Four Craftsbury Green Racing Project (GRP) Skiers Podium at SuperTour/U.S. Nationals.
CRAFTSBURY – About every four years, the professional North American cross country ski world make their way to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center for the annual spring series and distance and sprint U.S. National Championships. For our local professional team based in Craftsbury, the GRP used their home-field advantage to have several top three results and even more top-tens. Racing started last Wednesday with the 10 km classic individual start where skiers head out every 30 seconds. It tests a skier’s skill in pacing as he/she does not necessarily know how their competitors are doing. Margie Freed paced it perfectly winning the race (30:04) by four seconds ahead of University of Denver’s Hannah Abrahamsson. GRPer Alex Lawson placed third, Michaela Keller-Miller 13th, and Annika Landis 20th. In the men’s race, Darmouth’s John Steel Hagenbuch won in 27:27 with Braden Becker (GRP) fifth and Finn Sweet (UVM) eighth.
After a day of rest, sprint races resumed on Friday for the Freestyle U.S. National Championship. The entire GRP women made the five 6-person quarterfinal heats. Six racers go head to head in the heats and the top two finishers advance to the next round. Alex Lawson won her quarterfinal but ended up fourth in the next semifinal. Margie Freed came in second in both her quarterfinal and semifinal, making it to the 6-person final. Alayna Sonnesyn (Stratton Mountain School/UVM graduate) took the win for her first national title. Freed fell back from the front two skiers and skied right with Erin Bianco (Team Birkie) down the homestretch. Bianco finished 1/10th of second ahead to finish third and Freed fourth. Because the second-place finisher, Karianne Olsvik Dengerud (University of Utah) was from Norway, Freed received the final podium spot as the third U.S. skier.
The GRP men’s field included Braden Becker and biathletes and brothers, Jake and Luke Brown. None of them have had very good results in sprinting, and Jake and Luke Brown entered mainly because the races are in their backyard. Jake has spent much of the past three years skiing on the U.S. Biathlon team in Europe. They all skied fast enough to make the heats. In the quarterfinals, Jake Brown eeked out a second place finish by a boot length and Becker skied to third, but moved up to second after the withdrawal of Logan Dieckman. Luke Brown was sixth in his quarterfinal. In the second semi-final, Becker and Jake Brown skied together and were in the back of the pack heading into the major downhill section. Sprint racing is often a race to stay out of trouble and not become tangled up with another skier; it happens often. After safely negotiating the hill, both used their endurance skills to V1 up the sustained climb passing all but one of the skiers ahead of them. With another half-km to go, they held on as best they could dropping to third and fourth. However, their pushing of the pace up the climb made for the faster of the two semi-final races, and Jake Brown and Becker nabbed the last two spots for the final based on their time. They call it the lucky loser position. In the final, they used the same strategy starting more slowly and hitting the climb hard. They finished third and fourth overall behind Andreas Kirkeng (University of Denver) and Sasha Masson (Pierre-Harvey National Training Center). But like Freed’s jump to third for U.S. skiers, Jake Brown is the new National Champion with Becker second because Kirkeng is from Norway and Masson from Canada. No one saw this coming. Jake had not skied in a sprint race for seven years. Back then he rarely made the top 30 to proceed from the qualifier to the heats, and when he did qualify, he never made it out of the quarterfinals. “My biathlon season was a bit of a disappointment due to illness. I came back from Europe early as I just could not get healthy. Going into these races I had absolutely no expectations and treated each sprint race as an interval workout.” It was quite a workout.
The fourth day of racing was team relays done more for bragging rights than anything else. The University of Utah team dueled it out for first slightly ahead of the Bridger Ski Foundation and Craftsbury GRP teams. There were 15 teams in the race. The final day of racing was the U.S. Distance National Championships. The men and women now ski the same distances after decades of the men skiing a longer distance. The 44 km classic mass start race was four laps around an 11 km loop. The snow was sticky and wet making for a waxing nightmare. Most skiers raced on skis with a scratchy surface on them, called zeros (for 0 degrees Celsius), or “hairies” where techs sandpaper the bottom of the ski rather than apply a kick wax. Andreas Kirkeng prevailed once again (2:14:04) finishing two seconds ahead of John Steel Hagenbuch. Former U.S. team member, David Norris, grabbed the third spot. Braden Becker finished 10th, Jake Brown 12th, and Luke Brown 17th. On the women’s side, University of Utah skier Sydney Palmer-Leger edged out Hannah Abrahamsson (Denver) for the national title (2:32:35). Margie Freed continued her successful week finishing third overall and second in the U.S. Championship race. The surprise in this race was former GRP member and U.S. Ski team member, Caitlin Patterson, putting on skis to finish fourth overall and on the podium for the U.S. finish. Patterson now works full-time in Portland, Me., for an architecture group. She said, “I was skiing on muscle memory and tricking my body to go as hard as it used to. I’m really tired now.” Alex Lawson and Annika Landis landed in the top 10 and Michaela Keller-Miller finished 16th. Both Lawson and Becker are very close to obtaining starts for the U.S. Ski Team on the World Cup next year.
In the 22 km junior race, Craftsbury Ski Club’s Amelia Circosta (age 15), finished first ahead of mostly 17-19 year old skiers. Leo Circosta placed 12th in the Under 20 junior boys race.