Last weekend saw a series of three rollerski races at Trollhättan Action Week, in and around Trollhättan in southwestern Sweden. There was a skate sprint on Friday, a 48-kilometer mass start classic race on Saturday, and an interval-start 15km classic race to wrap things up on Sunday.
Thirteen American athletes competed, including two women and roughly half the men currently on the U.S. Ski Team. The big winner for the Americans on the weekend was Rosie Brennan, who was first and third in the final two races. Other notable finishes included Ben Ogden, Luke Jager, and Gus Schumacher, who all advanced to the semifinals in the skate sprint, and Jager’s ninth in the 15km classic.
I know that these races happened several days ago by now; sorry. This reporter was traveling over the weekend to contest a trail run in a monsoon, then was traveling again earlier this week to find a remnant patch of late-August snow in order to perpetuate a multi-year streak of skiing on real snow every month on nordic skis. This reporter is clearly very cool, at least so long as you didn’t see footage of him slipping back and forth on dirty ice-snow long enough to rack up the requisite one kilometer worth of August skiing.
Better late than never, please enjoy this roundup of roughly half the U.S. Ski Team throwing down in Trollhättan last weekend.
Skate sprint: Ben Ogden wins qualifier, finishes 7th overall on the day; Rosie Brennan leads American women in 10th
Friday afternoon brought a 1.3-kilometer skate sprint through the streets of Trollhättan. The course, situated on the banks of Trollhätte Canal in the center of town, saw more elevation change than many urban rollerski courses, notably what I unofficially calculate as a 40-meter A-climb over the final 400 meters.
One Ben Ogden of the U.S. Ski Team flashed his speed to set the pace in the qualifying round. Ogden not only had the day’s fastest time in the qual, he was a full 1.20 seconds ahead of second, Emil Danielsson of Sweden. For perspective, Danielsson was less than seven seconds ahead of the 30th and final place in qualifying.
A total of eleven American men raced on Friday; nearly half of them made the heats. Ogden was joined in the rounds by Gus Schumacher, who qualified in 7th; Zak Ketterson, who was 14th; JC Schoonmaker, who was 18th; and Luke Jager, who was 20th.
Left outside of the heats looking in were Zanden McMullen (32nd in qualifying), Brian Bushey (37th), John Steel Hagenbuch (39th), Will Koch (53rd), Logan Diekmann (58th), and Walker Hall (60th).
Ogden and Schumacher also fared the best in the heats. Ogden was second in his quarterfinal, and Schumacher third in his but in a fast time, to, ultimately, both advance to the first semifinal. Both men’s day ended there, as Ogden was third in that heat and Schumacher fourth. The winning time in semifinal no. 1, a tactical affair, was the slowest on the day, and over five seconds behind the mark set in semifinal no. 2; both lucky losers came out of the second semifinal, and neither man advanced out of the first.
Ogden ultimately finished seventh on the day, and Schumacher eighth. Also making the semifinals was Luke Jager, who finished sixth in that first semifinal to end the day in twelfth overall. (Jager was all of 0.40 seconds back of Ogden, and a single hundredth of a second back of placing tenth overall on the day; the margins were tight out there.)
Ketterson and Schoonmaker both came in fourth in their quarterfinals and did not advance. They finished 17th and 19th overall, respectively.
Ahead of them, Richard Jouve of France, Sprint Globe winner for the 2021/2022 World Cup season, squeaked into the heats in just 27th, but won everything after that en route to the overall victory. He won his quarterfinal, won the first semifinal over the three Americans, and then won the final as well. Anton Grahn of Sweden, a rising talent who won the classic sprint at this year’s World Juniors in Whistler, took second. Lucas Chanavat of France, who was second and third in the sprint standings in the last two World Cup seasons, was third.
There are only nine women currently on the U.S. Ski Team, as against 14 men, and three of those nine (Jessie Diggins, Julia Kern, and Sydney Palmer-Leger) are currently down in New Zealand on snow at the Snow Farm. Two of the other six, Rosie Brennan and Novie McCabe, were in Trollhättan for the weekend’s races.
Brennan had herself a weekend. She was 10th in the qual on Friday, 10.30 seconds behind Moa Hansson of Sweden after likely skiing at less than full strength in a 33-athlete field where only three women did not advance. Brennan was second in the day’s first quarterfinal, behind only Hansson and over a half-second up on third, to advance to the first semifinal. Brennan finished fifth in that heat to end her day in 10th overall. It would be her lowest finish of the weekend by far.
McCabe was close behind in qualifying, finishing 14th there. She would place third in her quarterfinal. Her final placing on the day was 13th, as high as possible without making the semis.
Although Hansson set the pace in the qual, the rest of the day was all Emma Ribom. The local hero was third in qualifying, then made the gutsy choice of the fifth and last quarterfinal (i.e., the heat that provides the least rest before the semifinal round). She won that by more than a second over Victoria Carl of Germany, then led the way in her semifinal as well, taking that heat by 0.31 seconds over Carl once more. That was her last real challenge on the day, as Ribom placed first in the final by a healthy 1.3 seconds over Hansson, which is like 1.3 minutes in a non-sprint context. Ella Olsson, who made her first two World Cup starts this spring, was third to round out the all-Sweden podium.
Classic mass start: Rosie Brennan hits the podium in third; Luke Jager leads American men in 45th
Saturday afternoon brought a 48-kilometer mass start classic race over three laps of a 16km course. The inclusion of a thousand-plus citizen racers in an earlier start makes the Alliansloppet traditionally the world’s largest rollerski race.
There were also 202 male and 49 female finishers in the elite race, which are not small numbers. Elite athletes all raced on matched Swenor rollerskis with no. 3 wheels.
It was raining. “Swenor 3,” Czech skier Kateřina Janatová wrote on Strava of the wheel speed of the officially provided rollerskis. “But with all the water I thought it was [the slower speed of] 4 🥲.”
The front of the race saw Norwegian marathon maestro Astrid Øyre Slind, for not the first time in the past few seasons, break away from a chase pack well before the finish line and solo in for the win. This time she did so shortly into the second lap; Slind was not threatened over the remaining 30km, taking the win, and 50,000 Swedish kronor (about $4,600 dollars), in 2:12:11.
Roughly three minutes behind her, Rosie Brennan approached the finish in a five-women pack vying for the final two podium spots. Brennan would lose out on second to Anikken Gjerde Alnæs of Norway by 0.6 seconds, but took third, over Johanna Hagström of Sweden, by 0.3 seconds. Brennan earned 10,000 SEK, around $900 dollars, for her efforts.
Even judging from the dry results sheet alone the men’s race seems to have been chaos; I see the top 15 men all finishing within less than 10 seconds after nearly two hours of racing, and the top 23 all within a minute out. That’s a lot of close-quarters racing on wet pavement with squirrelly wheels.
Here’s the inimitable John Steel Hagenbuch’s take on the day, per his public Strava account:
Zak Ketterson also had thoughts on the experience:
And JC Schoonmaker sounded briefer, more elegiac tones, writing simply, “RIP to the ski classics dream after getting stomped @trollhattanactionweek this weekend.”
Turning to actual results, Luke Jager was the fastest among the eight American men who finished the race, crossing the line in 1:57:17 for 45th overall (4:03 back of winner Thomas Joly of France). He was closely followed by Schoonmaker in 48th (+4:31) and Hagenbuch in 53rd (+5:48).
Other Americans in the race were Zak Ketterson (68th, +7:46), Gus Schumacher (80th, +9:43), Brian Bushey (83rd, +9:59), Zanden McMullen (101st, +12:07) and Will Koch (105th, +13:41).
At the front of the race, Thomas Joly took the victory in 1:53:14.6. He gained a last-minute separation over Petter Stakston in second (+2.7) and Mathias Rolid in third (+3.0), both of Norway.
As an English-language nordic ski journalist I am required to note that Petter Northug was in the race. He finished 23rd, 55 seconds out. Northug is currently 37 years old.
Interval-start classic: Rosie Brennan moves up to first to take the win, Jager once more top American male in ninth
Finally, Sunday afternoon brought a 15-kilometer interval-start classic race to close out the weekend. The race covered two laps of a 7.5-kilometer course, each with 213 meters of total climb. This is 28.4 meters of climb per kilometer, which is still below the standard range for a homologated course on snow (32 to 40 m/km), but is also not nothing. For those readers who have raced in Houghton, either at this year’s U.S. Nationals or at some point before that, the 5km FIS course there has 29.4 meters of climb per kilometer.
After two laps around the course, the fastest time of 49 female starters belonged to… Rosie Brennan. She was the penultimate starter on the day, giving her the benefit of splits relative to her competitors as she went around the course. 4.2km into the race she was in second, roughly eight seconds back of Katharina Hennig of Germany; she was still in second by the halfway mark, 7.5km in, though by this point the gap back to Hennig was down to 1.3 seconds.
By midway through lap two, at the 11.7km mark, Brennan was now 4.3 seconds up on the German. And she ably closed out the course from there, putting 10 more seconds on Hennig over the final three kilometers.
Brennan’s winning time was 38:48.0. Hennig ultimately finished 14.8 seconds back for second, with Johanna Hagström of Sweden placing third (+33.3).
The other American woman in the race, Novie McCabe, was the day’s final starter. She finished 32nd (+4:07.8), after hovering around 33rd or 34th at most intermediate splits.
Brennan took home another 10,000 Swedish kronor for the victory.
The story of the day in the men’s race was Alvar Myhlback, the 17-year-old Swedish wunderkind who placed eighth in this year’s Vasaloppet. My go-to winter ski hat is older than him.
Myhlback won the men’s 15-kilometer interval-start classic race on Sunday. His winning time was 33:43.2. Second place went to Håvard Solås Taugbøl of Norway (+15.1), a man with a bronze world championships medal and five individual World Cup podiums, albeit all in sprinting. Third was Andrew Musgrave of Great Britain (+16.2), who has three World Cup podiums to his name.
Other names behind Myhlback on the results sheet included accomplished veterans Calle Halfvarsson and Max Novák. With the notable caveats that (a) this is rollerski racing (b) in August and (c) the results sort of just read like a proxy for doublepole prowess, this Alvar Myhlback seems like a good skier or something.
Luke Jager — speaking of strong doublepolers — again led the way for the American men, picking up the weekend’s top American male distance result in ninth (+1:00.1). Next up for the U.S. Ski Team were Zak Ketterson in 31st (+1:45.9) and Gus Schumacher in 33rd (+1:50.1). They were followed by John Steel Hagenbuch (47th, +2:05.7), Zanden McMullen (59th, +2:35.7), JC Schoonmaker (61st, +2:38.8), Will Koch (70th, +2:59.7), and Brian Bushey (79th, +3:18.7). Walker Hall and Ben Ogden did not start.
Following the weekend’s races, most of the Americans returned stateside to wrap up summer training, and/or to begin the school year for those athletes skiing for NCAA programs. Zak Ketterson continued his summer-long sojourn in Norway, where he is living and training with his fiancée, Julie Synnøve Ensrud. World Cup racing begins slightly less than three months from now in Ruka.
— Gavin Kentch