Saturday morning in Seeley, Wisconsin, saw the latest iteration of striding vs. doublepoling play out in the men’s race of the Seeley Hills Classic, a 32-kilometer, single-lap classic race on the Birkie trails that began the final weekend of Period 2 domestic SuperTour racing.
Peter Wolter of Sun Valley took the win, hitting the sweet spot of firm kick but also fast glide on his classic skis to open up a gap on some uphills in the race’s final few kilometers, which he was able to keep, barely, till the end, crossing the finish in a final time of 1:25:22. Zanden McMullen and Garrett Butts of APU, who like all APU athletes in the race doublepoled the entire course, finished behind him to round out the podium — but not particularly far behind.
Indeed, in this race, in these conditions, striding proved to be three seconds faster than doublepoling over 32 kilometers, as McMullen’s final time was 1:25:25. (Butts was another nine seconds back for third.) Tellingly, the race has “Hills” in its name, and 801 meters of total climb on the course; this wasn’t a Ski Classics doublepole fest for the entire field. And, again, Wolter won the race on classic skis. But the margins were pretty small out there today.
The men’s race started at 9 a.m. out of the OO Trailhead (aka Kortelopet Stadium) in Seeley. Local John Bauer described snow conditions as “Overnight low of 13, high of 30. Snow is hardpacked, icy and glazing due to several wet snowfalls. Track should be firm.” in an official wax rec for the Seeley Hills citizens race that started later that morning and covered much of the same course.
The field was of high quality at the top, but also thin, with only 55 men starting the SuperTour race, including a total of 10 from pro ski teams Sun Valley, Bridger, APU, and Team Birkie. Pro skiers took eight of the top nine spots.
Let me turn it over to the athletes to tell the story of what happened next out on course (all comments here are via writing to Nordic Insights; thanks to all the athletes for their time):
Here’s Wolter from Sun Valley:
“We had a group of 6-8 for the first 10k, but then I tried to make a move and was able to drop everyone until Zanden and Garrett closed again. [I] skied with them to 20k, tried to make another move, got some space but they closed it again and then I skied with them until like 3k to go and then put some work into them on the hills because I was striding and they were [doublepole] on skate skis. It’s a downhill finish of about 500m so I was anxious to make enough distance on the last uphill that they wouldn’t close there and sure enough it worked!”
Wolter had raced McMullen head-to-head in the 20km classic at U.S. Nationals a week prior, coming away with a well-earned wooden medal for his efforts in Houghton. He was asked if he learned anything from that race that helped him today.
“I knew Zanden and I skied pretty similarly at the 20k,” Wolter wrote, “but knew that he’d probably have me in a final sprint so wanted to create distance early.”
Wolter added, “The race course was awesome. Super fun.”
Turning to the APU doublepole juggernaut, here’s McMullen on how the race shook out:
“So myself and the other APU boys were the only ones who decided to doublepole the whole race (going on skate skis). Which I still think was the best move for myself after testing classic skis. However, Peter and some of the BSF boys had very fast classic skis that were on par for speed with our skate skis so we were kind of sitting at a disadvantage.
“Peter spread the group out on a long climb about 10km in and after some good downhills and flats Garrett and myself caught back up leaving the BSF boys behind. From there Garrett and I stuck behind Peter dropping off on the climbs and catching back up on the flats and downhills. About 16-18km (ish-not sure exactly), Peter made another big move on a looooong climb and dropped G and I by some ways. It took us a couple km to catch back up. After that the trail was pretty rolling so he wasn’t able to drop us until the final 3 km where there were some big climbs. I did my best to stay with Peter but my arms and back were toast after 30km of doublepoling.
“The last km however I was able to make back up a lot of ground on Peter but he still was able to hold me off.”
McMullen didn’t second-guess his choice to go on skate skis, but was understandably regretful that he didn’t gain more of an advantage over Wolter and his classic skis:
“I’m confident that I made the right choice overall in the field to doublepole but in regards to just Peter (who had great skis) it would have been nice to have kick on the last few climbs in the race and not lose so much ground. In regards to how much doublepoling? Well for me… 100% haha. But Peter certainly did his fair share of doublepoling as well.”
McMullen added, “Also the track had some wind-blown snow in it which made it quite slow on the far end of the course. Therefore trying to drop Peter on the flats wasn’t going to happen if he could sit behind me as I break trail. So from 18km-29km we stayed together and took turns skiing up front.”
And finally, here’s McMullen’s teammate, Garrett Butts. While a SuperTour podium should never be taken for granted by any athlete, Wolter and McMullen have both climbed that podium before. Butts, by contrast, had finished sixth, seventh, and thirteenth in his three best SuperTour races coming into today, all in Sun Valley in Period 1 of this year.
“The pace was honest from the start and settled down a few k in with a group of 10 or so of us skiing together,” Butts wrote.
“Sometime around the 10ish km mark, the longest stride-able section, Peter injected some pace opening a gap on the on the field with Zanden and I making our way off the front of the bunch as well. Eventually we brought Peter back and the three of us skid together for the rest of the race more or less. On the last major climb which was probably about 3km to go Peter was able to gap Zanden and I. From there we were just trying to claw him back but ran out of real estate.”
“It’s hard to look past the podium result,” was Butts’s candid answer when asked about highlights on the day. “First SuperTour podium is a nice notch in the belt. I’d also say I was happy with the doublepoling. I’ve never doublepoled a race before let alone a 30k, so that in itself was a good experience.”
The SuperTour podium, and prize money, go six deep. Logan Diekmann led in a BSF trio of men to take the final three podium spots, all roughly three minutes behind the overall race winner. Diekmann was fourth in 1:27:24, Reid Goble fifth (1:27:27), and Graham Houtsma sixth (1:27:32). “4th place today felt like a win,” Diekmann wrote on Instagram later.
SuperTour racing continues tomorrow morning with a classic sprint at the main Birkie trailhead, then resumes a month-plus from now with another Midwest sojourn, including a skate sprint and 20km classic mass start at Wirth Park in Minneapolis on the weekend of February 18, then a small, low-key race called the American Birkebeiner on February 25.
Results (men start on PDF page 2)
— Gavin Kentch
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