FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2013 US Cross Country Championships is brought to you through the generous support of The Memory Clinic, Bennington, Vt.
MIDWAY, Utah — There’s nothing like mass start classic racing on a perfectly-groomed, hard-packed course, and that’s exactly what awaits athletes at Soldier Hollow for the 20/30 k on Sunday.
The course and conditions will be practically identical to the skate race. The first lap will take skiers up the hollow instead of climbing to the lodge above, and there’s a slight modification mid-course that reduces incoming speed to an icy downhill turn. But apart from that, the course is the same: bulletproof grooming, perfect tracks, bluebird skies, ridiculous climbs — all ingredients for excellent classic skiing.
Prediction-wise, the races are a bit of a toss-up. I’m not just saying that to protect myself when my picks turn out to be horribly wrong, there are simply a lot of people skiing well right now. Just look at how many personal-bests there were at the top of Friday’s skate results.
There are the usual contenders that make easy picks based on consistency, but results from the Bozeman SuperTour, the Canmore World Cups — even Friday’s distance skate — suggest that there’s potential for some more surprises on Sunday. Last year’s championships in Rumford were won by Noah Hoffman and Jessie Diggins, both of whom are now racing the Tour de Ski, so the national titles are at least guaranteed to go to someone new.
I almost gave up on this whole predictions endeavor after Friday’s results came through. Some punk freshman beat my freestyle picks and now I have to eat a bunch of hot peppers before I leave Utah. But for some reason people love predictions, no matter how lousy, and who am I to deny the people what they want?
So. Here you go.
- Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) is on fire. Take into account that he’s traditionally even better on classic skis and he’s the odds-on favorite to win the 30 k. Nobody looked as strong as he did on the final climb up Hermod’s on Friday.
- Tad Elliott (SSCV Team HomeGrown/USST) will badly want to win after just missing gold in the skate race. He did ski incredibly well in that skiathlon in Canmore, but he just hasn’t looked as quick as Bjornsen this week.
- David Norris (MSU) was second in this race last year and is usually a safe bet in long, head-to-head classic distances. Recall that he went for the win in Rumford, attempting a breakaway partway through. He tried the same thing in Bozeman. It hasn’t quite worked out for him yet.
- Matt Gelso (SVSEF). After taking third in the skate race, his best nationals result ever, he said he’s even more focused on the classic discipline this week. He was sixth in this race last year and should be able to move up a few places given that he’s been skiing well this season.
- Torin Koos (BSF/Rossignol). This will only be his second distance race of the season, but now that he appears to be back on form he should be right up there.
- Sadie Bjornsen (APU/USST). Two champions on the same day in the same family? It could happen. After two silver medals this week Bjornsen will be hungry for gold, and by this point knows exactly how the course skis and what positions work best where. Women’s mass starts are not so much about tactics as they are about wearing everyone else down, and nobody can do that like her.
- Rosie Brennan (APU). Though she’s a better classic skier and this is a familiar course, I don’t know if she can win two in a row. She’s skiing well right now, though, so I’m guessing it’ll be close between her and her training partner.
- Sophie Caldwell (SMS T2) skipped the 10 k skate in order to rest up for these last two races. That will definitely help, and if anyone can break through the APU machine on a classic distance day, it’s Caldwell.
- Caitlin Patterson (CGRP) was fifth in the Bozeman 10 k classic and after feeling a bit tired in Canmore seems to be back to feeling like her usual self this week.
- Kate Fitzgerald (APU) is pretty consistently in the top five or six on any given day. She was on the podium two days ago and will probably be close to it again.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.