Continental CupRacingUS NationalsU.S. Cross Country Championships: 10/15 k Freestyle Preview and Predictions

Avatar Steve BedardJanuary 5, 2012

 

Tad Elliott (CXC) charges ahead in the 30K skate at US Nationals 2011 Photo: Flying Point Road.

RUMFORD, Maine — Racing resumes at Black Mountain on Thursday at 9:00 am with the 10/15 k individual-start freestyle. With forecasts predicting temperatures to remain below freezing for the majority of the week, the upcoming races will likely all be held on hard-packed, fast courses.

The Course

On Wednesday, athletes and coaches were seen testing skis, training and acquainting themselves with the entirety of the 3.26 k lap of which the women with do three laps and the men will do four.

Athletes will continue downhill from the original sprint course.

The beginning of the distance loop remains identical to the first section of Tuesday’s sprint course. The longer loop splits off in the old relay exchange area and carries athletes further into Black Mountain’s trail network.

Following a lengthy downhill section, athletes will climb back up in elevation before dropping again. This is the section where athletes will want to conserve as much energy as possible before climbing the infamous High School Hill, a deciding section of the course where only the strongest of athletes will prevail.

With lungs and legs burning, athletes will descend back onto the sprint course before heading into the stadium, where they will either head out for yet another lap or power towards the finish.

Men’s Preview:

Tad Elliott (Team Homegrown/USST) is the defending national 30 k champion in the classic discipline, and the Durango native is an even better skater. He found his form in Davos, Switzerland last month, scoring his first World Cup points with a 27th place in the 30 k skate. Back on home turf, Elliott will be a major threat on Thursday. As the first starter, however, he will be at a disadvantage in receiving splits, with the rest of the men’s A-seed in the chase.

Elliott’s teammate Noah Hoffman (Team Homegrown/USST) sits in the opposite position on the start list: as the 17th skier out of the gate, the distance specialist will be able to hunt his competition down. With the 30 k classic only a day later on Friday, however, which is Hoffman’s stronger distance, he may decide to conserve energy for the longer event. Regardless, Hoffman is clearly fit—he missed qualifying for the sprint heats by less than a second on Tuesday, his 33rd place a significant jump up from the 54th he finished in last year.

Lars Flora (APU) quietly finished in the top five in the skate sprint on Tuesday. As his real strength lies in distance racing, he will be one to watch out for. He is the defending 15 k classic champion, and was the runner-up to Elliott in last year’s 30 k freestyle race.

Sylvan Ellefson (SSCV/Team Homegrown) should also be right in the action on Thursday. He’s been racing well this winter, and the fact that he made it into his first A-final on Tuesday speaks to the fact that he’s in prime shape for this week of racing.

Mike Sinnott (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) started off the season in top shape, taking an early lead in the overall SuperTour and continuing to race well for the December NorAms. He was 10th in the sprint earlier this week, but with the prospect of World Cup racing coming up, he’ll be aiming for a top result.

Karl Nygren (CXC) seems to be getting into surprisingly fast form. His smart tactics played a big role in his progress through to the finals on Tuesday, but the University of Colorado alum also considers himself to be a better distance skier. Leif Zimmermann (BSF/Madshus) should be right in the mix as well—after a win at the opening SuperTour, he had two top-5s in the NorAm 15 ks. Veteran Brian Gregg (CXC) did well in the skate distance in West Yellowstone, and is could pop a good result on Thursday.

Staff Predictions:

Steve: 

  1. Sylvan Ellefson
  2. Noah Hoffman
  3. Lars Flora
  4. Tad Elliot
  5. Mike Sinnott

Audrey:

  1. Tad Elliott
  2. Noah Hoffman
  3. Lars Flora
  4. Sylvan Ellefson
Matt:
  1. Noah Hoffman
  2. Tad Elliott
  3. Sylvan Ellefson
  4. Lars Flora
  5. Leif Zimmermann

 

Women’s Preview:

After her 10th win of the season, Jessie Diggins (CXC/USST) is the safest bet for the top spot in the women’s 10 k. She may be skiing with a target on her back, but at least as the 16th starter she can be the one to hunt everyone else down. After their sprint podium sweep on Tuesday, her teammates Caitlin Gregg and Jennie Bender will also be major contenders. The trio is clearly feeding off each others’ performances, and after her fall in the last meters of the A-final, Bender in particular will be out for redemption, though skate is her weaker discipline.

Ida Sargent (CGRP/USST) had an unlucky day in the sprint, breaking a pole and failing to find another one for a significant stretch in the final. She certainly has the potential to do well on this course, as she’s a strong skater on the hills. There will be no shortage of climbing with the women heading up High School Hill three times.

Sadie Bjornsen (APU/USST) took Tuesday’s sprint off due to illness, but is on the start list for Thursday. She could still skip the 10 k, but even if she doesn’t, her health might slow her down. Her teammate Kate Fitzgerald (APU), however, could pop a big race. She was fifth in both distance races at Nationals last January, and has had solid skate distance results all season.

Eliska Hajkova (University of Colorado), who was 5th on Tuesday, will have the altitude advantage on her side in the distance race, and has been training on snow much longer this season than some of her competitors. Corey Stock (Cambridge Sports Union), who finished 4th in the sprint, could have another breakout performance in the distance. But since the 17-year-old had to skip Nationals last year due to injury, she’s still a bit of an unknown against this caliber of a distance field.

Staff Predictions:

Steve:

 

  1. Jessie Diggins
  2. Caitlin Gregg
  3. Eliska Hajkova
  4. Jennie Bender
  5. Sophie Caldwell

Audrey:

  1. Jessie Diggins
  2. Ida Sargent
  3. Caitlin Gregg
  4. Kate Fitzgerald
  5. Corey Stock

Matt:

 

  1. Jessie Diggins
  2. Caitlin Gregg
  3. Ida Sargent
  4. Kate Fitzgerald
  5. Eliska Hajkova

 

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