The World Cup starts in Finland a week from Friday, but there’s already high-level racing going off under the lights, and five hours of actual daylight, that characterize 68 degrees north latitude this time of year. Of interest to American readers, Sophia Laukli (USST/Team Aker Dæhlie) was third in a 10km interval-start skate race yesterday morning, while Alex Lawson’s 23rd in the 10km classic was the top finish on the weekend for the several-athlete-strong Craftsbury contingent that competed. Read on for more.
Friday: classic sprint
The first northern-hemisphere FIS race of the 2023/2024 winter — this is a factoid that I feel strongly about — was held in Muonio, in far northern Finland, on Friday morning. It was a 1.4-kilometer classic sprint. 93 men contested the qualifier. Federico Pellegrino, who has an Olympic silver medal in this discipline (classic sprint specifically, not just the skate sprint for which he is better known), was 10th in the qual. Pål Golberg (14 World Cup classic sprint podiums) was 9th, and Even Northug (only one classic sprint podium, but also third in the Sprint Cup last year) 8th. It was not a shallow field in any sense of the term.
Erik Valnes had the fastest mark in the qual, by the way, a heady 2.30 seconds up on Juuso Haarala, a man who has been grinding on the World Cup for six years now and has “only” some sprint finishes in the 20s to show for it. Tough crowd out there.
Valnes ultimately won the men’s final. Mattis Stenshagen was second, with Lauri Vuorinen third. Northug was fourth, Gjøran Tefre fifth, and Harald Østberg Amundsen sixth. Vuorinen is from Finland; the rest of the final is Norwegian.
The women’s field was somewhat smaller; there were 50 starters in the qual. Anne Kyllönen, who turns 36 later this month and made her World Cup debut in 2007 — she raced then against Petra Majdič and Justyna Kowalczyk and Steffi Böhler, if that gives you a sense of her vintage — won the qual.
Youth triumphed over experience in the heats; Kyllönen went out in the semis to finish eighth overall on the day. The final was won by Pia Fink of Germany, over Anna Svendnsen and Ingrid Gulbrandsen of Norway. Victoria Carl (Germany), Caterina Ganz (Italy), and Coletta Rydzek (Germany) made up the rest of the final.
Three American women, all representing Craftsbury Green Racing Project, raced. All three made the heats, then went out in their quarterfinal. Margie Freed placed 24th on the day, Michaela Keller-Miller 29th, and Alex Lawson 30th.
Joe Lynch and John Schwinghamer, both of Craftsbury, were 66th and 80th in qualifying.
Saturday: 10km interval-start classic
Saturday brought the season’s first distance race, a 10km classic. Katharina Hennig of Germany, an athlete who has seen seven of her eight World Cup podiums come in distance classic races, took the win. Laura Gimmler (also of Germany), who is known more of a sprinter but who has also finished fourth in a World Cup 10km mass start classic, was second. Ganz of Italy was third.
Two of the Craftsbury women raced Saturday. Lawson was 23rd (+2:57.2) and Freed 26th (+3:03.5).
Iivo Niskanen won the men’s race, which, dude still had to get out there and execute (and he sadly had a rough season, by his lofty standards, last year; the Covid and the newborn could not have helped his energy levels), but also Iivo Niskanen winning a 10-kilometer interval-start classic race at home in Finland is rather a dog-bites-man level of headline. The man is very good at classic skiing, and is probably the best man of his generation at classic skiing in this particular format.
Stenshagen and Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget, both of Norway, were second and third, 24.2 and 25.4 seconds back, respectively.
Braden Becker and Schwinghamer, both of Craftsbury, finished 76th (+3:20.4) and 98th (+4:21.0) in the field of 136.
Sunday: 10km interval-start skate
Weekend racing concluded in Muonio on Sunday with a skate race, once more 10km interval-start. The 30-somethings from Saturday’s classic podium gave way to a trio of Gen Z skiers: first-place Friedrich Moch, second-place Anian Sossau, and third-place Davide Graz were all born in 2000. The hat I wore while skiing yesterday is older than anyone on the podium.
Moch and Sossau are from Germany. Graz is from Italy.
Finn Hågen Krogh (Norway) and Federico Pellegrino (Italy), both born in 1990 and so firmly millennials, were fourth and fifth.
For the Americans, Becker moved up to a strong 40th on Sunday (+1:28.1). Lynch was 91st (+4:09.4). 106 men raced. (And lest you think that’s shade at Lynch, 91st in a season-opening race in Finland is good for 169 FIS points. Many accomplished World Cup athletes have fared far worse at some point in their careers.)
The women’s skate race, also a 10km, brought some familiar names at the top. Victoria Carl of Germany took the win. Eva Urevc of Slovenia was second (+33.4). Sophia Laukli of the U.S. was close behind in third (+33.4).
Urevc started only the sprint and the team sprint in the Beijing Olympics, and all three of her World Cup podiums have come in the team sprint with Anamarija Lampič, back when Lampič was a skier and hadn’t left for biathlon. Urevc also has a bronze in that discipline from Oberstdorf World Champs in 2021, also with Lampič. That said, she has finished as high as 20th in a World Champs distance race (10km skate, Planica), and as high as 9th in World Cup distance races.
Carl and Laukli are both, like, good distance skiers.
Also in the field for the American women, Keller-Miller was 29th (+2:19.3), and Lawson 39th (+3:13.0).
Closer to home, the APU Elite Team held some form of sprint time trial at Kincaid on Sunday morning. (Yes those are race skis. It has snowed roughly three feet in Alaska’s largest city in the past week, giving Los Anchorage what I strongly suspect is the best skiing on the continent at present. No one has attended in-person school since Wednesday and all parents are going crazy, but at least the trails are groomed.)
Time trial results are not available. Above is a photo. Below is a Strava post from the morning.
FIS racing continues on Friday in Beitostølen, the traditional Norwegian team-selection races with hellishly deep fields. What I believe will be this country’s first ski race is scheduled for Fairbanks on Saturday, a mass start skate race.
— Gavin Kentch