BOZEMAN, Mont. —In a race that was undecided until the final seconds, Canadian Patrick Stewart-Jones of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) narrowly outlunged Ben Saxton of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team and U.S. Ski Team to win the 1.5-kilometer men’s SuperTour sprint-classic final at Bohart Ranch on Saturday.
With the sun out and temperatures rising to 45-degrees Fahrenheit for the afternoon rounds, Stewart-Jones conquered the soft, slushy course in 3:26.22 minutes. Just 0.11 seconds later, Saxton took second after racing alongside the Canadian to the finish.
Matt Gelso, of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) Gold Team, followed last weekend’s SuperTour distance win in West Yellowstone, Mont., by landing on the podium again, finishing a close third, 1.37 seconds behind Stewart-Jones.
Four-time Olympian Kris Freeman (Team Freebird) placed fourth (+2.58), while the West Yellowstone skate-sprint winner, Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy), finished fifth (+7.26). Rune Malo Ødegård (University of Colorado) rounded out the final in sixth (+23.11).
After the race, the 23-year-old Stewart-Jones said he was “ecstatic” about his first SuperTour win. In the West Yellowstone skate sprint on Nov. 28, he placed 27th.
“Qualifiers didn’t go so great this morning. I probably used the wrong pair of skis, and maybe wasn’t quite ready to go,” he explained.“I just had to fight every round in the heats. But any day you win is a really good day.”
Eric Packer of Alaska Pacific University (APU) won the qualifier in 3:13.76. Stewart-Jones ranked 17th, 10.6 seconds behind Packer, before finishing second in both his quarterfinal and semifinal behind Blackhorse-von Jess and Saxton, respectively.
“Every race today I felt better and better,”Stewart-Jones said.
The final was tight throughout, with the top four skiers — Stewart-Jones, Saxton, Gelso and Freeman — staying close together on the large climb halfway through the course. Stewart-Jones was in no rush to take the lead, later explaining he looked for “the easiest ways to get by people without having to fight too much for it.”
Upon reaching the horseshoe curve about a hundred meters before the finish line, Stewart-Jones and Saxton were shoulder-to-shoulder and lunged for first, with Gelso just a ski length behind.
Saxton said was happy with his “tactical skiing” throughout the day – he qualified in 16th (+10.48) and won both his quarterfinal and semifinal.
“I opted to tuck behind instead of push it and swing wide, and that ended up costing me more than swinging wide would have,” Saxton said. “He ended up getting me by just a boot.”
Regardless, the 21-year-old explained he was “psyched” with a second-place finish and was happy for the quality racing.
“Everybody had good skis, good effort, good tactics and there were no mix-ups,” he said.
Gelso had not been in a sprint final since winning the Bozeman SuperTour skate sprint two years ago (he was 10th last weekend in West Yellowstone), and said he was “super happy” with his “solid sprint result” — especially as usually excels more in distance racing.
In the final, the 26-year-old stayed in the back of the pack until the approach to the stadium, when he pushed his way into third while double-poling up the final hill. However, he said he “didn’t ski the last corner tactically very well,” and fell behind Stewart-Jones and Saxton during the final stretch to the finish line.
“That was my bad,” Gelso said. “But all in all, it was a pretty good day.”
Gelso also mentioned the difficult conditions, saying they produced a number of crashes, particularly on a treacherous corner that came after a steep downhill halfway through the course.
“People get knocked off balance for a second or two … and they don’t move on,” he said.
That is what happened to fellow Sun Valley Gold Team skier Miles Havlick, Gelso said. After qualifying in third and winning his quarterfinal, Havlick fell on the corner during the second semifinal and could not recover, finishing fifth, 13 seconds behind Freeman.
Then, in the final, Ødegård fell while rounding the final curve and trying to challenge the leaders.
“There was just punchy, squirrelly skiing,” Gelso said.
Though he was happy with his win, Stewart-Jones is looking for bigger things in the future. Racing well here, he explained, means a better shot at racing at a World Cup in Europe.
“When you do well like this, it always bodes well for trying to get those [national-team] spots to go overseas,” he said. “Hopefully that’ll happen.”
The Bozeman SuperTour continues Sunday with 10 and 15 k classic races at Bohart Ranch.