Continental CupNewsRacingU.S. SuperTour Preview: Anyone’s for the Taking

Avatar Lander KarathNovember 27, 20141
The men's 15 k freestyle individual start podium at SuperTour Finals in Anchorage, with winner Noah Hoffman (c), runner-up Scott Patterson (third from l) and Erik Bjornsen (second from r) in third.(Photo: Rob Whitney)
The men’s 15 k freestyle individual start podium at the 2014 SuperTour Finals in Anchorage, with (from l-r) Patrick Johnson (6th), David Norris (4th), Scott Patterson (2nd), winner Noah Hoffman, Erik Bjornsen (3rd), and Lex Treinen (5th). (Photo: Rob Whitney)

Note: This article has been corrected to describe the race women’s SuperTour leader Caitlin Gregg is shooting for at World Championships: the 10 k skate.

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — National racing begins Friday as the SuperTour kicks off in West Yellowstone, Mont., and the excitement on the Rendezvous trails couldn’t be higher. The best skiers from around the country have been training for at least a week in the little Montana town as they prepare to compete for American dominance and possible positions on World Cup and World Championship teams.

With several departures from the racing scene including, Olympian Torin Koos (BSF), Rose Kemp (SVSEF), and Kate Fitzgerald (APU), and a multitude of up-and-coming racers on the cusp of success, the 2015 SuperTour will be anyone’s game.

When the USST selected four men (Erik Bjorsen, Brian Gregg, Koos and Kris Freeman) and no women from outside the regular World Cup team, it left many skiers hungry to show that they could perform well on the international level.

This year they’ll have another shot with the 2014 Nordic World Championships in Falun, Sweden.

While the U.S. is allotted 12 spots for each gender in Falun, USST head coach Chris Grover explained that he and his staff would select eight skiers per gender at most.

World Championship team selection will be based on several criteria. Those skiers ranked in the top 50 in the World Cup sprint or distance standings as of January 18 will be named to the team. After that coaches’ discretion kicks in. If coaches feel that the World Championship team could benefit from additional skiers after their discretionary picks, they will then begin selections from the USSA points list.

The selection is identical to last year’s Olympic process, with the exception of the USSA points. When making selections for the Olympics, coaches picked three non-USST skiers from the FIS points list to fill in the gaps.

According to USST Head Coach Chris Grover, the reason for the switch to USSA points is to emphasize domestic racing so that potential candidates for the championships will be racing against each other, rather than chasing FIS points across the globe like many did last season.

Due to the emphasis on USSA points this season, the SuperTour will be where non-World Cup team athletes will have the chance to prove they have what it takes.

The Veterans

Brian Gregg (USA).  Photo: flyingpointroad.com / NNF.
Brian Gregg (Team Gregg) will be a top competitor in 2015. Photo: flyingpointroad.com.

On the men’s side, 2014 overall SuperTour champion Reese Hanneman (APU) will be competing in the first period World Cup races and will return to the national circuit in Houghton, Mich. for the 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships. While the benefits of early-season World Cup racing are considered mixed, Hanneman can expect his chances of racing in Falun to increase if he demonstrates that he can keep up with the Europeans and his fellow American teammates.

With Hanneman out of the picture in West Yellowstone and Bozeman, the men’s SuperTour favorites are the remaining two non-USST members to attend the 2014 Olympics – Brian Gregg and Kris Freeman.

Freeman, a 34-year-old former USST member, will be racing in West Yellowstone for the first time in nine years. Freeman, who lost his position on the USST in 2013, was one of three non-USST members to qualify for the 2014 Olympics. Despite high hopes of his best olympics yet, he struggled in Sochi. This season he is looking to turn around his skiing and earn a spot on the World Championship team. As one of most experienced skiers on the SuperTour circuit he will have an advantage over much of the competition.

Gregg, like Freeman, will also enter the 2015 SuperTour with a multitude of experience. The 2013/2014 season saw Gregg on the SuperTour podium several times, most notably with his two second place finishes in the 2013 West Yellowstone 15 k freestyle and in the 2014 U.S. Nationals 30 k freestyle. At the Olympics, he constantly finished in the 40s and 50s.

As he starts the season, Gregg acknowledged that the first races of the season would be challenging.

“Kris is in really good shape so I think there are going to be some very competitive races. I’m excited,” Gregg said from West Yellowstone Tuesday.

Joining Freeman and Gregg as veterans of the SuperTour are Matt Gelso of the Sun Valley Gold Team and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess of the Bend Endurance Academy. Gelso will be looking to build on past results while Blackhorse-von Jess will pursue success in sprinting, especially since U.S. sprint champion Torin Koos retired from competition.

After disappointment in the freestyle sprint at the 2014 U.S. Cross Country Championships and a failure to qualify for the 2014 Olympics, Blackhorse von-Jess said that nothing has changed in his career trajectory.

“I’m re-energized after the disappointment of the Olympics with the reaffirmation that I still want this and believe I have what it takes… My career/goal trajectory hasn’t changed in the least: I’m focused on racing my best in the biggest international competitions and just need to make sure I do what is necessary to make those trips and come to the starting line in Falun prepared to light it up,” he wrote in an email.

Matt Liebsch of Team XC United will also be returning to racing after missing out on Olympic qualification. However, Liebsch, who works near full time for Gear West, has lightened his training load as is looking to “maximize fun and earning potential ” rather than qualify for international events.

“I’m not going to be chasing FIS points around the world or country necessarily. If they fall in my lap because I’m racing well, that’s great, but I’m not going to be stressing about it… It’s not really a change for me. I’m still going to try to race as fast as I can only I won’t be training as much,” he said in a phone interview.

Ryan Scott, living and training independently in Boulder, Colo., will also return to competition, but, like Liebsch, has cut back his training as a result of work.

For the women, one name has particularly dominated the domestic circuit for years – Caitlin Gregg.

Gregg, like Hanneman, will start her season on the World Cup after earning the women’s overall title at the SuperTour finals in Anchorage last season. Gregg said earlier this fall that she is as motivated as ever and has her sights set on a particular race: the 2015 World Championships 10 k skate. To get to Sweden, however, she’ll need to demonstrate that she’s on par with USST and dominate when she returns for the U.S. championships in January. In the meantime, she’s excited for the 5 k next weekend in Lillehammer and aims to earn a start in that race.

With the absence of Gregg, the West Yellowstone and Bozeman SuperTours are anyone’s for the taking.

Rosie Brennan (APU) leading her semifinal in the 2014 U.S. Cross Country Championships. (Photo: http://bertboyer.zenfolio.com) All proceeds from photo sales will be directly donated to NNF.
Rosie Brennan (APU) leading her semifinal in the 2014 U.S. Cross Country Championships. (Photo: http://bertboyer.zenfolio.com).

Always a strong skier, APU’s Rosie Brennan will once again attempt to demonstrate her mettle as she makes a bid for World Championships. Last year Brennan started her season on the World Cup and returned to the U.S. exhausted, but earned a national title at U.S. Nationals in addition to several podiums. This year she will enter the season with fresh energy despite a turbulent fall after loosing her father in August.

Joining Brennan at the top of the SuperTour expectations are APU teammates Chelsea Holmes and Becca Rorabaugh.

Holmes demonstrated her strength throughout the 2013/2014 season with a win in the 10 k classic mass start in Bozeman, a second to Gregg in the 20 k at the 2014 U.S. Nationals, and several other strong performance throughout the entire SuperTour season.

Rorabaugh won the 10 k interval start classic at the 2014 U.S. Cross Country Championships for her first national title, and is looking to have even more time upon the podium as she continues through the season.

Last year Bridger Ski Foundation’s Jennie Bender repeated a national title in the freestyle sprint. While she’s dealt with illness and injury for the past two years, Bender told FasterSkier that her summer training this year was her best to date, and that she is looking to find success domestically and qualify for World Championships.

The Wild Cards

Miles Havlick (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) tucking down the high point of the course on the fifth of six laps at U.S. nationals in the 30 k freestyle mass start at Soldier Hollow. While the veterans of the 2015 SuperTour are names we’ve seen at the top of the result sheets for years, there are several skiers who have an excellent opportunity to shake up the status quo and make a name for themselves on the domestic circuit.

Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Miles Havlick didn’t have the season he wanted in 2014, but has come back with a vengeance in 2015. While he has yet to face his competitors on-snow, Havlick has won a slew of time trials including the USST1o k freestyle rollerski time trial in Park City, Utah against the country’s best. He also broke a 25-year-old record in the Baldy Hill Climb this year.

According to Havlick, he has the all the ingredients for a breakout season. Now it’s only a matter of time.

“I think on any given day – when I am mentally competent, carrying confidence from previous races, focused, and my wax is good – I can be the best skier out there. The college skiing is when I was really able to prove that to myself. Last year was kind of tough because I felt like I was spinning my wheels by the end, but I think I’ve made some adjustments this year that can fix that,” he said in a phone interview in October.

Havlick also has gained the attention of Grover and the USST.

Erika Flowers racing to the fastest women's time in the inaugural Tim Burke Uphill Run Test at Whiteface Mountain.
Erika Flowers racing to the fastest women’s time in the inaugural Tim Burke Uphill Run Test at Whiteface Mountain this fall.

“I’m excited to see how Miles Havlick is going to ski. He’s had a great fall. He won our US ski team time trial that we did in Soldier Hollow. He set a new course record on the Baldy Hill climb that stood for 26 years or something. There’s some new emerging faces to keep an eye on,” he said.

For the women, a possible 2015 wild card is a less well known. However, despite her lack of national attention Stratton Mountain School T2’s Erika Flowers has all the makings of an up and coming skier.

Flowers has always been a strong and consistent skier with the majority of her SuperTour results landing in the top-ten. However, when she traveled to Europe in the spring of 2014 she demonstrated her potential, wining a 10 k mass start in Silvapalana, Switzerland. Several weeks later she placed 14th in the Alpen Cup mini-tour. She finished the tour as the second American behind Holmes and had the fifth-fastest time in the final 10 k pursuit.

While Flowers has struggled with sprinting in the past, she demonstrated that she could stick with the best of them at the 2014 Frozen Thunder races in Canmore, Alberta ending the day in 7th.

The following day she finished 7th in the 7.2 k freestyle at Frozen Thunder. She was the 3rd American, and placed ahead of several notable Olympians including Jessie Diggins.

The Rest 

In addition to Havlick, there are several other men who could make the domestic season anyone’s game.

Recent college graduates Ben Lustgarten of SVSEF, David Norris of APU, and David Sinclair of Green Mountain Valley School will be looking to take their success from NCAA racing to the SuperTour.

Scott Patterson (APU) is another notable graduate who had success on the SuperTour both at the 2014 Nationals and 2014 SuperTour finals. According to his family, Patterson will not be starting his season in West Yellowstone due to a skiing accident that occurred Oct. 31st in which he was impaled by a broken ski in his upper leg. While the leg wound healed, Patterson developed a pulmonary embolism (blood clots in his lungs) which has limited his exercise to walking. However, according to his family, Patterson is optimistic that he will return to racing at U.S. Nationals.

Ben Saxton (SMST2) and Paddy Caldwell (SMST2/Dartmouth) will be the sole USST members starting the season in West Yellowstone. Saxton who was second in the freestyle sprint at U.S. Nationals last year, is aiming perform well in Friday’s sprint. Caldwell, who has yet to decide whether or not he will ski for Dartmouth this year is a strong distance skier and will be vying for top results amongst the country’s best.

“They need to prove themselves and make those teams just like any other athlete that is on the domestic scene. Obviously those guys are younger guys and they’re still focused on the U23 World Champs,” Grover said of the two USST D-Team athletes.

Welley Ramsey (MWSC), Tad Elliott (SSCV), and a slew of other men from APU and Craftsbury will also look to challenge the national favorites as the season gets underway.

On the women’s side recent graduates Anne Hart (SMST2), Rosie Frankowski (APU), and Anja Gruber (Far West Elite) are new to full-time racing on the national circuit after having successful college careers. While the adjustment from college skiing to professional racing is often difficult, these women will still be a strong force to contend with.

Annie Pokorny (SMST2), Caitlin Patterson (CGRP), Liz Guiney (CGRP), and Mary Rose (SVSEF) are shaping up to be strong competitors in the 2014/2015 season after a productive summer and fall trainings with their respective teams.

[See the Super Tour schedule here]

— Alex Kochon contributed reporting

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Lander Karath

Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.

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