It had been 116 days since the season started with the November World Cup and SuperTour races and just nine days since the conclusion of the Ski Tour Canada. Needless to say, it has been a long season.
U.S. SuperTour Finals, held this week in Craftsbury, Vt., is a unique season-ending series. The senior men’s and women’s fields are a conglomerate of domestic racers (which compete all winter on the SuperTour circuit), collegiate racers (some of which are fresh off NCAA Championships), and the U.S. Ski Team (with several members returning from nearly four months abroad on the World Cup circuit). Also known as Spring Series, the U.S. finals give World Cup racers the opportunity to reconnect with their programs and race alongside their club teammates.
Consistent with the snow struggles all season across the U.S. and Europe this season, Monday’s individual start races were held on a manmade 3.4-kilometer loop in Craftsbury. However, athletes commended the challenging course organizers and volunteers laid out.
In the women’s 10 k freestyle, U.S. Ski Team (USST) member Jessie Diggins, racing for the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team, started third and quickly posted the fastest splits to cross the finish line first in a time of 24:26.9.
That time held up throughout the day and when the final results were posted, only two racers managed to keep Diggins within 36 seconds of them: USST teammate Sadie Bjornsen and Riitta-Liisa Roponen of Finland, respectively.
Bjornsen, of Alaska Pacific University (APU) bested Roponen, a 37-year-old Finnish A-team member, by just 0.2 seconds for second place, clocking 36.2 seconds behind Diggins. Due to nagging injuries and sickness, this will be Bjornsen’s only race this week.
“Today was a challenging and fun grand finale,” Bjornsen wrote in an email. “I am still pretty sick and managed to get a little overuse shoulder injury at the end of the tour. So I have decided to pull the plug and head back home tomorrow. When you are so exhausted, it becomes a bit dangerous to race when you are sick.”
Although SuperTours are usually devoid of overseas national-team racers, Finland and Italy were represented in Craftsbury on Monday.
“Riitta-Liisa and Virginia [De Martin Topranin, of Italy] are here racing to have fun and see the U.S. while getting some racing in,” Diggins explained in an email. “I think it’s so great to have an international field here at Spring Series.”
Roponen last race at the Worldloppet at home in Lahti, Finland, which she won. Her best individual World Cup result this season was fifth at the Lahti World Cup 15 k skiathlon. Topranin, 28, placed 11th on Monday, more than two minutes back. She is coming off a 22nd-place overall finish in the Ski Tour Canada (STC) and a top individual result of seventh in a 10 k classic mass-start stage at the Tour de Ski.
Diggins finished fifth overall in the STC and has broke through with five World Cup podiums this season, including a win in the 5 k freestyle at the Tour de Ski.
“In all honesty, racing again after the tour was tough!” Diggins wrote. “The World Cup season took quite a lot out of me, but after a total rest week with my boyfriend in Boston I’m happy and healthy again and excited for one last ‘hurrah’ to close out the season.”
About 50 seconds off the podium and nearly 1 1/2 minutes behind Diggins, fourth through seventh place all finished within 7.5 seconds of one another. Chelsea Holmes (APU) led them in fourth (+1:25.4), followed closely by Liz Stephen (Burke Mountain Academy/USST) in fifth (+1:26.5), Ida Sargent of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) and USST in sixth (+1:27.8) and Caitlin Patterson (CGRP) in seventh (+1:32.9).
Overall, echoes of fatigue resounded among the racers.
“I feel pretty beat up and tired, but I think I am one of many who have that feeling,” Holmes wrote in an email. “When you race it doesn’t really matter how you feel, you just do your best.”
Coming off of a fifth- and an eighth-place finish at NCAA Championships, Emilie Cedervaern of the University of New Mexico was the top collegiate skier in 10th (+2:07.2).
Ahead of her, two women who represented the U.S. at the STC, Annie Hart (SMST2) placed eighth (+1:45.0) and Rosie Brennan (APU/USST) was ninth (+1:56.1).
Racing continues Tuesday with the men’s and women’s 1.5 k classic sprints. Heats begin at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time.
“It was so nice to be racing in the U.S. again and to see everyone!” Diggins wrote. “That’s why I come to spring series — it’s all about the awesome people that I never get to see enough!”
— Alex Kochon contributed
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.