WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — An athlete is often only as good as his or her training partner. Such was the case for the Hanneman brothers as seen in Friday’s SuperTour sprint and again on Saturday during the men’s SuperTour 15-kilometer freestyle individual start at the Rendezvous Ski Trails.
This time, however, the one-two podium pair belonged to good friends and Twin Cities training partners, Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) and Matt Liebsch (Gear West/Salomon).
“Matt and I train a lot together back in the Twin Cities,” said Gregg, the 15 k winner by 5.5 seconds in 35:25.1. “We do a lot of intervals and time trials together.”
While the two share no blood relation, they do share a breadth of respect for each other.
“[I’m] super impressed with Matt because he also has a full-time job and three kids,” said 31-year-old Gregg.
“Maybe that’s something Caitlin and I need to start on,” he added. Gregg’s wife, Caitlin, was named to the U.S. Ski Team this year after taking bronze at 2015 World Championships in the 10 k freestyle.
Liebsch, 32, was equally excited for his buddy’s overall win.
“I’m hoping he can get SuperTour Leader so he can get [race] start rights over in Europe [and] go see his wife,” Liebsch said.
The overall U.S. male and female leaders at the end of two SuperTour weekends will earn a trip to Europe after U.S. nationals in January to start World Cups in Period 2. Gregg put himself in that position two years ago leading up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
For Gregg and Liebsch, their close training over the years translated into a close finish in Saturday’s distance race, despite starting more than 9 minutes apart. Liebsch started 16th; Gregg went out 53rd.
Gregg skied much of his race with the man who started 15 seconds ahead of him, Mads Strøm of the University of Colorado-Boulder. Strøm went on to place fourth, 14 seconds behind Gregg and 0.7 seconds back from Scott Patterson (Alaska Pacific University) in third.
“[My start was] definitely a lot faster than I’ve gone out in the past,” Gregg said. “In the past, I’ve probably been 15 seconds down to the leaders at the top of the coach’s climb. This year I was right even with [the leaders].”
Gregg believed his uncharacteristic charge out of the start gate was the right call.
“It was nice, because I’d make a big pull, then I’d get tired, then Mads would pull, then he’d get tired, and we sort of switched off leading a little bit,” he said.
While Strøm and Gregg jostled throughout the race, Patterson spent much of his race solo.
“The only time I really had a group was when people were behind me,” Patterson said.
“Oscar Friedman [of Dartmouth] skied with me for two laps,” he added. “It’s nice to have someone on your heels, but not quite as good as trading off the lead.”
Friedman went on to place 13th. During the race, Patterson heard he was in contention.
“I was getting some splits early on that I was leading Matt Liebsch,” he said. “I was a little bit disappointed they got me in the end.”
This being the first time Patterson has ever raced in West Yellowstone, the 23-year-old Alaska native called it a solid start to his season.
“Last fall I had a fairly significant injury and that’s what kept me away from these races,” Patterson said. “But I knew a I had a good summer training and a good fall [this year] and I was definitely going in looking for a spot on the podium.”
Rounding out the men’s top five after Strøm in fourth (+14.0) was Canada’s Kevin Sandau of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) in fifth (+20.2). Sandau’s teammate Knute Johnsgaard was sixth (+34.5), and Sun Valley took the next three places with Ben Lustgarten in seventh (+37.7), Rogan Brown in eighth (+52.5) and Matt Gelso in ninth (+53.5). Lex Treinen (APU) was 10th (+1:04.1)
While Patterson plans to race next weekend’s SuperTour races in Sun Valley, Idaho, Liebsch and Gregg said they were undecided.
“I’m supposed to be working next weekend, so I don’t know we’ll see,” said Liebsch, who manages Gear West nordic sales and service. “I’m probably going to go home and train and go to nationals and do the distance races and just see how things go there.”
Gregg, on the other hand, will either plan to race the SuperTour weekend or take advantage of the altitude training in Sun Valley instead.
Regardless of what happens next weekend, Gregg and Liebsch were grateful for being able to train together and contribute to each other’s success.
“Brian drags me out of bed a lot of mornings to do intervals,” Liebsch said. “We’re literally the same speed in most workouts so, it’s cool to be right around him [in races].”
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.