Earlier this year at U.S. nationals, Alaska Pacific University (APU) narrowly missed a podium sweep in the classic sprint in Houghton, Mich., taking first, second and fourth in the men’s final. But on Tuesday in Craftsbury, Vt., in the 1.5-kilometer classic sprint at SuperTour Finals, the APU men pulled it off, putting four men in the final and sweeping the top three.
The APU contingent consisted of Eric Packer (the defending national champion in the classic sprint), Reese Hanneman (the SuperTour sprint leader for Period I who spent the rest of the season on the World Cup in Europe), his younger brother Logan Hanneman (the fastest qualifier of the day in 3:07.24), and Erik Bjornsen (who recently returning to the U.S. after racing a full season on the World Cup circuit).
They were joined by two Norwegians competing as collegians in exchange programs: Didrik Elset, 22, of Michigan Tech University and Petter Reistad, 21, of the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU). Elset broke up the APU sweep at nationals, placing third in the classic sprint. Reistad helped CU to a runner-up team finish at NCAA Skiing Championships, double poling to ninth in the 20 k classic mass start.
On Tuesday, the two Norwegians, Elset and Reistad decided to double pole the qualifier as well as the heats, making it all the way to the final. The rest of the field opted to stride the heats. On a wide track with five classic tracks covering most of the course, racers were pleased with a fair-and-minimally tactical course.
In the final, Reistad blasted out of the gate and Reese Hanneman tucked in just behind. Heading up the decisive climb on the course, Reese jumped into his own track and surged ahead of Reistad. Bjornsen covered the move and the two gapped the field as they headed toward the slight incline into the finish. Hanneman tucked behind Bjornsen to be sheltered from the headwind and matched his pace, but couldn’t overtake him. Bjornsen secured the win in 3:02.4, beating Reese by 1.28 seconds.
After gaining on Elset and Reistad on the climb, Logan Hanneman overtook the double polers in the final stretch to notch third (+4.35), just 0.34 seconds ahead of Elset in fourth. Fatigued from double poling with little rest between heats, Reistad faded to fifth (+7.31).
Notably missing from the podium, current SuperTour leader Packer placed sixth (+50.95) after a crash in the final.
“I fell on the big downhill in the final, and ended up sliding off course into the dirt and leaves,” wrote Packer in a post-race email. “There was no contact or anything — I just caught an edge and went down. It was a bummer for sure but I am looking forward to the next two races, and defending my Supertour lead in the 50 k.”
Bjornsen Pushes Through
Although Bjornsen was considered a favorite heading into the race, he was pleasantly surprised with the victory.
“It was not exactly what I was expecting, I was happy to have enough in the final to take the win,” Bjornsen, 24, said in a post-race phone interview. “I am not feeling great right now, it is not my best shape, but I’m trying to race through it and enjoy the racing in the U.S.”
After posting the sixth-fastest time in the qualifier, about 2.98 seconds behind Logan, Bjornsen progressively gained momentum, winning both his quarterfinal and semifinal.
“The legs especially are not responding, just kinda feeling dead,” he described. “I felt pretty good in the heats today. I tried to ski behind people and make my move in the last 60 seconds or so and I think it worked and helped me conserve energy for the final.”
Reese in second overall was also pleased after feeling beat up after the season-ending World Cups in Canada.
“It was good. I was just so dead after Ski Tour Canada and I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said on the phone. “I pretty much just felt dead for a week after Canmore and then I had a really, really bad race hack for a long time so I didn’t race [on Monday]. I felt pretty good, the skiing was really nice, they did an awesome job with the course.”
Although fatigue resonates through all the racers, Reese highlighted that at this point of the season, it is a mental challenge more than anything.
“Being really tired is kind of a given at this point in the year. … We are all just all a bunch of tired people racing each other,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t do well, I think it is important to learn to race when tired because it is not indicative of the result, it’s just mentally hard to get fired up.”
Although little glory is generally given to sprint-qualifier winners, prize money for the fastest qualifier in Craftsbury placed a bit of incentive for the morning prelim. With that in mind, Logan set an intermediate goal for the day: winning the qualifier. The decision to stride instead of double pole paid off as he claimed the top qualifier in 3:07.24, just 0.71 seconds faster than his brother Reese.
Logan went on to win the first quarterfinal, then advanced as a lucky loser in the semifinal after placing third behind Bjornsen and Reistad, respectively.
“I went out and in typical Logan fashion, slow out of the start,” Logan said on the phone after.” I was fifth pretty much the whole way until the stadium and I caught and passed the two double polers on that last stretch.”
Completing the podium sweep was part of his motivation heading down the homestretch.
“That was cool,” he said. “That was one of my incentives for catching those people. And we had four in the top six. Packer took a little detour off course in the final, which wasn’t quite the fastest detour.”
Packer echoed the significance of the strong APU showing. “It was really cool to see my teammates sweep the podium today…,” he said. “I think it reflects the training we do in Alaska. We’re all pushing in training, and that’s starting to show through in the results.”
Despite missing the podium by 0.34 seconds, Elset in fourth said he has enjoyed racing and training in the U.S. with Michigan Tech and credits coach Joe Haggenmiller and the team with his success.
“I chose skate skis. It worked pretty well, especially for the quarterfinal and the semifinal but in the final, the APU guys were going too fast for me up the climb and I was getting tired so it was rough,” Elset said. “I was hoping to be on the podium today but being able to ski with these guys who are so fast and be competitive is fun and it gives me a lot of confidence that I am doing something right.”
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.