SUN VALLEY, Idaho — It felt more like winter and less like spring at the third day of SuperTour Finals. Tuesday’s national championships 4 x 5-kilometer mixed relay were marked by blustery winds and heavy snow, which left conditions slow and deep on the two lap course.
The trying weather wasn’t enough to prevent Alaska Pacific University (APU) from claiming the top two spots on the podium. APU’s first team, consisting of Sadie Bjornsen, Lex Treinen, Chelsea Holmes, and Erik Bjornsen, claimed victory in 58:52.5. The win is APU’s second in two years after it won the inaugural U.S. Distance Nationals mixed relay last year in Anchorage, Alaska, ahead of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 team and APU’s second team, respectively.
On Tuesday, APU 2, with Becca Rorabaugh, Reese Hanneman, Rosie Frankowski, and Scott Patterson, finished 21.6 seconds back to give APU an unprecedented 1-2 finish. The Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2’s first team of Annie Hart, Andy Newell, Katharine Ogden, and Simi Hamilton finished third, trailing the winners by 25 seconds.
Craftsbury 1 (+44.1) finished fourth, while the University of Utah (+47.3) placed fifth.
The race began with New Mexico’s Emilie Cedervaern and Sadie Bjornsen pushing a fast pace, with Craftsbury’s Liz Guiney, University of Colorado’s Maja Solbakken, and Hart following close behind. As the first leg progressed, Team Le Misfits’ Liz Stephen powered from bib 27 to make contact with the leaders. By the end of the 5 k, Stephen tagged teammate Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess in first, while New Mexico came through in second and APU 1 in third.
“I think today was a challenging day to be leading,” Bjornsen said after notching her third win in as many races at SuperTour Finals. “It was especially hard to make some gaps. From the beginning I tried to make a gap and then they all caught me on the downhill. Our following legs did a good job of opening up some gaps but not working so much harder than everyone else.”
Blackhorse-von Jess strode through the deep snow to keep the Le Misfits in the lead for just over a kilometer, but Treinen and New Mexico’s Aku Nikander soon caught him on the first major climb of the course. Colorado’s Rune Ødegård joined the three skiers at the top of the course and took the lead in the final kilometers. Entering the second exchange, Ødegård pulled ahead to gain a 14-second gap on Treinen, who tagged off to Holmes in second position.
“I was feeling really good on the uphill so I was just staying behind those first two people,” Treinen said. “I was waiting for the uphill to make my move and I gave it everything I got. I just tired to hold on until the finish.”
Holmes quickly made up ground on the two skiers in front of her. After almost 2 k, Holmes had a roughly 10-second gap on New Mexico’s Eva Severrus.
Two skiers behind them, APU 2’s Frankowski and University of Utah’s Veronika Mayerhoffer, weren’t about to let the podium slip away and picked off the places until they reached second and third. In the last kilometer, the two closed the gap to Holmes, and in the final meters, Mayhofer blew by Holmes to enter the final leg in first. Holmes tagged Erik Bjornsen in second while Frankowski tagged Patterson in third. Ogden, who started in eighth, skied the third-fastest time of leg three to bring SMST2 1 into fourth and 14.7 seconds from third.
“I blew up a little at the last k,” Holmes said. “I was rather amped so I went out at pretty much my sprint race pace. I think I just blew up a little and it’s hard to recover when you’re up this high. I just tired to hold it together as much as I could.”
The APU skier added that she had extra motivation from the fact that Rosie Brennan was originally slated to start as the team’s third skier. Due to illness, Brennan withdrew and gave her spot to Holmes.
“I had some big shoes to fill,” Holmes said. “That’s all I was trying to do, just go as fast as I could.”
Bjornsen took no time in passing Utah’s Nick Hendrickson as the last leg began, and increased APU’s lead throughout the rest of the final 5 k lap. Clocking the second fastest time of the leg, Bjornsen brought his team across the line with no other skiers in sight. Hendrickson attempted to stay with the U.S. Ski Team athlete for the first kilometer, but fell behind and was eventually passed by Patterson.
SMST2’s Hamilton skied smoothly and efficiently to continually make ground on Patterson throughout the 5 k. Hamilton finished just short of second, depleting the 14.7-second difference to APU2 to 3.5 seconds and bringing SMST2 1 across the line in third.
“From the start I knew I needed to hammer,” Bjornsen said. “Patterson was coming up from behind and I knew this course would be good for Simi, so I went out as hard as I could and tried to hold onto it.
“It was a little more exciting this year than last so that makes the win even better,” he added, referring to APU’s 2014 win in the same event.
APU Head Coach Erik Flora was nothing but smiles after the finish of Tuesday’s relay.
“It definitely surpassed my expectations,” Flora said. “I’m super proud of those guys. Our game plan for team one was to see if we could see if we could spread the field out, but with the [soft] snow, it kept everyone together, which made for an awesome race. It kind of came to the later legs to do their things.”
According to Flora, the 1-2 APU finish demonstrates the depth of the program, especially with the absence of many of the team’s top skiers due to sickness or nonattendance.
“It shows our depth,” Flora said. “Because even today, we have David Norris and Rosie Brennan and Kikkan Randall and Holly Brooks that aren’t here so the depth of our program, to be able to do what we did last year with first and third, and then to turn it around with the change in the teams to go 1-2, it’s awesome. It’s really exciting.”