BOZEMAN, Mont. — Let it be known, there’s a new queen on the SuperTour. On a sunny morning at Bohart Ranch, Sophie Caldwell (SMS T2) handily won the freestyle sprint from early morning qualifier through to the finish, putting herself on top of the sprint rankings halfway through the Quebec World Cup qualifying period. Sadie Bjornsen (Alaska Pacific University/USST) skated to second place and Caitlin Gregg (Central Cross Country) took third.
“I never know what to expect,” Sophie said after her race. “I was happy with my prelim and just hoped to hang on to the final.”
Her competitors, many of them good friends and former teammates, made up for Caldwell’s modesty in the mixed zone.
“Sophie is just the best. She’s a rock star,” said Annie Hart (Dartmouth), who was fifth.
“To watch Sophie crush it, that was insane,” added Parker Tyler (Univeristy of Utah), who was sixth. “She skis better than anyone in my opinion, she can ride a ski like no one. I’m so stoked for her.”
Caldwell said she simply skied to her strengths over the course of the morning.
“I knew my strength was the sprint finish,” she said. “I wanted to try to hop in behind whoever was leading, stick with them, and save a little energy for the final sprint. And that’s what I did, so it played out well.”
Such a strategy is actually quite cunning, and easier said than done. Bjornsen clearly showed an advantage out of the double pole zone when the final got going and held onto it with the rest of the field breathing down her neck for much of the race.
“I wanted to lead from the start and control it, but there was no controlling it,” Bjorsnen said. “We just went as hard as we could.”
Gregg, who tucked into third behind Caldwell at the start, agreed that the pace was blistering in the final heat. Since she’d led her two preliminary heats outright, Gregg decided to change tack and see whether she could catch a ride by skiing from the middle of the pack.
“Those two girls are tough to sit behind because once they decided to go, they go,” Gregg said. “You can’t sit there and coast on by them and surprise them.”
The start and finish area sat on an elevated plateau, and the course thereafter swung down, up another short hill into the biathlon stadium, and up another sharp climb to the high point before horseshoeing back towards the finish for a total of 1.5 k.
By the time the field reached the final turn, Caldwell moved to the outside and around Bjornsen, and from there the race was nearly decided. By the time Caldwell, Bjornsen and Gregg reached the last stretch, Caldwell had built a comfortable gap.
“I think that she probably skied a tactically better race, and Sophie’s known for that,” Bjornsen said, but concluded that she was happy with how the day went for her since it gave her a chance to practice sprinting before heading back to the World Cup circuit with the U.S. Ski Team.
“Last year I didn’t really ski heats because I only made it in once on the World Cup, so it’s fun to go back and remember how to ski a bunch of hard times again and again,” she said.
Some distance separated the podium from the rest of the field. Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) finished by herself in fourth after starting in the seventeenth qualifying spot. The Alaska native was happy with the effort and grateful for the chance to finally ski rounds.
“It was a fun day, and it was really fun to do the sprint heats,” she said.
At the back of the pack, two college skiers duked it out to finish the best sprint races of their lives; Hart and Tyler finished fifth and sixth. Hart had never made it as far a the final before, and Tyler hadn’t even contested a sprint since 2009 at the Junior Olympics.
“It was all my favorite people, minus some, at the start,” Hart said. “It was just good vibes, I was really happy, and I think the happier we are the faster we ski.”
Tyler appeared slightly shocked several minutes after the finish. “It was pretty much amazing,” she said. “I was not expecting that at all. I had a blast.”
Given the above-freezing conditions on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, it’s a marvel that the races could even take place. Gregg thanked the organizers for pulling off the feat with less that a week’s advance notice that Bohart would host the sprints that West Yellowstone couldn’t.
“The snow is obviously not abundant, but I thought the courses were totally fair and totally fun,” Gregg said.
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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.