Whistler 2023: U20 Mass Start 20km Classic

Gerry FursethFebruary 1, 2023
Finland’s Eevi-Inkeri Tossavainen wins the sprint for bronze. (Photo: Doug Stephen @vr45photography)

The World Juniors rolled on in Whistler with sunshine, easy classic waxing, and a new distance.

Most skiers had done a 20km event before today, some had done two, but it was a new pacing experience for many. Add in a 5km loop that an athlete from Holmenkollen described as ‘hilly’ and you have a recipe for good racing and a pretty good day for North American skiers.

Team USA’s Samantha Smith led the way for the continent, tying for 8th place, while both Alison Mackie and Xavier McKeever earned 13th place finishes for Canada.

In the women’s 20km, it was the same names as the sprint on Saturday, but with different medal colours. Sweden’s Lisa Eriksson and Norway’s Milla Grosberghaugen Andreasson pushed the pace from the start, splitting the 52 starters into small groups. By the halfway point, those two were alone in front, maintaining a 30 second lead over the first chase group. Andreasson went hard on the long climb on the final lap, breaking Eriksson to win alone in 1:01:17.6, 21.2 seconds ahead.

“I think Lisa was a little bit tired today, and I was very strong,” Andreasson explained. “I felt good on the second last round, so I tried to go a bit faster.”

“Hard today,” Eriksson said. “From the beginning, I was a little bit tired. I do the best I can do today, but Milla was super strong.”

A group of four was chasing hard, with sprint winner Eevi-Inkeri Tossavainen confident in her ability to take bronze.

“It was quite tough,” she said. “I didn’t have a chance, it was Milla and Lisa, they was too strong today, I was only fighting for the bronze.”

“I knew I would be the best one at the end, with the double poling, that was my only plan.”

That plan worked, and the podium was set. Smith had skied in what was the third group for much of the race, and tied for second of the four survivors, joint 8th place with Sweden’s Tove Ericsson, at 1:39.8 back.

“I was happy with the result,” Smith told FasterSkier. “Another top ten, so I’m really excited about that.”

“It was a pretty fast start, like I had anticipated. Luckily I did the 15km skate in Lygna [last year at U20’s] so I knew what to expect.”

“That was my second 20km, so I don’t have a ton of experience with pacing a race like that,” she expanded. “I was with skiers, [thinking] just stick with them, they probably know how to pace.”

Mackie skied in an ever changing fourth pack competing for 12th and held on through the final hill disintegration to get 13th, 2:09.8 behind.

Alison Mackie (#41) double poling her way to 13th place. (Photo: Doug Stephen @vr45photography)

“It was amazing, this was my best race of the season so far,” Mackie told FasterSkier. “It was so much fun to work with a group of girls in such a big mass start. I’ve never done anything like this, this is my second international start.”

“I love the atmosphere,” she said. “I’m really lucky my first world juniors is here, I’ve race here a couple of times before.”

Mackie may only be 17, but she has been listening to her coaches: “I want to thank my techs, I had great grip and great glide.”

Constance Lapointe was the next Canadian in 21st, in her first world juniors days after her 18th birthday. “Definitely one of my best races ever,” she said.

Lapointe came in without any expectation except gaining experience, but she has already learned what to say in interviews:”My wax techs just nailed the wax.”

Ava Thurston was the second US finisher in 28th, 4:52.4 back: “It was pretty solid, it was definitely a very hilly course, but the four laps went by surprisingly faster than I thought they would.”

“Skis were great, had plenty of kick, just really nice classic skiing. The corners were pretty good today, no treacherous downhills for me anyway.”

Canada’s Anna Stewart and Alexandra Luxmoore were 34th and 40th in what was expected to be a learning week.

USA’s Rose Horning was 42nd while Nina Schamberger did not finish after skiing the second lap in obvious discomfort.

For the men, it was the same countries on the podium but new names.

Early on, it was Finland’s Niko Anttola driving the pace with all four Norwegians staying in the top five. Canada’s McKeever skied close to the front for the first lap and a half, but looked like he had good skis on a day when the Germans and Norwegians had great skis.

Mathias Holbæk takes the U20 World Champion title. (Photo: Doug Stephen @vr45photography)

Anttola and Norway’s Mathias Holbæk pulled clear on the third lap, leaving three Norwegians to be caught by a chase pack of five. Anttola looked like he was driving the pace, but it was Holbæk who skied away on the final Hermodt’s hill into the stadium for victory in 53:05.7. Anttola was 7.7 seconds behind, with Norway’s Kristian Kollerud winning the sprint for bronze at 28.1 seconds.

“It was a great day, I feel strong. My tactic was to be behind and take it in the last sprint uphill,” Holbæk said. “We go very fast [on the third lap] and got a little split. It was fun.”

“It was good day, good weather, and tracks were very nice,” Anttola said. “I tried to go hard in the uphills, but Mathias a little bit too strong today.”

“It was a great day, a tough race. I’m really glad that I came third,” Kollerud told FasterSkier. “The two guys in front of me were too good, so I need to focus on third place.”

If it was a hard race for the podium finishers, it was harder for the rest of the field. For most of the North American skiers, the coaches were talking about learning and developing, not results.

Xav McKeever (#104) looking relaxed on the fast downhill under the bridge. (Photo: Doug Stephen @vr45photography)

“A bit of a tough one, the pace was really hot off the start,” McKeever said. “I redlined a bit in the second lap, but came alive for the end.”

“I was still happy I was able to come back … and fight for 13th. Obviously, not quite what I wanted, but there are takeaways from being able to recover.”

McKeever had come in with expectations from outside and inside, allowing him to be disappointed with a top 15 in his favoured race at a home country event. While this is his fifth World Juniors, he is still a U20 and working on the mental aspects that lead to success. A big part of his thoughts ten minutes after finishing: “How I react to having this big event in Canada, and how I react to some added self-pressure from a championships at home.”

Luka Riley was the top US skier, 34th at 4:24.6, just ahead of Canada’s Luke Allen in 36th.

“It was really fun other there,” Allen said. “Super hard race, super deep field out there.”

“Tracks were remaining pretty hard, the kick was solid throughout, the corners were fast but not sketchy. Honestly, just a beautiful day in Whistler. Sun was out, can’t really ask for much more here.”

The US trio of Adrik Kraftson, Jack Lange, and Max Kluck were 39th, 41st, and 57th. We could quote them, but it’s more fun to watch the video that shows the team.

Canada’s Raleigh Tarte finished 47th while Garrett Siever did not finish after a start that looked strong.

Full results for the week and live timing are here. Livestream video for upcoming races is on the same link.

Gerry Furseth

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