On the final day of the Telemark NorAm SuperTour weather and snow conditions shifted towards winter. Saturday evening a light rain began to fall in the region, but as temperatures dropped that rain changed over to 5” extremely wet snow. It was still snowing as we departed at the end of the day.
On race morning racers awoke to a couple of inches of mashed potato-like fresh show, and more snow falling intermittently. Given the extremely wet new snow, besides the water that seeped up in places from the prior days melt and rain, appropriate structure as well as liberal use of a high fluoro top-coat was essential. It was an expensive day at the races. The course for this skate mass start race (15 kilometers for men and 10 for women) was unusually flat, and so without any difficult climbs or technical descents to separate the field, having good skis was all the more important. Due to the moisture content of the snow, it was unusually dense and packed into a surprisingly firm surface. The groomers again worked their magic! Given the high racing speeds and the firm snow pack, a number of athletes expressed difficulty in keeping their feet underneath them.
The men started a 9:30 in morning with NorAm, Collegiate, Senior, Master, Older Junior, and J1s starting as one. Although seeded by USSA and FIS points, this format gave all racers the exciting opportunity to mix it up in the same field as some of America’s best athletes. Given the mild course and fast conditions, it was no surprise that the top men came through the lap in a tightly bunched pack, and behind them the field strung out in a line with few dramatic gaps. On the second lap, top finishers put the hammer down and splintered the pack, so that gaps emerged within the top ten. Rounding the stadium leading into the finish area, the race for first was clearly down to just two men: David Chamberlain and Zack Simons. While Chamberlain did seem to have the advantage at 150 meters to go, Simons offered him the win when he stumbled just outside of the 100-meter mark. Chamberlain (34:56) recorded his second win in as many days, while Simons (35:01) retained enough of a gap to easily beat third place finisher Chad Giese (35:06) to the line. Canadian Jeff Ellis (Exel Racing Team) narrowly out sprinted Michigan Technological University Assistant Coach Karl Walczak to the line, 35:10 to 35:11, as the two claimed fourth and fifth.
The women’s ten-kilometer race began at 10:45 with the same format of starting multiple age groups at once. Just as in the men’s race, the first lap was not enough to split the top contenders from each other, as a lead pack of about six formed followed closely by a chasing pack of about four. Also similar to the men’s race, by the end of the second lap, the battle for the win was between just two athletes Natasha Naryshkina and Kate Whitcomb. As the two hit the stadium flats, Whitcomb made use of fast skis and her sprinters skills to pull out an eight second win, 24:20 to 24:28. Canadian Jacqui Benson skied strong though the final stretch in the stadium, closing on Naryshkina, and taking third in 24:31. University of Alaska-Fairbanks’ Johanna Turunen (fifth in 24:30) and Northern Michigan University’s Tami Kochen (sixth in 24:32) once again stood out as collegians finishing in the top-five.
In recalling her race, Kate Whitcomb said she had “great skis” on a day that it was “a skiers race.” She gave a lot of credit to the grind that she had on her Fischers, the Z40 XL from Zack Caldwell’s Engineered Tuning. Having competed in this race last year, this time Whitcomb used different tactics. Whereas last time, she skied right around fifth and got stepped on a lot, this time she “Got into the top-three and tried to keep pushing the pace hoping to break off the front.” Regarding the challenging snow conditions over the weekend at Telemark, Whitcomb was philosophical, calling the races, “skiers’ races.” She explained, “If you’ve grown up on skis, you will do well here. On the ice and greasy snow, you have to have good balance and be consistent on skis.”
At the end of the day on Sunday, the Midwest Junior program held a meeting to announce their selections for the 2006 Junior Olympics to be held in Houghton, Michigan in late March. For a number of young athletes, Sunday’s races were very significant as they marked the last chance for some “bubble athletes” to make the team. Winners in the junior categories included Chris Harvey (Older Junior), Jared Cregg (J1), Hans Nygren (J2), Katie Bono (OJ), Claire Luby (J1), and Libby Ellis (J2). Chris Ransom won the Master’s race with a 2 second margin over Mark Parman.
Katie Bono, whose two Older Junior wins over the weekend, assure her a place on the Midwest Junior Olympic Team, was satisfied with her skate race. “My technique is a lot better than last year and that helped a lot. I also think I’m stronger than I used to be.” She credits a summer of working with Piotr Bednarski and Go! Training for the physical improvements, as well as both Piotr and Reid Lutter for skis that were “super fast.” As she looks towards the Junior Olympics, she has her sights set on improving upon last year’s already strong results.
This has been a really great week at Telemark Resort, with the highest quality races put on by CXC. For cross country skiers, Telemark is definitely a World Class facility. Next week the CXC SuperTour moves to Minneapolis and the City of Lakes Loppet, scheduled for a SuperTour sprint on Hennepin Avenue Saturday night and a 30k Marathon on Sunday. With weather conditions looking less than favorable, the elite athletes hope to at least get in the sprint. In the meanwhile all eagerly await the organizers upcoming announcement regarding the sprint and distance races’ status.
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