Thursday, April 03, 2008

USSA Distance Nationals 50 K - The Season's Final Stretch

While most everyone else wants warmth by the end of March, cross country skiers revel in the last weeks of snow cover.

On Sunday March 30, we had the treat to watch the USSA 50k classic race right here in Fairbanks. About 45 brave racers entered this event that would navigate seven laps on a brutal course, featuring 6,500 feet of elevation gain. Conditions were good, but transforming. It was about 32 F at the 1:30 PM start and by the last laps, it had to be 40. Definitely a klister/warm wax day.

Here are a series of pictures from early in the race.

BEGINNINGS
About 15 skiers would stay bunched up through the first lap, but by lap 2 (early for a marathon) the race broke open, with Babikov, Golovko, and Lillefjell taking the lead, followed in close pursuit by Violett and Korthauer.


Close behind the leaders was the core of Team USA. Here are Andy Newell (116), a sprint specialist competing in his first 50k, Tour of Anchorage winner James Southam (111), and Colin Rodgers (121).


The 2nd pursuit pack on Black Funk, lap 2. Already the grade was too steep and tracks too slick for most. They resorted to a quick herringbone shuffle up the grueling 200 foot hill, which they would need to climb seven times.

Frode Lillefjell stayed with the two leaders through lap 3, before falling back. He would ski on his own for the rest of the race.

EVERY RACE HAS A MIDDLE

Team USA distance star Kris Freeman (101)struggled with slow wax in the early stages as he leads a train of US Team members and junior racer Noah Hoffman (104).
After half way, sprinters Torin Koos and Andy Newell show outstanding strength and endurance as they separate from the US team and move into the top 6.


FINAL STRETCH


Babikov, making it look easy.

By the few laps of the race, three subplots of Nordic intrigue became apparent: who would win the overall, who would be the US champion, and who would win the junior race?

The three or four way battle for first pared down to Babikov and Gologov, with Babikov (practically unbeatable in North America this year and last) the heavy favorite. Lillefjell looked strong but was in that dreaded no-man's land. Zach Violett had faded from contact, but Torin Koos, 2 minutes back from Lillefjell on the 5th lap was still in the hunt for possible a podium finish. He really picked it up when officials and coaches realized that the Green Card carrying Lillefjell was eligible for the US championship. The hunt was on.


Torin Koos closing fast in the last laps.

Meanwhile, the impressive start by young Noah Hoffman of the Sun Valley team began to unravel. At the same time the even younger David Norris (17) broke away from an impressive train of college and post-college skiers, and began chasing after some of the best sponsored and college skiers in the US. Not far behind was Max Trienen, only 19, and his younger brother Lex 17.


David Norris on his way to an impressive finish in the 50k.


Max Trienen leads a tired train of marathoners.

On the last lap, Babikov pulled away to win convincingly in 2:32:37. Comfortably in 2nd strode Gologov with a 2:33:30. With just 2k to go Lillefjell appeared to have third and a surprise US title locked up. Torin Koos gained inexorably with each powerful stride. He would come up just short, less than 6 seconds behind the now faltering Lillefjell who finished in 2:35:01 to Koos' 2:35:07. Andy Newell scored an impressive marathon debut to take 5th and the US championships bronze in 2:36:51.

Sprinter Colin Rodgers, recent NCAA 20 Kchampion Marius Korthauer, and the US Ski Team's Kris Freeman took 6th, 7th, and 8th.

As if that wasn't enough excitement, Norris powered through the 6th lap in 17th place. He appeared to tire considerably toward the finish, but held on to win the junior title in 2:44:42, not far behind the big boys. Not to be outdone, Max Trienen also looked impressive and finished in 2:45:55, just 1:15 behind Norris. Brother Lex turned in a fast last lap to go by a tiring Noah Hoffman: 2:49:54 to 2:50:21.

A brilliant day out on the course. (hope they'll be back next year)

1 Comments:

Anonymous Erik W said...

Thanks for the story and the nice pictures. It was nice to see and read.

12:19 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home