CRAFTSBURY, Vermont — Looking calm and relaxed as he finished the two-lap 3.2 k freestyle prologue on Saturday morning, Simi Hamilton (SVSEF/USST) skied to a comfortable win in the opening event of the SuperTour Finals at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.
He beat Sylvan Ellefson (Team HomeGrown) by 6.6 seconds, and in a tie for third, Noah Hoffman (Team HomeGrown/USST) and Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) both claimed bronze (+11.5). Kris Freeman (USST), skiing for Team HomeGrown this week, took fifth (+14.0), with Mike Sinnott (SVSEF) only 0.1 behind in sixth.
Hamilton won the prologue last year in Sun Valley, Idaho in similarly dominant fashion, so his comfortable margin this year hardly comes as a surprise. At this point, he’s established himself as the one to watch out for in the mid-distance 3.2 k.
“It was fun,” said Hamilton of the effort this time around on Craftsbury’s man-made loop. “Hard, kind of short.”
Though he appeared to be skiing easy the first lap, the Colorado native said his approach was to attack the course “as hard as you can the whole time.”
The men started an hour behind the women and left the gate every 30 seconds, but the conditions remained fairly consistent and fast throughout the men’s race.
Just as impressive as Hamilton’s gap on the rest of the field was Ellefson’s second-place showing in spite of a swollen ankle from his crash in Falun, Sweden just over a week ago.
“It’s ok — not fantastic,” said Ellefson of his ankle’s condition. “It’s gotten more swollen since yesterday, and there’s a lot of snapping going on.”
Walking around the venue, Ellefson was favoring his uninjured leg, but with the support of skate boots, he said the pain was manageable during the prologue.
“I’m not sure how classic racing is going to go,” he added.
After getting his ankle checked out at a nearby hospital Saturday afternoon, the “snapping” noise was determined not to be the fracture Ellefson had feared, and he’s ready to race in the 15 k classic on Sunday.
Prior to the prologue, Ellefson trailed CXC’s Karl Nygren by a slim four points in the overall SuperTour standings. With period 1 start rights for the World Cup next November on the line, Ellefson’s acknowledged that he might be taking more risks than he normally would.
“Hopefully I can take April to really rest my ankle,” said Ellefson. “We’ll see what happens in the next week.”
Hoffman was impressed with his competitors’ performances.
“[Hamilton] has always been really good at prologues, and Sylvan skied really well today, especially with the hurt ankle,” said Hoffman.
As for his own race, Hoffman was “pretty happy” with the result, which sets him up for a good starting position in Sunday’s mass start classic.
“I’ve had trouble pacing prologues in the past,” he said. “I’m looking to be smooth, and not spaz or be too aggressive on the first lap. I think I get better at it every time I do it.”
Hoffman shared the podium with Bjornsen, who lifted the former onto his shoulders to share the small podium step at the awards ceremony. Both clocked in at 6:10.9.
“I went out fast and tried to stay relaxed, which seemed to work out,” said Bjornsen, who was in Toblach, Italy last week for OPA Cup Finals.
Just as it had for the women, the conditions necessitated a running warm-up for the men, which some athletes were more used to than others.
“I kind of prefer it — it’s quick, and when everyone’s in the same boat, it’s an easy way to warm up,” said Bjornsen.
Freeman was the first starter for the men, and said the transition was “a little weird.”
After coming home the Holmenkollen 50 k at the beginning of March, Freeman got sick, so the prologue was also his first intensity session since returning from Europe.
“My plan was to ski big and strong and snappy, and I went big and strong, just not snappy,” he said.
His goal is to improve throughout the week.
“It’s always nice to race in New England, and I’ve always liked racing at Craftsbury, so I’m hoping to get in better shape as the week goes on.”
David Norris (AWS/MSU) was the first collegiate finisher in 10th (+23.7) and Paddy Caldwell (SMS) turned in the best junior time in 15th overall (+25.4).
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.