ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Separated by 30 seconds at the start, nearly 70 men in Saturday’s 15.9-kilometer freestyle raced around Kincaid Park individually on Saturday in the SuperTour Finals opener.
One by one, they ascended massive hills, like Elliott’s Climb at the end of each 5.3 k lap, and descended a winding section of the course known as S Turns. They made their way back to the stadium World Cup start area via trails named Burky’s Climb and Roller Coaster.
Some made up ground on their competitors; others lost it.
With one lap to go, it was pretty obvious which side of that Noah Hoffman of the U.S. Ski Team (USST), Ski & Snowboard Club Vail and Team HomeGrown was on.
Watching him climb Elliott’s the second time around 10 k was unlike anyone else. Scott Patterson of the University of Vermont (UVM) led Hoffman by half a second after the first 5 k loop, then fell behind by 4.6 seconds by the end of the second.
“There’s no recovery out there,” Hoffman said after the race. “You’ve got to work the whole thing. The downhills are turny, really require you to work, but for the most part it’s just rolling terrain and no big uphills, no big downhills, quite different than anything I’ve raced [overseas] all year. It was fun.”
With about 5 k to go, Hoffman, 25, put the hammer down on the hills he knew were his strength. The lone skier at Spring Series from his Colorado club, Hoffman stood out in white — and in his ability to attack when most were visibly slowing.
“My strategy was try just to ski really high energy but keep it relaxed, knowing that I couldn’t really go over the line because there was no place to recover,” Hoffman said. “There were limited opportunities out there to attack on the uphills so I had to really focus when I did have that opportunity.”
Hoffman continued to gap Patterson, a UVM senior from Anchorage, on the final lap and ultimately beat him by 10.9 seconds for a victory in his first SuperTour Finals since 2012.
“I knew I was close to Scott,” Hoffman said. “I was getting word out there, ‘Tied! Up by two, down by two,’ so I knew it was a close race and you’ve just got to work for every second out there and see what happens.”
While Patterson gave Hoffman a run, nobody else came too close. Erik Bjornsen of Alaska Pacific University (APU) and the USST was in a three-way fight for third with Patrick Johnson (Far West Elite Team) and David Norris (Montana State University) with one lap to go.
Bjornsen ended up third, 59.3 seconds behind Hoffman and 3.1 second ahead of Norris in fourth, and said he lost time on the second loop and didn’t have the finishing punch he’s used to.
“I really didn’t find that top gear in the last lap that I was looking for, so that was a little disappointing,” Bjornsen said.
But a podium is a podium at a race series that ranks right up there with U.S. nationals prestige (on March 28, the 30 and 50 k classic mass starts will serve as U.S. Distance Nationals).
“It’s been cool this year going to the Olympics,” Bjornsen said. “I think Anchorage has started to notice my name. Just a ton of fans out there. It was so fun.
“I thought I was fourth,” he continued. “I’m happy with [third]. … It’s a tough race. You’ve just got to keep working the whole time and keep moving. As soon as you kind of rest or chill for a little bit I think you lose a lot of time.”
“I think Anchorage has started to notice my name. Just a ton of fans out there. It was so fun.” — Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST), third in SuperTour Finals 15 k freestyle
Patterson didn’t let off the brakes, especially with Anchorage spectators lining the course, but thought he came undone a little bit on the final climb. At the halfway point, he recalled being two seconds ahead of Hoffman in the lead — an accomplishment for any non-USST member, let alone a college racer.
“It seemed like every person was giving me splits, every volunteer was cheering for me so it was pretty cool. Definitely had a good crowd out there that knew me well,” he said.
“Scott’s a great skier, I’ve known that for a long time,” Hoffman said. “It was never a guarantee I’m going to win this race. I’m just glad to edge it out. I hope to ski Scott at the World Cup level sometime soon.”
If Patterson, the younger of the two siblings at the Finals (Caitlin of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project is the other), has his way, that’s exactly how his career will go down. The first step is not being intimidated by a USST athlete. The second: learn how to deal with limited splits on when you start ahead of the person you’re trying to chase down.
“It was hard to kind of know — up, down, going back and forth — so I tried to push it in, but I was a little slow on the last hill,” Patterson said. “He definitely picked it up towards the end.”
For Hoffman, the attack made all the difference. Besides Patterson and Bjornsen on the podium, Hoffman beat everyone else by more than a minute. Norris was fourth (+1:02.4), Lex Treinen (APU) fifth (+1:06.2). Johnson placed sixth, Matt Gelso (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) took seventh, Reese Hanneman (APU) was eighth, Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) ninth, and the former APU skier Mark Iverson (Rossignol) 10th.
Hoffman and Bjornsen were among four in the top eight getting wax help from APU this week, including Norris and Hanneman.
“I don’t really know how my fitness is at the moment; it was a lot of travel,” Hoffman said after flying from Sweden to Anchorage earlier this week. “I’ve been sleeping pretty well for the most part this week, but it’s a hard transition, it’s also just been a long season.”
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Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.
March 23, 2014 at 8:55 am
Lets see, Scott Patterson was 12th in the NCAA 20K skate, beaten by a bunch of C team Euro collegians and Hoffman could only beat him by 10 seconds? Men’s Nordic skiing in the US still has a long way to go.
March 23, 2014 at 9:48 am
Don’t know who you are “timg”, but if you ain’t in the race—-you ain’t in the conversation—–if you knew anything about racing you’d know that you have to be there to make those kind of comparisons!!!
Also, we do know that Hoffman has won a WC, how about your “C” level Euros and on that day what does that then say about all the Euros that were in that race—answer that one hotshot.
Poor Sadie Bjornson—she was 4th yesterday only 25 seconds out—and you’ll have to look real hard to find any mention of her and she is another APUer!!!!!!!
March 23, 2014 at 9:49 am
TimG: I’m no homer but that’s pretty special objective analysis. we will just ignore for the moment 31st in distance WC ranking. But then again comparing one spring series result with another athlete’s single day performance — a perfectly valid method of analysis. Oh and in a similar vain Andy Musgrave won norwegian national sprint champs yet was well out in the olympics… he’s either the best in the world or the norwegian men have a long way to go. you choose.
March 23, 2014 at 9:52 am
Ha I see Mr. Hall and I were thinking similarly at nearly the same moment. I am either flattered or deeply concerned… i haven’t decided which yet.
March 23, 2014 at 10:08 am
Big Joe, you better check a mirror for rapid eyebrow growth.
Timg – Season long is only way to compare ability, as there are waaaay too many variables with snow and course conditions to do race to race – that is the big difference between skiing and running. I think if you check the season long results, that Patterson dude is among the top skiers in the US, probably top 3 in skate races. I imagine, when he finishes college, and after a summer/fall/winter of full time ski training, you will see him right up there with Hoffman in World Cups (assuming he wants to pursue it).
March 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm
Please do not feed the trolls.
March 23, 2014 at 12:59 pm
I have to agree with timg. I mean this patterson guy hasn’t even raced the birkie…. Let’s see him do that then we’ll see how good he is.
March 23, 2014 at 8:37 pm
Hayward Bound: I sure hope you’re kidding. Or, are you one one of those who worship the Birkie as the Only Race That Counts? Gimme a break.
March 23, 2014 at 8:39 pm
Thanks for everyone’s comments, I see I have stirred up some controversy which is good. Marty I respect your opinion, but please refrain from name calling it is beneath you.
March 23, 2014 at 9:31 pm
Aww man.. Mr. Hall gets all the props. I can grow my eyebrows too. Come on TimG give me a little loving. I don’t think you are a troll and I didn’t call you any names. I think your analysis was very special.
March 24, 2014 at 1:44 pm
Haven’t had a good dust up here in awhile so let’s roll up our sleeves and get it going!
First thing, timg, Mr. Hall didn’t do any name calling. Hotshot? Indeed it was said a bit sarcastically, but that’s hardly a pejorative. If you’re going to troll a bit, then you need grow some thicker skin!
Next, maybe you were being a bit sarcastic in the first place just to get some talk going. If so, or if not, why not elaborate a bit?
Finally, in your original comment you more or less denigrated two skiers by name, NCAA skiers in general (foreign or otherwise), and more or less the entire field. Other than strirring things up a bit on this sleepy comment board, what did you hope to gain? Discuss.
March 24, 2014 at 9:03 pm
Awesome continental race, great to see the WC skiers back home. Mr. Hoffman has had a long season, Mr. Patterson wants some of that, awesome, they will bring something back to Mens distance skiing, keep up the good work fellas!
March 25, 2014 at 11:12 am
Patterson was solid in the 15K at U23 World Champs, so he’s no slouch. If you follow the eastern carnival circuit, you might think that he wasn’t at his best at NCAAs. You could also look at more than just the final placement at NCAAs to see how the race played out. Why not praise him for an excellent race at ST Finals, rather than criticize Hoffman for not winning by enough. Really, that’s pretty silly. He won the race. Does it really matter what the margin was? Congratulations to all and enjoy the final two races.