Here we go! Despite the challenges of mother nature, the City of Lakes Loppet, after a tiny snowstorm on Tuesday night, has brought out their shovels and decided to give the race a go. The last minute storm, as well as the concerted effort of numerous volunteers, will give SuperTour athletes one final weekend of racing in the Midwest. The Central Cross-Country Skiing Association NorAm SuperTour series began with downtown sprints in Madison, and then wound its way through the venues of Mt. Itasca and Telemark, before now returning to an urban setting for the Finn Sisu Elite Sprints on Saturday and the City of Lakes Loppet marathon on Sunday. The SuperTour category of these events will include the normal win schedule of $5000/day cash prizes, as well assigning both USSA and FIS points. At this time, Saturday’s sprint qualification is scheduled for 9:00 am at Wirth Park with rounds to follow at 5:00 pm on the streets of uptown. All SuperTour athletes will compete in Sunday’s 10:30 am 35-kilometer freestyle event that begins at Wirth Park and ends in Uptown. However, given the extremely thin snow cover and predicted Thursday high temperatures, locations and times are still very subject to change and the Loppet website: www.cityoflakesloppet.com should be carefully monitored.
Early in the week, the reports coming from City of Lakes Loppet organizers were strongly suggestive of the event’s postponement. Unfortunately, the dismal weather did cause some top athletes to change plane tickets and leave town for the Boulder Mountain Tour. Then nature dealt the ski world another hand, as Minneapolis got a little snow, and the Lake Placid Loppet was forced to cancel for the second time. Thus, for the athletes lost to the Boulder Mountain Tour, the City of Lakes Loppet gained others from the Lake Placid Loppet. The Loppet entry list will invariably change until the final moments as athletes frantically search the internet in search of that elusive “cheap ticket”. Nevertheless, the field that has already committed to racing in the Twin Cities this weekend is an extremely strong one.
In the men’s race, SuperTour leader Dave Chamberlain and local hero, Subaru Factory Team member Chad Giese are the race’s co-favorites. Both narrowly missed making the 2006 Olympic Team and are in top form at this time. Chamberlain is coming off two wins in last week’s SuperTour at Telemark Resort, as well as one the previous week at Mt. Itasca. Giese, a top distance skier and many times Mora Vasaloppet champion, has had a season that has been trending upward, culminating with a bronze at U.S. Nationals and no races there in which he finished worse than seventh.
Three particularly strong entrants in the men’s sprint race are Colin Rodgers, Brayton Osgood, and Kevin Hochtl. Rodgers, who represents FSx and Maine Winter Sports Center is ranked tenth on the current USSA points list and was seventh in the sprint at U.S. Nationals. Osgood of Alpina/Madshus and Maine Winter Sports Center was fourth at the Fairbanks NorAm SuperTour opener. Hochtl, a Rossignol skier, and the 100-meter world record holder from this fall in West Yellowstone, was fourth in the sprint at U.S. Nationals and is ranked eighth on the current points list.
The favorites in the women’s marathon are the Subaru Factory Team’s Caitlin Compton and Kate Underwood and Atomic’s Anna McLoon. Compton is a local competitor and graduate of Northern Michigan University who is coached by Piotr Benardski of Go! Training. She had a strong national championships, making it into heats in the sprints and finishing seventh in both the skate race and the duathlon. Underwood returned to the sport last year after a successful collegiate career at the University of New Hampshire. Last year, she won both the Craftsbury Marathon and the Lake Placid Loppet and then capped off her season with a fifth in the Birkie. McLoon, of Roseville, Minnesota is a local hero, having been a Minnesota State Champion, before attending Harvard, and now skiing at the elite level, ranked 15th in the country. She was also last year’s Mora Vasaloppet champion.
Other locals likely to record strong results in the marathon include Jan Guenther (owner of Gear West, former Birkie winner, and many time Mora Vasaloppet champion), Kim Rudd of Rossignol, Mary Beth Tuttle of FSx, Corey Coogan of Alpina/Madshus, and Margie Nelson of Skinnyski.com.
In addition to the top senior women in the sprints, look also for juniors Audrey Weber and Katie Bono. Weber, a freshman at St. Olaf, was fourth in sprints at Junior Olympics. Bono, a senior at the Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, who will attend Dartmouth College in the fall, was the 2005 Minnesota State Ski Champion. Both are known for recording results that qualify them to compete with the seniors.