By Rachel Bachman Perkins and Ella Hall
The 2022 Sun Valley Nordic Invitational continued Sunday with 10/15-kilometer mass start classic races, featuring SuperTour, RMISA collegiate, and Intermountain junior national qualifier divisions. With overnight temperatures in the low teens which rose to roughly 20 degrees Fahrenheit by start time, tracks looked ideal for kicking and gliding on the meticulously groomed trails at the Lake Creek Ski Center in Ketchum, ID.
Today’s races featured four laps each, with men starting the morning off on a 3.75k loop that featured three progressively larger climbs, totaling roughly 417 feet of climbing per lap. The women raced next on a 2.5k loop, which truncated the third and most significant climb of the men’s loop to reduce the lap length.
Men’s 15k Mass Start Classic:
After his victory in Saturday’s 10k individual start skate, local Johnny Hagenbuch (USST/SVSEF) moved into second place in the overall SuperTour rankings, still led by Adam Martin of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project. Martin won the 15k individual start classic at the U.S. Cross Country Championships just ten days ago, taking his first national title. With fellow national championship podium finishers Scott Patterson and JC Schoonmaker also taking part in today’s classic mass start, along with a number of other accomplished competitors in a field of 122 athletes, the stage was set for an exciting race.
In the end, it was another strong day for APU as they put together yet another podium sweep. Today, the APU men were led by David Norris, who took the win in a time of 36:50.5. Hunter Wonders finished second (+8.0), after outsprinting his teammate, Scott Patterson, in the final meters, leaving Patterson in third (+8.5).
“Lake Creek and all the Sun Valley trails are in such good condition right now,” wrote Norris in a post-race email to FasterSkier. “Earlier in the week I skied with the team at four different trailheads, and they were all so nice.”
Given the field size, level of competition, and relatively short lap length, one might expect congestion on the course, or the dreaded accordion that can sometimes occur as the pack repeatedly stretches out and compresses, making it hard for athletes in the later half of the pack to ski consistently. Norris explained that this was not an issue during today’s mass start.
“The course today is one of the harder courses in the U.S. and because of that the pack wasn’t overly crowded. I was surprised by how large of a group we had for the first three laps. I felt really relaxed skiing within the pack. Until Scott started pulling away from the lead group at the end of the third lap, I don’t think I had been in the top five. I bridged up to Scott on the last uphill of the third lap and then he, Hunter and I skied together until the last 1km of the race.”
“Approaching the last hill, I went to the front and right away felt a small gap open up so I pushed it to the top of the course where I had a solid gap that stayed to the finish. It’s really nice to put this race together after a really slow start to the season. The APU coaches have been working super hard and it was super cool to be a part of such a great day for the team.”
Norris concluded by sharing his upcoming objectives, perhaps foreshadowing tomorrow’s release of the 2022 Olympic team. Today’s result moved Norris into third place in the SuperTour overall standings, behind Adam Martin in first and Scott Patterson in second. In the Olympic qualification standings for distance racing, Norris is also third, with Patterson first and Martin second.
“From here I’m likely racing the Boulder Mountain Tour and the Birkie, which I’m excited about.”
In Patterson’s post-race comment to FasterSkier, he echoed Norris’ statement that congestion was not an issue, particularly as they had started at the front-edge of the pack. Patterson did add, however, that some obstacles arose as they began to lap some of the skiers finishing near the back.
“Many were great about stepping over to the side,” Patterson explained. “But there were a few who were very focused on their own race and didn’t recognize our group charging through.”
Patterson also shared his version of the race narrative, including the final move that moved Wonders one step up the podium.
“The race started pretty hot. I was surprised to end up in about 15th off the line even from the tip of the chevron. However, by about a kilometer in, the pace had settled and I was back up near the front. Johnny Hagenbuch and Hunter (Wonders) did a lot of the work on the early two laps. I mostly stayed near the front, but was keeping it relatively casual and felt ready for some hard pushes later.
On the third lap up Torin’s Tucker or the South Bench climb, I decided it was time to make it a real race. My move quickly split the lead pack. I had some space behind, but David and Hunter were able to rejoin after the long descent down to the stadium. I continued to lead for most of the fourth lap before David put in a good charge up the final large climb. He got a little space from me, while I slightly distanced Hunter on the climb. However, Hunter’s finish came into play as he chased me down and out sprinted me into the finish.”
Giving another nod to the coaches, Patterson celebrated his team’s success, despite finishing below where he would have liked.
“It was another sweet day for APU with the sweep. I am a little disappointed to have made most of the animating moves myself and only end up on the bottom step of the podium, but it is cool to see David and Hunter put together good ones. Our coaches put in a lot of hard work this week on top of a hard nationals to make it possible.”
Though perhaps more vague than Norris, Patterson also concluded with what is next on deck for him.
“I’m heading to my parent’s in Bozeman now,” Patterson said. “My plan is to put together a good training block there at somewhat altitude and get ready for the next races.”
As mentioned, Patterson put himself on top of the Olympic qualification rankings with the combined points of his win in the 30k skate and second place finish in the 15k classic; both events are on the Olympic schedule. While the five guaranteed spots of the men’s quota have likely been filled by those with stronger early-season World Cup results (note that Patterson had wrist surgery in October, which set him back performance-wise until recently), this indicates that Patterson would likely snag the sixth spot should one be added to the U.S. quota after reallocation, happening later this week. (Find more information on quotas and selection here.)
Lacking a livestream video and intermediate splits in the live timing, it is difficult to make many observations about the race other than those apparent in the finish times. Breaking up the string of four APU men who finished in the top-five, Ian Torchia (SMS T2) finished fourth again (+28.1), on the heels of a fourth place finish in the 10k skate on Saturday. In another finish-line sprint, Torchia crossed just ahead of APU’s Zanden McMullen (+28.2) with University of Denver’s Bernhard Flaschberger just behind in sixth (+28.4).
In the collegiate standings, Flaschberger skied his way to a double victory in Sun Valley. Sam Hendry (U of Utah) also earned a double podium, taking second place today after yesterday’s third, just one second behind Flaschberger and in eighth overall. Rounding out the collegiate podium, Andreas Kirkeng of University of Denver came in third (+24.1) for RMISA and tenth overall.
Women’s 10k Mass Start Classic:
While there was no official livestream, APU’s Forrest Mahlen did record an Instagram live of the women’s race on the APU account, which offers some insights into the action. The footage and commentary are perhaps a significant step down from that offered in Soldier Hollow, but the primary storyline was nevertheless clear from the start. By the time Rosie Brennan (USST/APU) passed Mahlen, just over a minute into the race, she had created a five second gap over the remainder of the women’s field.
Gun to tape, Brennan put on a clinic. Unmatched, she time-trialed her way around each of the four laps to finish in 29:35.3, nearly a minute ahead of the next racer. Brennan explained after the race that she was not totally prepared for classic races, as her original plans for her U.S. altitude block changed with the cancellation of the Les Rousses and Planica World Cups. Despite the time away from the main hub of the likely U.S. Olympic squad who are now training in Livigno, Italy, Brennan has seemingly thrived as she continues to hone her mental and physical sharpness before heading to China.
“I was honestly quite nervous for the race because I was never planning to do a classic race while I was home,” Brennan shared after the race. “I only brought home two pairs of training classic skis, so I wasn’t sure if it would be enough in this very strong field of women. Luckily, they were both cold skis and we did have cold, hardpack conditions today. APU did a great job preparing them and turning them into good race skis so it was alright in the end.”
Speaking to her race strategy, Brennan continued, “I started hard to try to simulate what I will encounter in Beijing. I wasn’t sure what the other girls would do so I just really tried to focus in on strong skiing. This is only my 3rd classic race of the year so I really wanted the practice of holding my technique together, finding a relaxed stride, and all while at altitude. I felt really strong on the long climb and was able to find a good groove, so I pulled away on that climb and then had to just keep pushing. It was a good mental challenge with a four lap race at altitude. I was definitely feeling tired on lap 3 and had to turn my mind around and find a way to push hard again that last lap in preparation for the Olympics. All in all, it was a good weekend to get some hard efforts in before we start to taper and focus in on Beijing.”
Leading the chase pack in the final lap, Katharine Ogden (USST/SMS T2) skied to second place for the women (+55.4). Ogden was second in the 10k classic during the U.S. Cross Country Championships, the only event she contested, and finished fourth in yesterday’s 5k free.
Next to the line was Novie McCabe (USST/U of Utah) in third (+1:07.6), her second third place finish of the weekend.
“It was fun for sure!” McCabe wrote in a post-race email. “I’ve always liked racing in Sun Valley and haven’t done too many mass starts this season so I was stoked for this one! We had a good group for the first three laps and it was kind of nice to just try and settle in and find a good pace. Overall, I felt good and am super happy with how things ended up. My skis were also amazing, which for sure didn’t hurt!!”
Rosie Frankowski (APU) was fourth to the line (+1:17.1), with Sydney Palmer-Leger (USST/U of Utah) behind in fifth (+1:26.4), leading her teammate Sophia Laukli who finished roughly a second behind her in sixth (+1:27.2). Improving on yesterday’s result, Caitlin Patterson (CGRP) was next to the line in seventh (+1:35.7).
Going 3-5-6 in the overall standings set the women of Utah up nicely for a back-to-back podium sweep, the first time any RMISA team has done so within the same meet since 2013, according to the team’s press release. A look at the roster shows the Utes as the U.S. Ski Team-lite. A force to be reckoned with, the Utah women’s team has now won each of the five RMISA races this season.
Beginning a northeast swing, the SuperTour circuit moves to Lake Placid, NY for Period III, resuming in two weeks on January 29th. This two-day race weekend will include a classic sprint, followed by a 10k mass start skate.
A big thank you to Tobias Albrigtsen, who generously shared his outstanding photos with us throughout the weekend.