World Cup Report: Preseason Recap, Ruka Weekend Series
The preseason races are in the books and the World Cup opener in Ruka, Finland looms on the horizon. We saw racing in Beitostolen, Norway, and Gällivare, Sweden, this past weekend. These races are to shake off the cobwebs and the nerves before the real races start. They are also events for the nations group so the host country puts 60-70 athletes into the race. This is the World Cup trials for many countries and it will determine the final athletes to represent the country this season.
The wax techs also use these races to get more organized and start to blend in the new faces in the truck. The US Ski Team welcomes Estonian, Karel Kruuser, and Norwegian, Per-Erik Bjønstad, to the team this year. These two were brought on to help refine the kick waxing process for the team. Per-Erik was a service tech for the US team in 2006-2007 and has been with the Norwegian team ever since. Karel has been working on and off with the US Ski Team the last few years and represented Rosie Brennan and some of the nations group athletes. The first preseason races were a catch to get comfortable in their new positions and waxing for new athletes. And they showed they can make fast skis, helping the USA to some excellent results this past weekend.
- Nov 22 Classic Sprints
- Nov 23 Classic 10K, 15K individual start
- Nov 24 Freestyle 10K, 15K individual start
In the opening classic sprints, the US had two starters: Simi Hamilton and Erik Bjornsen, while Kevin Bolger was a DNS. Both of skiers qualified for the quarterfinal heats but failed to go through to the semi finals. The men’s heats were packed with strong French and Norwegian competitors and Erik Valnes walked away with a win followed by Pål Aune of Norway and Lucas Chanavat rounded out the top three. Klæbo qualified for the finals but lacked the motor to mount a serious challenge. This will be interesting to watch the next weekend when we get another chance to see the sprint specialist in action. The women raced three on Saturday including Minnesota local, Kristen Bourne racing for a Norwegian club Team OBOS, Julia Kern, and Sophie Caldwell. Caldwell led the women’s team in qualification to a third place finish, Kern qualified 9th, and Bourne failed to qualify for heats taking 56th. Kern was unable to escape the quarterfinal heats and fell to 16th place on the day. Caldwell on the other hand looked very strong all day and finished on the podium in 3rd place, Norwegian’s Maiken Caspersen Falla finished in second, and teammate Ane Stenseth took the top spot in the women’s classic sprints. Caldwell put in a really strong result, and should be a threat for a podium this season.
In Saturday classic distance races, Jessie Diggins lead the women and was just off the podium in fourth, only 1:35 back from the winner of the day, and reigning World Cup distance champion, Therese Johaug! Sadie Maubet-Bjornsen was hot on Diggin’s tail, 1.6 seconds behind in 5th. Rosie Brennan also cracked into the top ten finishing in 9th place. Minnesota native, and first time period 1 starter, Rosie Frankowski, was 22nd and Caitlin Patterson wrapped up the team USA starters in 23rd, less than one second behind Frankowski. Bourne of team OBOS finished in 64th place. The podium in the women’s race was lead by World Champion Johaug, who is continuing her dominance in the distance races by beating teammate Heidi Weng by over a minute. Weng raced to second and Helene Fossesholm of Norway finished in 3rd. The men’s classic race was dominated by Norwegians with Didrik Tønseth just ahead of Johannes Klæbo in second and Simen Krüger in third. The men’s field might be one of the strongest ever this season and the overall title will come down to the wire between a handful of individuals. The US distance skiers got their chance at the first race of the season and David Norris took advantage to lead the team in 36th, Erik Bjornsen finished in 54th, Eden Prairie native Kyle Bratrud was 73rd, and rounding out the US field was Scott Patterson in 94th.
Sunday was the last races of the weekend and the final preseason events in Beitostolen, Norway. The men’s field was swept again by Norway with Simen Krüger leading the way followed by Martin Nyenget and Hans Holund. Norris had a strong first weekend and again lead the US men with a 34th place finish, only 1:27 back from the leaders. US skiers Patterson and Hamilton were able to finish 48th and 51st respectively, with Bratrud finishing in 60th.
- Nov 22 Freestyle 10K, 15K individual start
- Nov 23 Classic 10K, 15K individual start'
- Nov 24 Classic sprints
Beitostolen wasn’t the only preseason racing to take place last weekend. There was also racing in Gällivare, Sweden where the Polish, Swiss, Canadian, and the Swedish teams competed. The first races were a freestyle 15km race for the men and a 10km for the women. Jens Burnman of Sweden led the way with Johan Haeggstroem of Sweden only 15 seconds back and Dario Cologna, Switzerland, returned to the podium to start the season in third only 17 seconds out of the win. Russell Kennedy led the Canadians in 17th, only 1:41 behind Jens. On the women’s side Sweden’s Frida Karlsson and Charlotte Kalla duked it out with the up incoming superstar Karlsson inching out Olympic champion Kalla by six seconds. Moa Lundgren rounded out the top three for a Swedish sweep in the women’s field.
In Saturday's classic races, Cologna came storming through to take the victory away from Burnamn who finished in second 17 seconds behind and Daniel Rickardsson rounded out the top three. Cologna appears to be back to form and could make a run at the distance title in the men’s field again this year. Graham Nishikawa led the Canadian skiers with a 30th overall finish. Karlsson was able to win again on Saturday walking away with a 40 second victory over teammate Jonna Sundling with Kala completing the podium for another Sweden sweep of the women’s field. Karlsson, like Cologna, is looking strong and she could be a challenge for reigning champion Therese Johaug.
The penultimate day in Gällivare was classic sprint races -- and with sprint racing you never know what might happen. Sweden was able to take the qualifications and the Swedish women put five women into the finals. Nadine Fahndrich, a Swiss skier, was the outlier looking in. In the first downhill of the race Moa Lundgren and Linn Svahn got tied up with each other taking out themselves along with their three other teammates leaving Fähndrich as the only one standing. Fähndrich cruised to an easy victory where Linn Svahn managed to reach 2nd place and Jonna Sundling grabbed the last podium spot. The men’s race was even more exciting and came down to the final 100m, as Olof Jonsson was able to ski away from the field. Martin Bergstroem followed in 2nd and Johan Haeggstroem topped off the podium.
World Cup Ruka
Racing will resume next weekend when the World Cup starts in Ruka, Finland on Friday, November 29th - Sunday, December 1st. Here is a list of events this coming weekend:
- Nov 29 Classic sprints - heats 5:30 am CST
- Nov 30 Classic 10K, 15K individual start - women 2:45 am CST, men 4:30 am CST
- Dec 1 Freestyle 10K, 15K pursuit start - women 3:10 am CST, men 4:25 am CST
The course is very difficult this weekend and the winners will come from who can climb the fastest and have enough in the tank to recover. The sprint race will come down to the last uphill climb, which is an A-Climb, with 35m of elevation gain in 200m. Expect to see the “Klæbo Shuffle” out of the men AND the women this year on that final sprint to the finish. In the distance races the athletes who can recover the best will land on top of the podium. The course is similar to Lillehammer in the fact that there are a lot of climbs and very little rest in between them. Those that can pace and manage their heart rate will have a lot of success this weekend.
There are 14 individuals at the races currently and it is expected that everyone will be racing at least once this coming weekend if healthy. The team is as follows:
About the author...
Chris Hecker is a Rex Wax representative and wax technician working on the World Cup this season for both cross-country and biathlon events. Hecker hails from Ham Lake, Minnesota, racing for Anoka high school and St. Scholastica College. Hecker will be providing regular updates on the World Cup racing scene this season. Chris can be reached at: