It’s been almost two weeks since the Americans competing in the World Cup as part of the nation’s group found out they’d earned spots in the Canmore distance races. The initial excitement now abated, the athletes focused on the mass start classic and skiathlon on Thursday and Sunday want to ski within themselves and not let the bright lights of the World Cup get too blinding.
Here’s what they’re hoping for in Canmore:
Sinnott got his first European World Cup starts last winter as the mid-season SuperTour leader, and in Canmore he’s hoping to build on that experience.
“You evolve a layer of comfort at the start line,” he said. “I’ve been to Canmore for World Cups before and that helps as well. I think the first couple times you want to think of World Cups as ‘big races’ and thus emotionally tire yourself out or try to ski out of your ability. No race is bigger than the last, and racing each as hard as you can is the best you can do.”
He has his sights set on the 15 k mass start classic on Thursday. “[It] will be a doozy of a race. I’d like to stay with the pack until the end, as I think they will keep it mellow until a furious kick brings it home.”
Matt Gelso (SVSEF)
This will be Gelso’s first World Cup start, and he says he was (and is) “very happy” to have checked a career goal off his list in making the team.
Now that he’s in Canmore, Gelso has ambitious results-based goals, too. First, he’s aiming for a top 30 finish in both races.
“I realize this is a big goal and I would not say it is necessarily probable, but on the right day with the right skis it is certainly possible,” he said.
Secondly, the World Cup production is a good setting to test the mental strength of any athlete, and he’d like to make sure he treats it just like any other competition.
“I want to remain calm and cool, and not let the magnitude of the World Cup I have only seen on TV get to my head,” Gelso explained. “I also want to keep the larger perspective; these are two races, jut like any others I have done.”
That being said, he’s excited to experience what it takes to race at the highest level.
“I look forward to seeing what World Cup racing is actually all about… It will be fun getting an inside view of what is going on and how real top level racing works,” Gelso said.
Matt Liebsch (Borton Volvo XC United)
Liebsch competed on the World Cup when it last came to Canada, placing in the points (29th) in the 15 k freestyle in Canmore in 2010. The distance course should suit Liebsch quite well — he’s dropped weight this fall in part to make himself a better climber for Canmore’s wall of an uphill.
Earlier this season Liebsch skied to a convincing win in West Yellowstone but broke multiple poles during the 15 k classic in Bozeman, and is most looking forward to redemption on Thursday.
“Even though I won’t be in full peak mode I still want to put together a solid result,” he said. “I am looking forward to another chance at a 15 k classic.”
David Norris (Montana State University)
College skiers can sometimes fly under the radar once the NCAA circuit takes up the majority of their race commitments, but Norris didn’t come out of nowhere. The Fairbanks, Alaska, native has long been posting strong sprint and distance results on the SuperTour and was second in the 30 k classic at U.S. Nationals last winter.
This will be Norris’ first World Cup, and is he’s primarily happy with the opportunity to compete.
“I think I have trained well this fall so I should be in a good place,” he said. “The World Cup plus Olympics an World Championships are what I train for.
“This is a stepping stone to those larger goals and I think this experience will give me a chance to raise my level of racing plus motivate me even more for future workouts and races. It’s going to be awesome to go head to head with the guys I watch on TV.”
Rosie Brennan (Alaska Pacific University)
Brennan has competed in World Cup sprints before, but this will be her first distance experience on the circuit.
“I don’t have many expectations for myself, certainly not results wise as I have no idea how I stack up or even who will be in attendance,” she said. “My goal is simply to be in the mix and to feel like I raced as best I possibly good with good technique and smart tactics.”
The distance events will be especially different for Brennan because they’re both mass starts. Brennan is looking forward to the classic event in particular, which she views as her stronger discipline, and to joining the momentum her teammates have built on the World Cup this season.
“[Kikkan Randall and Holly Brooks] have so much more experience and insight and are an incredible asset to have,” Brennan said. “Many of my teammates from Dartmouth will be there as well. Having good teammates and friends makes the whole experience more enjoyable and less stressful.”
With two second-place distance finishes on the SuperTour thus far, Holmes is clearly in a good place at this point in the season. Canmore will be her first World Cup start, but she’s approaching it just like any other race.
“I absolutely love racing and this is just a new (and slightly bigger) stage to do it on,” Holmes said.
She has high expectations for herself in Canmore, but her primary objective will be to ski “with good technique and with confidence.”
Above all, “I am just looking forward to an awesome racing opportunity,” she concluded.
Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project)
The Anchorage, Alaska, native will be making her World Cup debut in Canmore. She’s seen international competition before as part of the U.S. World Junior team in 2010, but qualifying for the World Cup brings her to a whole new level of competition in her first year out of college.
“I’m definitely looking forward to testing myself against the best skiers in the world and learning what I can about how to become a faster racer,” Patterson said. “I am also looking forward to enjoying the atmosphere of a World Cup race from a first-hand perspective, and to the camaraderie among the athletes from different nations.”
An equally strong skater and classic skier, Patterson claimed third and a fifth in the two distance races on the SuperTour this season. She’s quick on her feet, so the challenging Canmore terrain could be right up her alley.
“If I make the most of every transition and feature of the course during the race, I believe I can ski as fast as many of the women in this field, so I’ll go out there and race as well as I can to prove it,” she said. “With so many U.S. women racing and the mass start format, I’m also hoping to find some teammates out on course to ski with and work together to move up in the field.
In addition to the distance-only nation’s group competitors, a few athletes who were in Quebec City last weekend will be starting again in Canmore. Watch for Sophie Caldwell (SMS T2), Sadie Bjornsen (APU/USST) and Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) in all three races this weekend and sprint-specialists Ryan Scott (SSCV Team HomeGrown), Reid Pletcher (SVSEF), Reese Hanneman (APU), Skyler Davis (SMS T2/USST), Pat O’Brien (CGRP), Lauren Fritz (APU), Corey Stock (Dartmouth), Becca Rorabaugh (APU) and Kate Fitzgerald (APU) in the freestyle sprint on Saturday.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.