Continental CupRacingRegional / LocalUS NationalsBrennan and Hagenbuch Skate Away with Wins in Sun Valley SuperTour 5/10k Interval Start Free

FasterSkierJanuary 16, 2022

By Rachel Bachman Perkins and Ben Theyerl 

The final weekend of SuperTour racing in Period II, and the final weekend within the Olympic qualification window, kicked off Saturday at the Lake Creek Nordic Center in Ketchum, Idaho. Part of the 2022 Sun Valley Nordic Invitational, the SuperTour races were held in conjunction with a Montana State University RMISA event and an Intermountain XC junior national qualifier. 

Highlighting the size of the event, there were 157 female athletes in the field. With 141 senior and U18 men racing in the 10k, and another 46 racing in the men’s U16 5k. Spanning all age groups, an additional 70 U14 athletes and another 18 U12 athletes raced a 3k and 2k course, respectively.  In all, nearly 400 cross country skiers, from Olympians to 10-year-olds in their first seasons on skis, made their way around the tracks in Lake Creek. 

An athlete races the 10k interval start free on the Lake Creek trails in Ketchum, ID. (Photo: Tobias Albrigtsen / @untraceableg)

As the World Cup events in Les Rousse, France and Planica, Slovenia were both cancelled due to rapidly increasing coronavirus caseloads with the omicron variant, several athletes who might have headed back to the World Cup for these events found their way to Sun Valley instead, meaning fields were more in line with the U.S. Cross Country Championships than a typical SuperTour. 

On the women’s start list for the 5-kilometer individual start skate, which kicked off the weekend of distance racing, were six women who have spent at least part of their season racing on the World Cup: Rosie Brennan (USST/APU), Caitlin Patterson (CGRP), Katharine Ogden (USST/SMS T2), and three University of Utah athletes who are also members of the U.S. Ski Team, Sophia Laukli, Novie McCabe, and Sydney Palmer-Leger. 

Likewise, the men’s 10k field included seven World Cup athletes: David Norris (APU), JC Schoonmaker (USST/UAA), Scott Patterson (USST/APU), Hunter Wonders (USST/APU), Zanden McMullen (USST/APU), Luke Jager (USST/U of Utah), and Zak Ketterson (Team Birkie). 

Given Ketchum’s elevation of roughly 5,950’, approximately the same as the courses in Soldier Hollow, Utah and those Olympic team members will face in Ziangjiakou in February, the events provided another opportunity to spend time training at the elevation and to hone their approach to racing at altitude. Overnight lows in the single digits meant cold air and snow temps at the start of the women’s race, another important similarity to forecasted Olympic conditions.

According to co-chief of competition Kelley (Sinnott) Yeates, livestream was not available during the Sun Valley Nordic Invitational due to connectivity issues along the courses. As such, FasterSkier’s reporting this weekend is based on live timing and the feedback of those on-site. 

Of the course, Sun Valley native Johnny Hagenbuch provided insight into the 5km loop that was raced today in an email to FasterSkier: “The new courses at Lake Creek are very difficult: they essentially removed all the flat from the old course and replaced it with the biggest climb at Lake Creek.”

Senior Women’s 5k Free:

Without the ability to view the race and no intermediate splits in the live timing, the women’s race results left little room for suspense. Given her dominant performance in the 20k skate during the U.S. Cross Country Championships, it was no surprise to see Rosie Brennan’s name top the list. Brennan smashed the 5k loop, finishing in 14:28.6, a full 48.6 seconds faster than the next woman.  

Rosie Brennan enjoys a wintery training day before the weekend of World Cup racing in Davos, SUI. (Photo: NordicFocus)

I decided to come to Sun Valley after the World Cups in France were canceled,” Brennan wrote to FasterSkier in a post-race email. “My coach, Erik Flora, has been up here all week with the rest of my APU teammates, so it made sense for me to come here to be able to work with my coach and teammates. That has been the total silver lining of the World Cups being canceled. Erik is not allowed to come to the Olympics, but is my personal coach and someone who I trust and value immensely, so getting this extra week to work on things with him has been such a welcome surprise.” 

Now several weeks into an extended altitude block, Brennan has been training near her childhood home in Park City, UT. The races in Soldier Hollow put her back on familiar tracks with hometown advantage, and the nostalgia continued today. 

“It has been a full circle moment for me this weekend as I spent many years racing JN Qualifiers in Sun Valley growing up, so to be back here doing so now as I prepare for the Olympics has brought back all kinds of memories from my whole ski career. My high school and college coach were also out there today cheering and it’s been really special to have this extra time in the U.S. to share moments with people like that who have helped in getting me to where I am today.”

Brennan had originally planned to rejoin the U.S. Team in Europe, but following the cancellations of the two remaining World Cups before the Olympics, has shifted her plans to limit her risk of covid exposure, as a positive test might jeopardize her ability to travel to China, regardless of the severity of her case.

“With travel being risky on all kinds of levels today, I decided to just stay put after the World Cup cancellations and make the most of the training opportunities I have here in the U.S. before heading to Beijing. This weekend is serving as a replacement for the races I would have done in France and also another opportunity to test my limits at altitude. We just incorporated the races into a little intensity block to get my engine running again after a good volume block.”

Rosie Brennan logs hours on home trails during an extended altitude camp near Park City, UT. (Photo: Instagram @rosiewbrennan)

Speaking to her feelings holistically as she prepares for the Olympics, entering the Games on the heels of a career-best 2020/21 season with a host of early-season indicators that she can be a medal contender, Brennan spoke to the stress athletes face amidst the pandemic, which has added layers of complexity in traveling to Beijing and entering the Olympic bubble. 

“It’s definitely a stressful lead up to the Games with COVID raging everywhere, a multitude of requirements and things that need to get done to be allowed into China, and figuring out all the details of being prepared for such a long travel to a very foreign country with lots of restrictions. I am doing my best to just stay on top of all the requirements, stay far away from everyone I can, and chip away at the things I need to be prepared for. The training at home has been great and having a coach to work with is so helpful, so from an actual racing perspective, I am feeling good and optimistic. I feel very lucky to have a home base in Park City and that the venues in the area provide good preparation for the Games.” 

Sophia Laukli races to second overall and finishes the top collegiate racer in the women’s 5k interval start free in Ketchum, ID. (Photo: Instagram @utahskiteam)

Recovered from racing the Tour de Ski, where both women notched top-10 finishes on the hill climb, Sophia Laukli (USST/U of Utah) took second place (+48.6) today, with Novie McCabe four seconds behind in third (+52.6). Katharine Ogden (USST/SMS T2) was fourth (+52.0) for the women, with Rosie Frankowski (APU) next (+59.8) to round out the top-five. 

With their top-three overall finishes, Laukli and McCabe also took home top results in the collegiate standings on behalf of the University of Utah. With teammate Sydney Palmer-Leger in 7th overall (+1:32.5), the Ute’s swept the RMISA podium.

“Today was definitely quite the race,” wrote Laukli after the race. “I was really looking forward to it since I love 5k skates, and courses with lots of climbing. I was also excited to get back into racing after the tour, especially on the domestic circuit which I was starting to miss. I was very happy with how the race ended up today, and it was actually a bit of a surprise (results-wise) just based on how I felt during it. I know I was not alone by getting rather cold out on course, but it felt like quite the shock to the system and difficult to get in a good groove—sometimes that will happen though! While it was probably one of the hardest 5ks I’ve ever done, it’s an awesome course and I just had fun getting back into racing after a short break.”

Commenting on her recovery post-Tour de Ski and her goals over the next couple of months, Laukli continued, “I took the past couple weeks very easy in my training, with minimal intensity, to recover from the tour. I wanted to take advantage of that racing block to really get into my best racing shape so taking a step back in training right after was important. The rest of the season is still a bit up in the air, but I know these races at altitude will be great preparation if I do end up at the Olympics. Either way, I’m planning to continue doing some college races and hopefully NCAAs, so these races will be good prep for that as well.”

With Sophia Laukli and Novie McCabe also taking second and third on the overall podium, Sydney Palmer-Leger brought the Ute’s home for a collegiate podium sweep. (Photo: Instagram @utahskiteam)

Other noteworthy results include the retired, but nevertheless still a contender, Caitlin Gregg, who hopped into the race while still serving as a co-head coach of the Midwest’s Team Birkie. Gregg finished in 8th (+1:37.5), just ahead of the day’s top Craftsbury skier, Alexandra Lawson. 

Also, Caitlin Patterson, who earned a spot on the podium in each of the events at the U.S. Cross Country Championships and SuperTour in Soldier Hollow, finished 17th, nearly two minutes behind Brennan. In a post-race Instagram story, Patterson wrote that she had been very cold during the race with numb legs and toes, which left her feeling like a “floppy fish popsicle.” Despite finishing below where she was perhaps aiming, Patterson remains in second place behind Frankowski in the SuperTour overall standings, and in second behind Brennan in the Olympic qualification rankings for distance racing.   

 

Senior Men’s 10k Free: 

The men’s field would race the same lap the women did, but twice. That meant there was a time checkpoint at the halfway mark to indicate how the race was shaping up, yielding interesting insights into just how tight a spread the top of US men’s skiing is right now. With World Cup athletes, elite-level domestic racers, and top collegiate skiers from the West, there were plenty of names to watch. 

Ian Torchia (SMS T2) leads Sam Hendry (U of Utah) during the SuperTour 10k individual start in Ketchum, ID. (Photo: Tobias Albrigtsen / @untraceableg)

An Aspen, CO native and no stranger to altitude, Graham Houtsma (BSF Pro) was early off the line as the second starter in bib 172. Houtsma came across the 5km split as the early leader at 13:30.3. His mark would look to be the point around which the top of the field clustered for the first part of the race. Then, Scott Patterson (USST/APU) came through in bib 194 and raised the bar. His split topped Housma by a full 30 seconds (13:00.2), and would be chased as the remainder of top-seeded athletes lapped through.

Before diving into that group, however, a caveat. A couple of the top skiers today weren’t assigned splits at all in the live timing, including overall SuperTour leader Adam Martin (CGRP), Johnny Hagenbuch (USST/SVSEF), and top-collegiate finisher, Bernhard Flaschberger (U of Denver). That gave an incomplete picture of what the race looked like through one lap, setting the stage for a few surprises in the eventual final results.

Scott Patterson skis to fifth in the 10k individual start free in Sun Valley. (Photo: Tobias Albrigtsen / @untraceableg)

So what did we know through 5km? If you were just observing, you would have seen Patterson overtaken by one, and only one, skier. Teammate Hunter Wonders (APU) completed the first lap of the course 3 seconds ahead of Patterson at 12:57.9. The field that had splits looked to be shaping up into a tight affair, with the top 5 skiers all within 15 seconds of each other. That included Wonders in the lead (12:57.9), with Patterson next (+2.3), Ian Torchia third (+8.5) seconds, David Norris (APU) in fourth (+10.0), and Finn O’Connell (BSF Pro) in fifth (+12.1). Based on eventual results, it is safe to assume that Hagenbuch, Flaschberger, and Martin all went through in the 13:00 min pack too. 

At the finish, Wonders would cross the line in first place at 26:28.7, and slightly increase his lead over the pack in the second lap. Over Torchia, it had grown to 8.5 seconds, and Patterson 20.9 seconds. But it would be the skiers of the “mystery 5k” splits that really made a difference in defining today’s results. Hagenbuch came in soon after Wonders, and crossed the line in 26:15.4. It would prove to be a mark no one could top on the day. Bernard Flaschberger too, would slotted himself into the top of the pack – finishing less than a second ahead of Ian Torchia to claim 3rd.

The top 5 of the final results then, looked finished like this: Johnny Hagenbuch with the win in 26:15.4, Hunter Wonders in second (+13.3), Bernhard Flaschberger in third (+27.0), Ian Torchia in fourth (+27.5), and Scott Patterson fifth (+34.2).

The men’s podium of the SuperTour 10k individual start skate in Sun Valley, including the top-six athletes. (Photo: Tobias Albrigtsen / @untraceableg)

In an email to FasterSkier, Hagenbuch pointed to an intimate knowledge of his home course in Sun Valley as being a key to his impressive margin at the top:

“The conditions were firm and well skied-in, and it was fairly fast. I have skied a whole lot here at Lake Creek in my years, and I knew the race was going to be super hard. I think it’s important to focus on the transitions and more rolling parts of the courses at Lake Creek, as just about everyone will be suffering on the climbs. I tried to ski [with a] really big, powerful V2 on the more gradual north end of the course; the strategy for the uphills was mostly to step on and off the skis quickly.”

With his results, Hagenbuch wins his first SuperTour of the season, on his home course, to boot. Not too shabby for a Saturday morning in Ketchum. He also did so in convincing fashion, rising above a field of seasoned SuperTour athletes to claim a definitive win by a stout margin. It will also improve his 5th place overall in the SuperTour standings, replacing two 6th place finishes from early in the season at Duluth.

On his win, Hagenbuch wrote, “frankly it’s quite a relief to have done well today, as I feel I haven’t really expressed my shape to the fullest for a variety of reasons this season… I’m just taking it day-by-day, [and] it was a real treat to have so many friends and family to cheer me on at home in a field that was deeper than U.S. Nationals.”

Hunter Wonders skis to second place in the men’s 10-kilometer individual start skate race in Ketchum, ID. (Photo: Tobias Albrigtsen / @untraceableg)

Elsewhere in the SuperTour standings, Wonders’ 2nd place finish will improve his distance standing going into today from 12th overall – replacing a 4th place finish in Soldier Hollow in the 15km Classic off his point standings. Overall SuperTour leader Adam Martin finished 7th (26:57.6) on the day, while 2nd place holder JC Schoonmaker was 21st (28:04.3).

“Today was a solid effort,” Wonders wrote to FasterSkier after the race. “It’s been a while since I’ve been home to Alaska and that’s started to weigh on me this week. Leading into the racing I was low energy trying to get my feet back under me after nationals in Utah. It was a good confidence boost and a pleasant surprise when I realized I was having a good day on the course today.”

Shedding light on the course conditions for those unable to watch, Wonders continued, “It was amazing conditions for a race, not too cold with firm grooming which is always welcome. 10k is pretty short, so I knew I had to take it out hot. I was a little concerned about blowing up, but realized that the course had more recovery when you’re at race pace versus easy skiing. The high part of the course is brutal but it sets you up into a ripping decent to the finish. Overall, it was a great day and I’m happy with my racing and thankful for my teammates keeping my spirits up this week and the coaches hooking me up with some great skis.” 

In the RMISA collegiate standings, the Utes again had a strong podium showing. With Flaschberger taking the win for Denver, Walker Hall (U of Utah) Sam Hendry (U of Utah) skied into the next two collegiate spots to solidify the overall lead for Utah this weekend.

The RMISA men’s podium of the 10k interval start classic in Sun Valley: Bernhard Flaschberger took the win for the University of Denver, ahead of Utah’s Walker Hall in second and Sam Hendry in third. (Photo: Tobias Albrigtsen / @untraceableg)

Full Results  

Women’s 5k Free

Men’s 10k Free

FasterSkier

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