SuperTour action resumed this past weekend at the Lake Placid SuperTour/Eastern Cup and the podiums were shared by this season’s regulars as well as some new faces.
The 1.4-kilometer freestyle sprints were held Saturday in Lake Placid, N.Y., at the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex rather than the cross-country trails at Mount Van Hoevenberg, where they were originally scheduled, due to low snow. Sunday’s classic mass start was changed to an interval start as it was held on a 2.5 k lap with more than 200 skiers. The jump site, the home training venue for US Biathlon’s national team members during the offseason, made for a hilly race course with great snow conditions.
Day 1: Skate Sprint
The freestyle sprints belonged to the dark horses as Middlebury senior Kelsey Phinney and David Norris of Alaska Pacific University (APU) both captured the first SuperTour victories of their careers.
In contrast to the long finishing grind to the finish of the sprint at U.S. nationals in Houghton, Mich., the previous stop on the domestic circuit earlier in January, the Lake Placid course had a relatively short home stretch. A fast descent with a sharp turn led into the finish, making positioning on the downhill crucial as there was a significant advantage to drafting.
Phinney Beats the Pros
The women’s final included several names who have been regulars on domestic podiums all season including Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project), Anne Hart (Stratton Mountain School T2 Team), Chelsea Holmes (APU), Becca Rorabaugh (APU), Jessica Yeaton (APU), and Phinney, the lone collegiate athlete. In contrast to the heats, where the leaders could often create enough of a gap on the hill to be clear of the field after the descent, the final was a game of tactics.
Although the pace in the final started out relaxed, Yeaton was the first to push the pace on the climbing section and Patterson, Hart and Holmes were shuffled to the back. Concerned that the pack would separate, Holmes made a move on the final climb and crested the top of the final hill in the lead.
Phinney slipped behind Holmes, allowing her to take advantage of the draft down the final hill and slingshot into the lead on the home stretch. Patterson followed Phinney through the inside line into second and was able to hold off the field but unable to overtake her for the win.
“My main focus in the final was to be in second or third going into the last downhill and to get the inside track around the final corner coming until the finishing straight,” Phinney, 21, wrote in an email. “I took the lead around the final corner and I felt confident in my ability to hold that lead to the line.”
In securing her first SuperTour win (and podium), Phinney held off Patterson by 0.45 seconds in the final straightaway. A hard-charging Hart fell short of catching the pair and placed third (+1.7). Yeaton followed just off the podium in fourth (+2.14).
For Phinney, the win was redemption after a rough freestyle sprint at nationals, where she finished 31st — missing qualifying for the heats by one place.
“I had placed some high expectations on the skate sprint and ended up having a tough day — just narrowly missing the heats after feeling pretty off in the qualifier,” Phinney reflected.
However, a couple of weekends of collegiate racing brought confidence and racing form, and Phinney put it to good use.
“I skied across the line into the arms of my teammate Annie Pokorny, who was waiting for us in the finishing area. That was such an amazing feeling!” she wrote.
Although Patterson had hoped to drive the pace up the hill, a bad start left her boxed in. Patterson stayed calm and patient and her opportunity arose on the final descent.
“I would have liked to have gotten off to a faster start and been in more control of the heat, but throughout the final I had both bad luck and good luck in positioning, and overall it turned out pretty well at the end,” Patterson wrote in an email.
Hart also had to recover from suboptimal positioning and was forced to the far outside on the final turn.
“I had a great last 100 meters with some nice maneuvering, but didn’t give myself the chance to battle for first — ran out of real estate at the end!” Hart wrote.
Although Holmes was able to use the downhill to her advantage to win her semifinal, she found herself at a disadvantage in the final leading down the last hill. The pack took advantage of her draft to set up the final sprint, and Holmes ended up fifth (+2.96).
“I felt like I was able to dig deeper than I have in awhile, which was really great. Moving through the heats it was definitely pretty hard but more than anything it was an important reminder to how tactics play a role in sprinting,” Holmes wrote.
Norris Nabs a Win
In the men’s freestyle sprint, Norris cruised through the heats, winning both his quarterfinal and semifinal before topping the final in 3:18.9 minutes, 2.16 seconds ahead of APU teammate Eric Packer. Less than a second later, Akeo Maifeld-Carucci of the Bridger Ski Foundation took third (+3.0).
A third APU skier in the final, Tyler Kornfield fell on the downhill and had to settle for sixth. Brian Gregg (Team Gregg) took fourth (+5.17) followed by Canadian Alexis Turgeon (Skinouk) in fifth (+5.57).
The men’s heats again reflected the importance of the descent into the finish in the overall placings.
Packer also hoped to pull off the same strategy, but lost time when he narrowly avoided Kornfield, who had crashed hard in front of him on the descent.
“After that I no-pole skated as hard as I could to catch back on to the group,” Packer wrote in an email. “I really pushed hard over the top of the hill, and passed the group on the outside with 200m to go. At the same time, Dave passed the group on the inside, and he was first around the corner into the final stretch. I was closing on him in the finish lanes, but he beat me to the line.”
“David has an amazing no-pole skate, and that was just what you needed today,” Packer added. “I’m super happy to see David performing where he should, and he skied the race perfectly.”
For Maifeld-Carucci, a Harvard graduate in his first professional season, the day was a learning experience that he was able to immediately put into action.
“I just went into every round trying to focus on how I could ski better than the qualifier or the previous round,” he wrote in an email. “I learned a lot skiing in such strong competition all day. I tried to use some of that knowledge right away in the next heat but will keep thinking about it and finding takeaways for my next sprint race which will be at U23s.”
Despite placing fourth in his semifinal, Maifeld-Carucci earned a shot at his first SuperTour sprint final, advancing as a lucky loser along with Gregg.
Maifeld-Carucci just missed qualifying in two U.S. nationals sprints at the last two years, placing 31st in the 2015 freestyle sprint and 2016 classic sprint. However, he made it to the heats in the freestyle sprint at nationals this year, placing 15th overall.
“It was fun to see the depth of the field and see that even the lower qualifiers can be competitive in the finals,” he wrote. “It is also a nice reminder to see that even if you are fourth in your heat every fraction of a second matters and pushing hard to the line can be enough to get you through. Overall it was a very fun and exciting day.”
Day 2: 10 k Classic Individual Starts
Sunday’s classic individual start consisted of four laps of a 2.5 k course for a total of 10 k for both the men’s and women’s races. The course consisted of several of the jump hills strung together in the beginning, followed by the descent winding back into the stadium.
With temperatures in the low 40s, the course conditions were variable, but most certainly requiring klister. With the challenging climbs of the jump area, going without kick wax was a disadvantage.
A day after winning his first SuperTour race in the freestyle sprint, Norris charged to the classic-distance race victory in 28:26, 45 seconds ahead of Kris Freeman (Team Freebird). The second APU skier on the podium, Lex Treinen placed third (+0.58).
The multiple-lap course made for interesting dynamics with many skiers on the course at a time.
“It was fun conditions because skis slowed after the first lap so some of the second seed skiers had the chance to draft off of the leaders, and we had the opportunity to ski with them,” Treinen wrote in an email.
Treinen posted the fastest split after the first lap, but by the second lap, Norris had a 14-second lead that he only increased over the final two laps.
“I burned up the nerves on the first lap and had the fastest split going into the first lap, something I have probably never ever done,” Treinen wrote.
Freeman explained in an email that he’s been feeling healthy for about three weeks.
“My overall energy felt much better than at any other time this season,” he explained.
His game plan for the 10 k wasn’t anything out of the ordinary: “Go out at a sustainable pace and try to speed up in the last lap,” Freeman wrote. “I think a mass start would have been very interesting and more fun but changing the race to a time trial was the right call give the width of the trail.”
After having never before won a SuperTour, Norris picked up back-to-back victories in Lake Placid.
“After Nationals I had a good chunk of time in Anchorage, which allowed me to get some quality rest and some really good mid-season training in,” Norris explained.
“I went pretty thin on the wax knowing that the course had a lot of double pole and tucking time each lap,” he added. “I’ve been trying to teach myself to race on faster classic skis with less kick and that has caused me to suffer in the last few kilometers of a few races, but today I was able to maintain my technique and keep finding kick.”
Similar to Norris, Treinen is seeing the results of consistent training and racing.
“I felt good going into Houghton, but I also didn’t have that much racing under my belt for the season, and I tend to start out the seasons slow and build throughout,” Treinen wrote. “It was fun to get some true East Coast klister skiing after having all of first races in cold, hard conditions.”
Freeman noted, “I had very accessible kick and pretty good glide.”
Same Ol’, Same Ol’
The women’s race was the epitome of consistency as the podium was identical to the same at nationals this year: the 10 k classic in Houghton.
Patterson, 26, continued to assert her dominance of the distance races (after winning both distance races at nationals) by winning by a full minute on Sunday in 31:45.
Her Craftsbury teammate, Kaitlynn Miller placed second (+1:00) and Holmes finished third (+1:19).
“Although it also was a somewhat variable and difficult day for snow conditions, so it was important to keep the technique together and stay smooth,” Patterson wrote. “I know I did a good job today of skiing through terrain changes and transitions, and I suspect that’s where I may have gained some time over competitors.”
Miller also attributed her success to good skis and adapting to the conditions.
“The conditions varied a fair amount over the 2.5k loop with flagpole hill becoming a bit slushy while other parts of the course remained slightly glazed,” she described. “I started right as Annie Hart was lapping through so she definitely helped push me along. Also, I was the last starter in the A-seed so was able to get some informative splits from my coaches out on course.”
Hart finished just off the podium in fourth (+1:29).
This weekend was Holmes’ first races in the U.S. after returning from Europe where she competed at the World Cup in Planica, Slovenia, and Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. Holmes placed 37th in the Nove Mesto 10 k freestyle in her international World Cup debut.
“I wish I had had more time on the World Cup as I really felt like I learned a lot in both the race experiences I had,” Holmes wrote. “Maybe it wasn’t ideal to do the back and forth so quickly like that — I was sick when I went over but other than that I’ve managed to stay healthy.”
This weekend marks the end of SuperTour Period 2. Period 3 will begin next weekend, Feb 5-6, at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt.
New to the FasterSkier team, Kaitlyn is a silent sports all-arounder, competing in cross-country skiing, cycling and triathlon since graduating from the University of Michigan, where she ran cross country and track. Kaitlyn is intrigued by the complexities of cross-country ski racing and is excited to start in the elite women’s field at the 2016 Birkie.