Faces Painted, APU Mixed Relay Gets Down to Business with Third-Straight Win

Kaitlyn PattersonMarch 25, 2016

In three editions of the SuperTour Finals, the mixed relay has been the season-ending staple. On Thursday, the two-time defending champions in the 4 x 5-kilometer coed event, Alaska Pacific University (APU) made it a three-peat with a 33.3-second win. Say that three times fast.

They did so with Erik Bjornsen skiing the opening classic leg, followed by Rosie Brennan as the female classic skier, then Scott Patterson skiing the first freestyle leg, and finally Chelsea Holmes anchoring the final freestyle leg. Put those four together and what do you get? A dominating APU performance from start to finish.

With Bjornsen racing the scramble leg, APU took control from the start and never relented. While he opted to stride, two of his biggest rivals double poled on skate skis — Simi Hamilton, of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team, and Noah Hoffman, of “Vailbury Green,” which included two men from the Vail Ski & Snowboard Club (SSCV) and two women from the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP).

Taking advantage of the striding advantage, Bjornsen gained a gap on the hill and never looked back throughout his two laps on the 2.4 k course.

At the first exchange, Bjornsen clocked in at 11:26.9, 14.7 seconds up on the chasers, led by Ben Saxton of SMS T2^2. Meanwhile, Hoffman tagged in eighth, 25.5 seconds back, and Hamilton came through in 15th of 31 teams, nearly a minute behind Bjornsen.

Following up on Bjornsen’s lead, Brennan had the task of staying away despite dangling within reach of the field.

“I just tried to think about keeping the pressure high and getting out of sight,” Brennan said in a post-race phone interview. “I just had to put my head down and not think about it too much.”

In the second leg, Brennan only ceded 1.9 seconds to Ida Sargent, who took Vailbury Green from eighth to second by the second handoff, posting the fastest female second-leg split in 13:21.6. APU was still clear of the field by 23.4 seconds at the second handoff, but the race for the podium was far from settled.

Another hybrid club team, with two University of Colorado-Boulder (CU) men and Craftsbury women — “The Green Buffaloes” — handed off 5.2 seconds behind Vailbury Green and just 0.7 seconds head of SMS T2^2.

In the third leg, APU continued pushing as Scott Patterson blazed the fastest leg in 11:06.09, increasing the gap to 35.6 seconds. CU’s Mads Strøm, coming off back-t0-back NCAA titles, brought the Green Buffaloes up to second at the third exchange, 34.4 seconds behind APU, but was still shadowed by Tad Elliott of Vailbury Green, 1.2 seconds back.

Although it appeared that APU had the win secured, Jessie Diggins was skiing the anchor leg for SMST2’s first team and is known as a clutch closer on the World Cup stage. Although SMST2 remained outside the top five for the first three legs, the final outcome was far from decided. Meanwhile, three strong races from APU set up Holmes for a strong anchor leg.

“I was just focused on skiing good 5 k to give us a little playing room with Jessie and make sure we had it under control and take some pressure off Chelsea,” Patterson explained on the phone.

2016 SuperTour Finals
Mixed Relay Top 10:

1. APU 1
2. Vailbury Green
3. SMST2
4. The Green Buffaloes
5. APU 2
6. Northern Michigan University
7. SMS T2^2
8. APU 3
9. University of New Mexico
10. Sun Valley SEF

With nearly 35 seconds between her and the Green Buffaloes and Vailbury Green, Holmes raced uncontested to secure the win for APU 1 in 48:57.9. Meanwhile, Caitlin Patterson of Vailbury Green overtook their rivals, the Green Buffaloes to claim second, 33.3 seconds behind APU 1.

True to form, Diggins blasted the anchor leg to bring SMST2 from sixth and 1:23 minutes back to third place at the finish (+51.9), besting the Green Buffaloes in fourth by 28.6 seconds.

“It was about having four good races on the same day, using our strengths, and having good skis,” Holmes said on the phone.

In addition to the strength of the winning team, APU showed the depth of its program with three teams in the top 10. APU 2, with Reese Hanneman, Becca Rorabaugh, David Norris, and Jessica Yeaton, placed fifth, and APU 3, with Lex Treinen, Lauren Fritz, Eric Packer, and Rosie Frankowski, was eighth.

The laid-back atmosphere of Spring Series and non-traditional nature of the mixed relay is conducive to teams adding some lightheartedness to the day — in the form of team names, constumes or otherwise. Although APU kept it simple with its team name, there might have been some magic in the face paint.

Racing will conclude Saturday with the U.S. Distance Nationals 30 and 50 k classic mass starts.

— Gabby Naranja and Alex Kochon contributed reporting


More photos via Lazenbyphoto.com

Kaitlyn Patterson

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.

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