Holly Brooks (APU) wasn’t sure how to approach the first OPA cup of her life on Friday, but for Saturday’s 5 k classic she had a better feel for what to expect. Friday’s effort yielded a silver medal and one second’s separation from gold, and Saturday’s race was even closer. Brooks won the individual start race by 0.2 seconds over Barbara Jezersek (SLO), and third-place finisher Alenka Cebasek (SLO) was 0.9 behind.
Brooks started directly behind Cebasek and in front of Jezersek, and knew it would be important to balance not trying to catch the rabbit in front of her too early, while preventing Jezersek from gaining on her.
“We’re at altitude here and the climb to the top of the course is relentless if you go too hard at the beginning,” said Brooks. “That said, I knew that Barbara was right behind me and was probably trying to pull me in the entire race.”
The 5 k distance is a short one for Brooks, but still requires smart pacing.
“Five kilometers go by really quick and there is no time to waste — especially judging by the results, which were even tighter than yesterday’s 2.5 k,” said Brooks.
Over the course of those five kilometers, she came close to making up the 20-second difference on Cebasek at the top of the course, but the Slovenian skied the descent faster on the “icy rails” that were the classic tracks in Toblach.
In the end, Brooks’s effort was enough — her winning margin was a narrow one, but a win nonetheless.
“I knew I had a chance [at wining] but nothing is certain until everyone crosses the line,” said Brooks.
Her second race into the OPA Cup Finals, Brooks is enjoying the more relaxed racing atmosphere. Getting back to the World Cup is her ultimate goal, but for now, “it’s a great change of pace to race in races where I always have the potential to land on the podium!”
Becca Rorabaugh (APU) was the next American finisher in 16th, followed by Rosie Brennan (APU) in 18th, Morgan Arritola (SVSEF) in 27th, Chelsea Holmes in 29th, Nicole DeYong in 30th and Lauren Fritz (APU) in 33rd.
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On the men’s side, Noah Hoffman (SSCV/USST) didn’t turn in quite the result he was hoping for, but was still the top American finisher on Saturday in the 10 k freestyle, finishing 15th
Hoffman, always with high expectations, said afterwards that he was disappointed with his race despite feeling “pretty good.”
“The race today was a little disappointing,” he wrote in an email. “I felt that it was a realistic goal for me to be on the podium, but it just didn’t happen.”
Hoffman has his sights set on the pursuit on Sunday.
“My energy is good and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Tomorrow I am looking to be aggressive and move up in the field,” he said.
Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) turned in the next fastest result at 27th.
“My goal for today was to go out really hard and to hold on as best as possible,” said Bjornsen. “I knew the times were going to be tight and I thought this was the best tactic for the short, fast 10 k.”
Bjornsen’s secondary goal had been to beat Hoffman — “I was not successful,” he said.
Tad Elliott was 31st, Matt Gelso (SVSEF) was 45th, Reese Hanneman (APU) was 46th, Brian Gregg (CXC) finished 58th and Peter Kling was 73rd.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.