used to the altitude.
- Brian Gregg – The climbs should suit his strong V1.
- Jesse Cockney – The Alberta World Cup Academy boys are fast, got to put one of them in here.
Dark horse: Peter Kling. I saw what he ate for dinner, and his Thanksgiving spread will provide perfect fuel for tomorrow.
- Kate Fitzgerald – Performed well in the sprint, won this race last year. Safe bet.
- Caitlin Gregg – She’s on a roll.
- Morgan Arritola – Altitude is on her side.
- Jessie Diggins – She may not be confident in her 10 k experience, but she’s clearly fit.
- Jennie Bender – Determined. Skied to second in the classic sprint despite having to switch a pole.
Dark horse: Evelyn Dong. Skied this race well last year, but hard to know how she’ll perform with her new team.
- Mike Sinnott – Altitude. Good climber.
- Brian Gregg – Last year’s distance leader, he’s a strong skater, and clearly gunning for a big race.
- Matt Gelso – This is his second year out of college, and after yesterday’s third in the skate sprint he seems to have momentum this season.
- Torin Koos – Finding it hard to leave the Olympian out.
- Erik Bjornsen – Clearly stated he wants to win. May have been joking, but my money’s on confidence in the top 5.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.