Find coverage of Saturday’s classic sprint, day one of racing in the Lake Placid SuperTour weekend, here.
As a Nor’easter made its way up the eastern seaboard, the Adirondack Park in northeastern New York saw a biting cold snap, with overnight lows well below zero and highs barely increasing beyond the single digits. A sunrise Instagram story posted by Alayna Sonnesyn (SMS T2) showed a temperature of -18 Fahrenheit, only two hours before the start of the women’s race at 10 a.m.
Nevertheless, the show went on, with senior men and women racing a three-lap 10-kilometer mass start freestyle race on the new World Cup trails at Mt. Van Hoevenberg.
Women’s 10k Mass Start Free
If you’ve been following our domestic race coverage, you may have noticed a theme in races where APU’s Rosie Frankowski has been amongst the favorites. She likes to put her boundless energy and high level fitness to use, setting a hot pace from the start rather than leaving it up to tactics and final sprint speed. It has so far served her well; Frankowski won two of the first three distance races, placing third in the 10k individual start classic in Cable, WI. At the U.S. Cross Country Championships, Rosie Brennan was off the front in a league of her own in the 20k mass start skate, however, Frankowski co-lead the chase pack with Caitlin Patterson, eventually pulling away in the final climb to take second.
Frankowski struggled in the 10k individual start classic a few days later, where a perfect storm of just-above-freezing temperatures and mixed precipitation led to significant discrepancies among athletes’ skis. In the subsequent distance races in Sun Valley, Frankowski was fifth in the skate and fourth in the classic, with Katharine Ogden (SMS T2) the only athlete ahead of her who is not on the 2022 Olympic Team.
Today followed the trend. Wearing a baggy bright yellow SuperTour leader bib, Frankowski got out with a fast start, creating a gap of over 20 seconds within the first lap.
“I don’t really race with a race plan, so I just thought I’d see how things panned out…” Frankowski explained after the race. “As was probably expected by my competitors, I went to the front right from the gun, mostly to just be able to ski the transition-y part of the sprint course not in a crowd, and then I was surprised to slightly pull away from the pack on the flat before the uphill working section. My only goal was to V2 as much of the course as possible since we’re at sea level again and you can’t attrition people as well on uphills as my beloved altitude racing.
“I felt good and surprisingly had quite a gap after the first lap, so I decided to just run with it and ski hard. However, skiing alone and getting hunted sometimes is fun, and sometimes is just stressful and not fun. Today happened to be more of the second option.”
Through the end of the second lap, it looked as if Frankowski would be unopposed, however, as she foreshadowed, another woman was racing on her own 17 seconds back. And she had a new gear she was about to engage.
Having raced the first lap near the front of a large group of roughly ten women, Alayna Sonnesyn (SMS T2) had pulled away over the second lap. She made up eight seconds from her 17 second deficit in the second lap, and continued to gain ground on Frankowski in the final 3.3k.
With 1k to go, Sonnesyn was still 11 seconds behind Frankowski, but Sonnesyn had juice left to work the climbs, while Frankowski was about to hit lap traffic. With Frankowski now in her sights, Sonnesyn caught Frankowski on the final climb, working the downhill to enter the stadium with the advantage. She powered to the line for the win in 28:57.1, with Frankowski a few meters behind in second (+3.7).
Though she has been on the podium in both events this weekend, the last month has not been a smooth month of race preparation for Sonnesyn. With two wins, two second place finishes, and one third from the first two weekends of Period I SuperTour racing, she stood at the top of the leaderboard and earned starts at the Tour de Ski.
Heading to Europe with big aspirations, Sonnesyn wrote on Instagram that her performances in the Tour were “far from [her] hopes and expectations.” Her top results were 42nd in the classic sprint qualifier and 36th in the final hill climb, though only 46 women remained in the field at that point. Though the subsequent World Cups, in Les Rousses and Planica were canceled, which would have perhaps been another crack at a Top-30, Sonnesyn remained in Europe. A little over a week after the Tour, she tested positive for COVID.
This string of events could have shaken any athlete’s confidence, but this weekend has proven to be a morale re-builder.
“Going into today’s race I was cautiously optimistic,” Sonnesyn told FasterSkier after the race. “I was really pleased with my sprint performance Saturday and knew I had good energy, but was also wary of what type of fitness would be present after a crazy month battling COVID, international travel, canceled races… I didn’t know what to expect so I decided to take a more conservative approach to the day.”
Sonnesyn also took us inside the race, sharing both her strategy through the laps and her mindset.
“Rosie went out at an impressive pace and I thought for sure the rest of the race was going to be a battle for second place. Her tempo was super impressive on the climbs and only 1k into the race I didn’t have the confidence to stay with her. So I stayed with the pack to ski a bit more efficiently – drafting behind other racers, not pushing the pace too much, and conserving as much energy as I could. I was expecting the super cold snow and lack of fluoros to feel dead slow, but my skis actually felt pretty good and so did I, so on the second lap up the big climb I decided to go for it a bit more. I was able to make a gap on the rest of the field but for the next 3.3k of skiing I was mostly worried about them catching me again.
“I kept the pace pretty hot, but so did Rosie and I didn’t really think I had a chance to gain on her until I reached the top of the big climb on the final lap and realized it just might be possible. I skied the downhills and transitions as well as I possibly could and tried to get every inch of glide my skis would give me. The cheering on the final climb is what helped me believe in myself. It really got me up that hill and into Rosie’s draft on the final descent so I could make one final move in the last 200 meters. It was so fun to have such a big crowd back out there racing and cheering!”
After a month in Europe which, from the outside, could have looked like a skiers dream vacation full of mountain vistas, delicious food, and even more mouth watering ski trails, Sonnesyn wrote an honest and heart-wrenching blog posted titled “Rollin with the Punches” that walked her readers through the many challenges she faced over the course of her stay. Today, she concluded with how grateful she is for the win – both on the results sheet, and metaphorically, as she takes a much needed step forward to put disappointment in the rearview mirror.
“Overall, I’m very pleased with the weekend and not taking any of it for granted! It’s been a tough month for me health wise (both mentally and physically) so I’m really happy to be back in the U.S. racing and enjoying it again!”
Frankowski and Sonnesyn have gone back and forth in distance races all season. In the first distance race, Frankowski won and Sonnesyn was third, then it was one-two in the first race in Cable, before Sonnesyn flipped the order and won their third distance matchup, while Frankowski was third. Both women’s post race comments demonstrated the respect they have for one another as competitors.
“I tried to ski smoothly through the second and third lap,” Frankowski explained as she took FasterSkier through the race. “I’d have loved to have someone to work with a bit more, but “asi es la vida”. In the end, Alayna put in an impressive effort to catch me during the second half of the race. When I went down the big downhill into the sprint climb, I had to slalom some lapped skiers and lost enough seconds that I just didn’t have enough time at the top of the sprint hill for the final downhill finish to hold her off. Congrats to Alayna on a very strong race.”
After a gap, a chase pack surged toward the stadium in a tight race for the third podium spot. Pulling ahead over the final kilometer, Becca Rorabaugh headed to the line with an advantage to take third (+36.6), just ahead of Erika Flowers (BSF Pro) in fourth (+38.5). Yesterday’s winner, Katharine Ogden, took fifth (+40.3), just ahead of U18 athlete Ava Thurston (Mansfield Nordic Club) in sixth (+41.4).
Frankowski praised her teammate in the conclusion of her email.
“Shout out to my teammate, Becca, who skied really smart and won the sprint of her pack to finish third. Also, a huge thank you to our APU wax tech, Jack, and Mt. Van Hoevenberg. I was impressed by the race courses and amazing tourist trails here, and the organizers and volunteers did a fantastic job, especially with absolutely frigid conditions all weekend.”
Men’s 10k Mass Start Free
The men’s field saw a different style of racing. After the first lap, the top-14 were within five seconds of one another, and only two fell off pace during the second lap. There, the racing truly began.
SVSEF Gold Team member Johnny Hagenbuch powered off the front, with a move that proved more effective than even he had imagined. At the 9k checkpoint, Hagenbuch had put nearly 20 seconds on his chasers. Laying off the gas only slightly, he cruised to the stadium to finish unopposed in 24:35.3.
“This season has been strikes and gutters, ups and downs through and through for me, and this weekend continued that theme,” Hagenbuch reflected in a post-race email. “I’m all for the movement towards having more equality in the distances of men’s and women’s races, but I would also say that a 10-kilometer mass-start is decidedly chaotic. For the first two 3.3-kilometer laps, I was literally just trying to avoid breaking poles or falling, which was a tall order with some fairly close calls. Besides trying to avoid trouble, I felt really good despite the cold temperatures, which I know was not the case for everyone.
“The pace felt fairly controlled and relaxed through the first two laps, and I hit the main climb on the course pretty hard on the last lap. I wasn’t really expecting my move to be that decisive, but I had a fairly big gap when I looked back midway up the climb. It was nice to have some time to look back and watch the finish to see my teammate Peter Wolter continue his upward trend and hit his first top-six position and podium of the season.”
This is Hagenbuch’s second consecutive 10k skate win, having won the individual start race on his home tracks in Sun Valley during the last SuperTour weekend. Having celebrated his 20th birthday earlier this month, Hagenbuch is preparing for his first U23 World Championships which will take place in Lygna, Norway at the end of February. He was a member of the last three World Junior Championship teams and helped earn the U.S. two gold medals in the men’s relay, back-to-back in 2019 and 2020.
Hagenbuch weighed in on the recently updated course in Mt. Van Hoevenberg, providing insights into how it affected the race strategy and outcome, ending with a comment on future racing he looks forward to in the future.
“The new course is super fun! It definitely is a course that I like; it’s characterized by a principle large climb to the high point and then a ripping downhill with banked corners. There was a large drafting effect on the long downhill, so I was happy with sitting in fifth or sixth for the first two laps – tactics that I have not always shown to be effective this season. I’m very excited for the NCAA Championships to be here next year when I’ll be competing for Dartmouth.”
With 1k to go, a pack of five men remained in contention for the podium. At the 9k checkpoint, the front runners were Finn O’Connell (BSF Pro), Zak Ketterson (Team Birkie), and Adam Martin (CGRP). Over the final kilometer, this group shook up their order and began to string out, arriving at the finish separated by a few seconds each.
For the podium, it was SuperTour leader Adam Martin (CGRP) in second (+11.6), roughly two seconds ahead of Peter Wolter (SVSEF) in third (+13.8). O’Connell hung on for fourth (+14.9), with Akeo Maifeld-Carucci (CGRP) fifth (+18.4), and Ketterson sixth (+20.1).
“Particularly after falling in the sprint yesterday, I was quite relieved to make it through the first chaotic kilometer on my feet and with both poles intact,” Martin wrote to FasterSkier after the race. “Finn O’Connell led an honest pace for the majority of the first two laps. Then, John Hagenbuch made a strong, successful move on the loop’s longest climb at the beginning of the third lap. This strung out the field, and Finn and I caught up to Zak Ketterson (second position at the time) before we descended towards the finish. After the descent, I was able to create a small separation on the sprint hill. I maintained that through the finish, just ahead of a big pack sprint.”
Across the board, athletes have had positive remarks on the renovations that have happened at VanHo, and Martin added to the compliment jar to end his email.
“This was my first time at the redone Lake Placid venue, and it’s an amazing complex. Both courses were challenging, the trails were very wide, and there was plentiful man made snow cover. Finally, I was super excited to have my teammate Akeo also in the top 6 today!”
Racing continues on Friday February 4th at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. The three-day race weekend will begin with a freestyle sprint, followed by a 10k interval start classic on Saturday, and a 7.5/10k freestyle pursuit on Sunday. The weekend will again serve as a SuperTour event, an Eastern Cup junior national qualifier, and an EISA carnival. A 10k skate “Zak Cup” popular race will cap off the weekend as the final event.
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646