U.S. Nationals Notes and Quotes: Classic Mass Starts

BrainspiralJanuary 7, 2013
The first of six laps during the men’s 30 k classic mass start at U.S. nationals on Sunday at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah.

FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2013 US Cross Country Championships is brought to you through the generous support of The Memory Clinic in Bennington, Vt.

MIDWAY, Utah – When it comes to great race stories, it doesn’t get much better than distance mass starts. Especially in a four- to six-lap race, there are usually plenty of tactics, lead switching and extreme efforts across the board, and Sunday’s 20- and 30-kilometer classic mass starts were no different.

The men rounded an intense 5-kilometer course at Soldier Hollow six times and the women did four laps, with pack racing throughout building the excitement. In the end, there could only be one winner, and on both the men’s and women’s side, two sprinters (Torin Koos and Sadie Bjornsen) claimed the ultimate distance titles.

Here’s what they had to say, along with several of the other top players in Sunday’s races:

On winning:

I have a plan, and its gonna work or its not, but obviously it did so I’m pretty happy. – Torin Koos (Bridger Ski Foundation/Rossignol), on first 30 k national title


On competitors:

It was nice not to have [last year’s mass-start winner] Noah [Hoffman] here. It was pretty patient and relaxed the whole way actually. Tad [Elliott] tried to open it up on that last lap but we were able to close back. He’s a good skier so when he made that break I thought we’d catch back up to him, but wasn’t really sure. I just want to stay patient because if I’m near the front of the pack in the finish I thought I could thrown down. – Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST), 2nd

Any chances I got when I was out there to jump behind [Koos] I did ’cause I was feeling pretty comfortable. We ski pretty similar. … We trained together for about a year back in my hometown in Winthrop [Wash.]. … Surprised to see him throw down in a distance race. It’s pretty cool, but he’s probably thinking the same for me. – Erik Bjornsen

I think [Bjornsen will] do even better stuff than I have. It’s really cool to race with him. It’s kind of like our careers are crossing a little bit. – Koos to the Salt Lake Tribune


On mass-start racing:

It was so crowded I was just trying to stay in a safe position. All the feed zones and stuff, we were crashing together. It was pretty easy for like 20 k or so. On the fifth lap, Tad led a little, that’s when it broke down. Other than that it was pretty easy. I expected some of those bigger guys to hammer that last hill. – David Norris (Montana State University), 3rd

Torin and I got a little tripped up, but no hard feelings. That’s just what happens in a mass-start classic race in the course of racing. I tripped Gelso up twice, I apologized to him. – Tad Elliott (SSCV/Team HomeGrown/USST), 7th

It was quick off the line, I was, like, ‘Really guys? Oh my gosh!’ But then we kind of settled into a nice, good pace and just kind of kept it pretty steady the whole time, just switching leads. I actually had a lot of fun. The girls were great to ski with. It was really cool. – Kate Fitzgerald (APU), 2nd

We were having so much fun out there. Fitz and Chelsea and I kept switching the leads and I just tried to stay relaxed and stay strong. – Sadie Bjornsen (APU/USST), after winning first 20 k national title

[The pace] was moderate from the start. It wasn’t too hard, it was kind of relaxed, but knowing that we were going for 20 k, it was plenty fast. I mean, the six of us [took] off pretty quickly, there were a few other people who hung for a little bit. – Caitlin Patterson (CGRP), 5th


On turning points:

Right at the end at the last lap when people charged at the bottom of Hermod’s, I just didn’t quite have it. Then I had two really big slips where I almost stopped. And that was it, Norris got the gap and, didn’t do much from there. – Matt Gelso (SVSEF), 4th

I didn’t have anything left going up Hermod’s for the last time but, pretty psyched with the result. – David Sinclair (Dartmouth), 6th

At the end of the fourth lap, Tad went to the front and picked up the pace a little bit and yeah that was probably when I was feeling the worst and they kind of got away from me. Once you lose that pack then the gap just slowly gets bigger and bigger. I haven’t done too many 30 k’s. It would have been a fun 20 k. Those extra two laps were tough. – Miles Havlik (University of Utah), 8th

I’m just not good skiing behind six people. I know that, if I ever make the World Cup, that’s how it goes. I just can’t, I don’t know. I like skiing in my own rhythm. I really enjoy skiing next to people more than skiing out by myself, but I feel like it’s easy to let people get away somehow when I’m in the back. – Chelsea Holmes (SVSEF), 6th

Sadie started making a move on the last hill up the sprint [course] and [she and Sophie Caldwell] hammered up that hill and had a good little gap coming down that flat stretch there. Sadie just killed it on Hermod’s and then I kind of started catching up to Sophie on Hermod’s. I tucked in behind her on the downhill and was able to kind of slingshot and get some speed coming into the finish. That was kind of a lucky move. – Fitzgerald

Fitz tried to make a move across the top and then we came back together and then it stayed back together until Sadie and Sophie pushed hard over the top of the sprint course and then Sadie kept going. – Rosie Brennan (APU), 4th

Classic is usually our [team’s] strong suit for sure. When I saw the ladies break into a pack of six, that was pretty exciting because we had three girls in the top six, but I was nervous the whole time until the last uphill. You never know what happens, but then you could see it in the finish there how strong they looked. It looked great. – Erik Flora, APU head coach


On conserving:

I know that my strength has always been the finish at the end. I knew as long as I kept my sprinting, you can only do so many sprint surges in the race, as long as I kept that in my legs, it was gonna be good. And staying relaxed, I knew that I was holding it. – Sadie Bjornsen

We all just took turns at the front. Everybody up front skied really well, took turns leading, nobody was making any serious mistakes out there so it was a smooth race and a fair race. – Sam Tarling (Dartmouth), 5th

It wasn’t so hard a pace where it was actually taking a lot out of you leading. A place where guys would try to string it out a little was by the first big turn; you just don’t want to get in trouble there. It’s such a sketchy turn, you have too many people going by. – Sylvan Ellefson (SSCV/Team HomeGrown), 9th

On the downhill there’s no tracks and you’re so tired, you get really stiff. So I kind of took it a little conservative on the downhill. – Koos


On expectations:

We were expecting [Koos] to be in there for sure. How he skied last year and knowing he’s been a really good classic skier especially, and those distance are actually good for him. It’s the middle distances, we’re trying to get him in there a little bit more, and he showed that on Friday [in the 15 k skate]. But yeah this 30 k, we had super high expectations. … That was definitely his race. It went the way he wanted it to go. I think he’s got momentum now.  – Tim Baucom, BSF coach

Thirty k’s, I haven’t done a lot of ’em, so it’s a learning experience for sure. So practice some tactics this time, I think it paid off well. … I’m really happy. Second national medal, which is awesome.  – Erik Bjornsen

A little bummed I wasn’t in the top three, but 30 k is a huge effort. – Gelso

I didn’t really have a good fall of training ’cause I was not on campus so I didn’t have a training group and I couldn’t rollerski at all so this is a big surprise. I felt really good in the skate race and classic is ususally my better technique so I knew anything was possible. – Sinclair

Going in I was hoping for a little more, but it was great. Team HomeGrown really did an incredible job with our skis; Sylvan [Ellefson] and I had really good kick. We were leading a lot, they really helped us out. It was a great race, great course, last two laps went a little too much though. I had a gap there, then those other guys were doing well. –Elliott, 7th, on tying his best classic result at nationals

I was sick for most of break so I knew I was well rested, but I might also be a little flat and tired. I was really tired after the sprint day, just super stiff from classic sprinting, but I felt fine every day after that. It was tough to sit out and watch the other race, but it was probably smart. – Caldwell (Stratton Mountain School T2 Team), 3rd


On making strides:

I was sick last year so I haven’t raced nationals in two years. It’s definitely a big step for me. This is my second 30 k, and my first 30 k classic ever so I’m really happy and really psyched with how the team did and hopefully we’ll be able to keep going this season and maintain the good results  – Tarling

I’ve had a tough season leading up to this point and today I’m really happy with my result because it’s been a little bit upwards towards the beginning of the week. I’m hoping to finish it off well and have a good remainder of the season and hopefully things start to come together now. – Ellefson

 On racing at Soldier Hollow:

The course was fast; it was in great shape. Petey [Scott Peterson] and SoHo did a great job. – Elliott

It’s a good course. You can stride everything, it’s a good course, if you’re fit you’re gonna stride it. – Norris

It’s difficult, but I think it could be more difficult. It has a lot of hills and then a lot of flats that are rolling and double poling, which sometimes can be actually harder than the hills. But I thought it flowed quite nicely. – Patterson

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