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Nationals Notes: Friday Brings Maiden Voyage for New Kincaid Sprint Course

Throwback Thursday: Erik Soederstroem (UAF) glides across the line with teammate Tyler Kornfield (UAF) outlunging Mike Hinckley (APU/Rossignol) for second in the classic sprint final at 2010 U.S. nationals at Kincaid.

By Gavin Kentch

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Wednesday saw the first races of the 2018 U.S. Cross Country Championships, the 10- and 15-kilometer freestyle interval starts. Friday brings the first sprint day, with qualification for the skate sprint going off at 10 a.m. local time, slightly before the sun officially rises at 10:10 a.m. (Welcome to Anchorage in January.)

To help you get ready for sprinting, here’s U.S. nationals chief of competition and longtime Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) operator/groomer Matt Pauli with some thoughts on the theory and practice of sprint course design and operation, and what athletes can expect to see on the new-and-improved Kincaid sprint course. Hint: Advances in classic skiing technology in the past decade have something to do with it.

(FasterSkier spoke with Pauli in-person in early December, sitting in a wood-paneled Pipeline-era ATCO trailer nestled near the NSAA Operations Bunker just up the hill from the Kincaid Stadium. This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.)

FasterSkier: So let’s start at the beginning. When was the first sprint race at Kincaid?

Matt Pauli: Actually and formally, at 1999 JNs [Junior Nationals], they initiated the first prologue, which was a short event, but not quite a sprint. I think Rob Whitney was racing then; I think he cleaned up that day. But the way the sprint rules evolved, you started seeing them in early World Championships in ’99, probably 2001, and then the first Olympics in 2002. So it evolved from there.

FS: So it’s the Kikkan Era, basically.

MP: It’s that, and maybe it’s a specialization era, too. I think that’s what I notice. … It’s just evolving, the way I think the sport has always evolved.

FS: Can you tell us about the history of the sprint loop at Kincaid?

MP: You look at [the hill to the immediate northeast edge of the main Kincaid Stadium] – some people call it the Junior Nordic Hill, I call it the Play Hill, and I think it’s more or less going to be taking the name of the Gong Hill – that all used to be trees. The only trail going through it was Margaux’s Loop. And that was it.

So I think Bill Spencer was in a little bit on clearing, and what we can do with that area. I think also Ben Powell, Mike Miller, me to a lesser extent. Then shortly after that we started getting the snowmaking, and those types of things. I can’t put an exact date on when the area was cleared out, but certainly it had to be in 2005, 2006, because that’s when the first piping started going up there for snowmaking. That was the vision, to go up that way.

FS: When you say, “Let’s design a sprint loop,” I’m taking it as a given that you pretty much have to start from the stadium, because that’s where all the infrastructure is. Taking that as your starting variable, what else do you think about in setting up the sprint loop?

MP: Certainly for the athletes, [you think about] technical challenge, testing all the different techniques, turning techniques, ascending, descending. Providing areas where athletes can overtake each other. Ensuring that it’s a sprint loop that falls within a time frame that it doesn’t become a distance course.

What I’ve heard, and information passed on to me, and just what I’ve observed when I’ve got to serve on juries at World Cups and such, is you’re looking at 3 to 3 1/2 minutes [time for an athlete to ski the sprint course]. And that way it gives the spectators something to see, it gives the athletes good recovery time before the next heat, and it keeps the competition, particularly World Cup, World Championships, anything that’s televised, within a certain time period. Spectator-friendly – they’ve got to see it. That’s the whole reason, I think, behind it. Another big reason is that you want to be close to the spectators, you want people to see the competition.

There’s probably a myriad of other things that you can throw in there for homologation, but the general theory is: competitiveness, fair, safe, spectator appeal, and in some instances TV appeal, too.

The old sprint course at Kincaid, used from the late 2000s through last season. The largest climb, of 17 meters vertical gain, comes in the course’s first climb starting at around the 200-meter mark, with smaller rolling hills following. (Screenshot: 2017 Seawolf Invitational race program)

FS: So that was the first sprint loop, and we all skied on it for a decade or so, and there were two national championships held on it (in 2009 and 2010). So, did it work? Was it a course that did the things you just described?

MP: I think it worked, up until getting some comments last year about double poling. And deep back in my mind, I already knew that, just from every fall I used to attend the FIS meeting in Zurich, just to get an idea. And I remember last fall, 2016, the FIS hierarchy, Vegard Ulvang, just producing all these videos of youngsters starting to double pole just about everything, and how classic technique “needs to be preserved.”

And knowing that here at Kincaid we just have – we’re a nonprofit, in a public park, you just can’t do what you want. It has to be feasible, and it has to meet whatever plan they have for the park, as well. So I knew right away that I wasn’t going to be cutting new trails. I might be working on some trees – or, as we like to call them, “shrubs” – to make it a better course, make it a safer course when you throw the safety aspect in there.

The whole aspect is that we’re not going to be doing wholesale trail work. So I think, from the Zurich meetings, and knowing that watching [the classic sprint at] Besh Cup last year, watching actually Besh Cups throughout the last three or four years, watching college races that decide to run a sprint – I never thought our sprint course was a bad course, ’cause I got anecdotal good feedback saying, “Hey, this is really spectator-friendly.” … I think for the most part, our sprint loop is pretty much visible during the competition.

FS: If the course works well, why change it? Is it safe to say this is largely responsive to changes in classic skiing over the past decade?

MP: Yeah, that has a pretty significant bearing on it.

The new sprint course at Kincaid, to be officially used for the first time on Friday morning, Jan. 4. The largest climb is now 24 vertical meters, and occurs after 750 meters, roughly the midway point of the course. (Screenshot: U.S. nationals course maps page)

FS: Let’s talk about the new course. Can you just walk me through what it looks like, and what it’s designed to do, and how it came to be?

MP: Now, the climbs that are associated with this one, I met with [USST Development Coach] Bryan Fish and [U.S. Ski & Snowboard nordic domestic program director] Robert Lazzaroni, they passed through on their way home after Spring Nationals [in April 2017]. … I said, “This is what I think would work pretty well.” And that meant starting higher up on the plain [in the central stadium area] by the Lekisch tunnels, and cutting up in front of the Gong Hill, toward the Bunker Tunnel. And then dropping down to what we call the low point, or the Frog Pond.

And then climbing out of there again – that climb sets it up that, number one, I’m trying to limit double poling the entire thing. Throwing that dogleg in there for the final, you take that left-hand turn and you still have to climb to the top, you’re going to lose all your momentum there in a double pole. And there’s no way, on some of those 17 to 19 percent grades, you’re going to be able to pick up that momentum. Certainly you can herringbone up it, that’s a diagonal technique. But I think from a standpoint of pushing your way up it in a double pole – maybe in another couple of years. (laughs) It’s only going to evolve. But that’s, I think, one of the main reasons to switch things around.

 

It still follows the same line of coming back off the top, the men going behind and the women coming across what I call the Saddle, where the gong is, and then dropping down back into the north end of the stadium. And doing a really good 180 at the bottom. There’s a big arc right there. It’s wide, it’s not off-camber. There’s some narrow bits coming back into the main race trail, where the old sprint loop used to finish. But once you get there … if that’s a chokepoint, if we have to widen in regards to snow or what you have to.

But it just follows the regular path in. Which is a good finish from the standpoint of, you know, you have a 1.5, 2 percent [uphill] grade to the finish [on the final straightaway through the stadium to the finish line, visible in the background of the top photo in this article].

And you know, I would like to see 3 percent, actually. But I’ve been in stadiums at championship venues that had 5 percent. I think that, for having a 100-meter straight stretch, it just so happened to work out. And certainly the grade’s kind of changed with the artificial snow on top, when we push that out – but at the same time, we still keep the original finish zone [in front of the timing building].

FS: Is it quote-unquote “good” or “bad” that you have to change the course like this to react to changes in classic skiing, or just neutral?

MP: I think it’s neutral. Certainly any time you go through a homologation, there’s a cost involved. I have to get an inspector out here, and … that’s a $600 fee. And each certificate application, each certificate, has a fee. So there’s always those costs that can be borne by the event, borne by the Organizing Committee. I’m not getting paid, but I still gotta collect the data. And then at that point it becomes time. Because I have to – I’m not a map guy, so I go to my friends at CRW Engineering, and I can bug the hell out of them, and they go, “Oh, I’ll put someone right on it.” So there’s certainly people’s time involved.

FS: We’ve talked about changes in classic skiing over the past ten years, and why that was a main reason for changing around the sprint course. This is getting sort of inside baseball, but are there different considerations for a skate sprint than a classic sprint? Would there be anything stopping you from running two different sprint courses in one championships?

MP: The parameters for a freestyle sprint are more liberal, because we know we’re not going to be doublepoling. So that’s why you see city sprints, that’s why you see – you can basically have a freestyle sprint on a flat course, because the parameters say so. As the [homologation standard] tables indicate, there are some differences in what we would look at for classic and freestyle.

For right now, it’s just convenience. I would gladly go back to the old sprint for the freestyle. But then it means that the teams and the athletes are going to lose a ski depot. Because that’s what I designed at that south end of the stadium by the Lekisch tunnel – none of the courses go over that anymore, unless of course we’re going [on a snowmaking loop for all races]. But it’s an area where athletes, coaches, and technicians can set up their ski depot for testing skis, switching out skis, because it has direct access to the waxing areas. So that’s the main reason we’re using the same course.

Now the coaches agreed, down at the [USSA] Congress last spring, that since the freestyle sprint is first, I’m not going to have the opportunity – they’re not going to have an opportunity for training on a classic sprint course. Because the freestyle sprint is the second event, and the classic mass is the race after that. [And the classic sprint is the day immediately after that.] And I pointed that out, and apparently we can live with that. From my standpoint, I have a hard time living with that, because I haven’t had the opportunity to dial in. So, we’re going to do our best. … I just want to ensure that the course is safe, and as dialed in as I can.

*   *   *

The sprints start Friday morning with the qualification round from 10–11:30 a.m. Alaska time. The heats are scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m. The heats for the junior races are scheduled to begin in the mid-afternoon, following the flower ceremonies for the senior races.

 

FasterSkier updates:

http://fasterskier.com/

http://twitter.com/fasterskier

https://www.instagram.com/fasterskier/

 

Start lists and results:

http://www.superiortiming.com/2018/01/2018-u-s-cross-country-ski-championships/

 

Live-streaming:

http://www.facebook.com/usskiandsnowboard/

http://www.facebook.com/xcusnats2018/

(should be the same feed, hosted in two different places)

 

General news and updates:

https://www.anchoragenordicski.com/nationals18/

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The Pre-Race Scene at Senior Nationals

 

The men's freestyle sprint final at last year's U.S. nationals in Houghton, Michigan.

The men’s freestyle sprint final at last year’s U.S. nationals in Houghton, Michigan.

SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah.–Conditions on the ground at Soldier Hollow (SoHo)? Cold.

Sipping an espresso in Deer Valley and checking weather temps in SoHo about 20 miles south, the temps on the phone read -12 degrees fahrenheit at 9:30 a.m. in Midway, Utah —  Midway is located only a few miles from the SoHo race venue. On his blog, Zach Caldwell said it was -18 degrees when he began testing. Cold.  

Throughout the day, snow guns blasted creating a mix of man-made snow to go along with the recent natural snow.

The course for tomorrow’s distance races, a women’s 10-kilometer freestyle and men’s 15 k skate, is stout; steep punchy climbs, a long grueling uphill, and little rest or recovery to balance the lactate loads. Although not the same 5 k loop to be raced during World Juniors contested from Jan. 28 – Feb 5, 2017 at SoHo, Saturday’s distance course meets international racing standards.

For veteran U.S. nationals athletes, like Jennie Bender of the Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF), the chance to race a new course, but familiar venue is warmly welcomed.

“I’m excited that I’ve been feeling good with my distance skiing so, I’m looking forward to tomorrow as well as the classic sprint,” Bender said to FasterSkier on Friday. “This is a big week for all of us and I’m excited to be back in Soldier Hollow.”

Nineteen year-old Stratton Mountain School skier Katharine Ogden is in SoHo not for World Junior qualification, she’s pre-qualified, but for some race strategy reinforcement.

“For this series I don’t have too many concrete goals because I auto-qualified for World Juniors, Ogden told FasterSkier in Soldier Hollow on Friday. “Now it is more getting the hang of racing here and trying to have some sweet races, but there is not much riding on it for me.”

Although the pressure may be dialed back a degree for the former Junior Worlds participant, Ogden said she still has some task at hand. “I think what I will work on will be trying to dial in the pacing and know how to get close to the redline, but not blow up,” Ogden added. “I’ll be  practicing that, which is much harder here than at home at sea level.”

Soldier Hollow’s top point sits a few hundred feet shy of 6,000 feet.

U.S. Ski Team (USST) development coach, Bryan Fish is attending Senior Nationals as both a USST representative here to calculate points for potential World Junior, U-23 Worlds, and World Championship qualifiers, as well serving as a race juror. Part of his USST role is to shepherd skiers like Ogden who have pre-qualified. FasterSkier asked Fish, who works with Ogden on the U.S. Ski Team D-team, what advice he’ll be giving her.

“This is not just this week, the year and year after year is to always learn,” Fish said. “To learn and make sure what you are learning out there is pacing, we are racing at altitude. She typically has been a good altitude racer. But it is a different course and it takes some different pacing on some long climbs and that is one of her strengths. So one of the things that I will tell her to is make sure that she is appropriately pacing it, staying consistent, staying smooth and continuing to think in the mood set that this is one race, it is an important race, it is Nationals. But this is one step along the path way.”

Another coach here mentoring, inspiring and guiding athletes towards their season goals is Alaska Pacific University (APU) head coach, Erik Flora. While Ogden’s prequalification may take some pressure off her performances, for Flora’s athletes and many other competitors, much more is at stake. As Flora explained, the week may mean World Cup racing is on the horizon, or that it’s time to head home to hone in on training.

“In the U.S. this is a pretty good pivot point in the season,” Flora told FasterSkier in Soldier Hollow on Friday. “If someone races really well, they get to go on to [World] Championships. If they don’t, then it’s time to go home and start working…[towards] the next step.”

For many of Flora’s top athletes — including Chelsea Holmes, Scott Patterson, the Hanneman brothers, Reese and Logan, as well as junior skiers Thomas O’Harra, and Hunter Wonders — making teams, such as U-23s or World Juniors, rides on their results this week.

“I think just about every single [APU athlete here] is coming here trying to make a team,” Flora added. “A lot of the season is on the line.”

The women’s 10 k kicks-off at 9:00 a.m. MST sharp Saturday morning, while the men’s 15 k is scheduled to start at noon MST. Live timing will be provided for the event and may be found here.

–Jason Albert and Gabby Naranja

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Beatty, Freeman Excel in 15/30 k at Sovereign Lake NorAm

Freeman leads Somppi and Nishikawa on the fourth lap. (Photo: Gerry Furseth)

U.S. Olympian Kris Freeman leads Michael Somppi (second from r) and Graham Nishikawa (second from l) on the fourth of five laps in the men’s NorAm 30 k freestyle interval start on Saturday at Sovereign Lake. (Photo: Gerry Furseth)

By Gerry Furseth and Evan Girard

VERNON, British Columbia — American Kris Freeman (Team Freebird) continued his domination of the NorAm distance races with a convincing victory in Saturday’s 30-kilometer freestyle interval start. The event was moved from Whistler Olympic Park in Callaghan Valley, British Columbia, after a major storm wiped out the already low amount of snow. As with the sprints on Friday at Sovereign Lake in Vernon, B.C., significant snowfall and a good breeze kept things challenging.

After a cautious first lap where Freeman clocked the second-fastest lap time, he turned on the power and was fastest over each of the remaining five laps to finish with the eventual-winning time of 1:19:53.6.

“I had kept a little in reserve,” Freeman told FasterSkier. “And I think I skied really fast on the second lap and then I just took off from there.”

Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) skied the fastest time on the first lap in an attempt to catch Freeman, who started 30 seconds ahead of him. Gregg got within 15 seconds, but Freeman was able to reduce the deficit to 9 seconds by the end of the opening lap. Gregg had two slower laps recovering from his hard start yet was second-fastest on the final three laps to grab second, 1 minute, 31 seconds behind Freeman. Gregg’s family came to the race and his parents provided splits.

Michael Somppi (AWCA/NST D-team) and Brian McKeever (Canadian Para-Nordic Team) both used the aggressive-start tactic, with Somppi able to hold on for third place, 2:01 after Freeman, while McKeever faded to take fourth (+3:26.2).

Graham Nishikawa (Para-Nordic Team) used the race as training for guiding McKeever in international para-nordic World Cups and World Championships, collected fifth place (+3:32.8) only 6 seconds behind McKeever.


Dahria Beatty winning

Dahria Beatty leads Alysson Marshall, in the NorAm leader’s bib, into the finish to win the women’s NorAm 15 k freestyle interval start on Saturday. (Photo: Frances Weeks)

The wind dropped somewhat for the women’s individual start 15 k, but another 90 minutes of accumulated snowfall kept the pace slower than usual.

Dahria Beatty (AWCA/U23 team) took advantage of the conditions to win in 48:50.1. In her first-career 15 k interval start, she listened to her coach’s advice for the soft conditions.

“My coach said go out like it’s 10k,” the 20-year-old Beatty said. “I really focussed on weight shift on the hills and pushing over every crest.”

Brittany Webster (AWCA) captured second, 22.6 seconds behind, in her first race since being sidelined by a stress fracture in her foot.

Cendrine Browne (CNEPH/U23) broke up the World Cup Academy domination in third place, 38.6 seconds behind Beatty. Heidi Widmer (AWCA/NST D-team) took fourth (+45.2), while Alysson Marshall (AWCA/NST D-team), an admitted classic-sprint specialist, grabbed the final prize money position, 1:06 after Beatty.

Complete results

Stay tuned for an updated report with more quotes and photographs.

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Gaiazova Takes Women’s Classic Sprint, Diggins Battles for Second

RUMFORD, Maine — Dasha Gaiazova of the Canadian National Ski Team won the women’s 1.4 k classic sprint by a comfortable margin at the 2012 U.S. Cross Country Champiopnships on Sunday, leaving Jessie Diggins (USST/CXC) to work for second place while going head-to-head with Ida Sargent (USST/CGRP) with 200 meters to go.

Diggins secured second, and Kate Fitzgerald (APU) challenged Sargent in the final stretch and successfully captured third. Sargent was fourth.

Two sets of podiums were held, and while Gaiazova will get the $1,200 prize that comes with a U.S. Nationals victory, Diggins was the official American champion, making her a four-time national winner on the week. That moved Fitzgerald to second and Sargent to third on Sunday.

‘A’ Final

1. Gaiazova

2. Diggins

3. Fitzgerald

4. Sargent

5. Fritz

6. Caldwell

‘B’ Final

1. Rjabov

2. Hajkova

3. Brennan

4. Woods

5. Dreissigacker

6. Konieczny

For complete results, click here.

 

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U.S. Adaptive Nationals: Video Recap

RUMFORD, Maine — After the final races of the 2012 U.S. Adaptive Cross Country Championships, athletes and coach John Farra talk about the 6 and 12 k sit-ski and stand-up distance events and reflect on their week (with three total races, including the 0.8 k sprint and 5/10 k)  at Black Mountain in Rumford, Maine.

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U.S. Nationals: Snow Friday Morning Causes Scramble (with Video)

On Thursday the predicted forecast called for up to half an inch of snow to start later in the day, but Friday morning the snow has already started and is predicted to accumulate to as much as an inch and a half.

For the waxers this definitely changes things, as they were preparing skis for racing on manmade snow, but now it is likely to to be slower on the flats and sugary on the climbs.  This will make each team have to make the tough call as to which is more important; fast skis for the graduals or being able to kick the six or nine times up high school hill.  It sounds like most everyone is hoping to throw the dart somewhere in the middle, sacrificing a little glide for kick.  It will surely be a day for the techs as the wax will play a factor on the result sheet today.

 

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Post-Race Quotes: NorAm Classic Sprint Qualifier

From Sovereign Lake Centre in Vernon, British Columbia:

After men’s 1.4 k classic sprint qualifier:

“It’s a little different than all the sprints we’ve done this year, which have all been at pretty high altitude,” said Reese Hanneman (APU), who qualified in 6th. “It definitely feels pretty good because you can go pretty fast and that’s the trick, just turning it over. So it was short, but it was good a good hard course. You just hammer everything. The tracks are awesome; its pretty much perfect classic skiing.”

“It felt good not to be at altitude,” said Erik Bjornsen (APU), 7th in the qualifier, of the nordic center at 1664m (5500 ft). He said he went on the slick side with his skis and it was fast. “Pretty much two spots where you need kick, trying to push the double pole.”

“Sprintings not really my thing, but trying to turn that around this year,” said Sam Tarling (Dartmouth), who qualified in 27th. “It was a good hard effort. I had a good warmup so I’m not disappointed, but its always good to make the rounds.”

After women’s 1.2 k classic sprint qualifier:

“I’ve felt better,” said Jennie Bender (CXC), who qualified in 4th. “I did some really hard interval a couple days ago and im still feeling it today. So you gotta do that once in a while; the season’s long.”

“This is definitely not my best event, but I’m working hard on it,” said Caitlin Gregg (CXC), who was 11th in the qualifier. “I have really some good teammates that classic ski well so it’s fun to try to learn from them.”

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Cold Morning in West: Pre-Race Wax Recommendations

WIth firm tracks and temperatures starting below zero and now just below 10ºF the kick wax is fairly straightforward. However, temperatures are expected to climb rapidly throughout the morning which could provide for some scrambling.

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West Yellowstone SuperTour: Pre-Race Wax Testing

Snow was expected overnight, but it did not happen so all the team and industry wax techs are changing their plans and adjusting to the light snow that is falling on top of the transformed hardpack.

Here’s what the have to say:

And a report from Solda and WebSkis:

The short report is:

Snow temp was -1C, transformed and giving up moisture. Air temp was about 37F (-3C). Solda was that was running as follows;
Base of Solda UF7 and Solda Performance Red 50/50. Solda F31 Orange or F40 Orange Special. Finished up with Solda Fluor 100 or Powerjet 1. An economy wax that ran very well was a crayoned layer of Solda FC27 covered with UF7.

There is 80% possibility of snow in the forecast. If is snows, the F40 Orange Special would run well. A better option would be Solda F31 Pink over a base of Solda UF7 and Performance Red 50/50. Top coat of Fluor 100 or Powerjet 1. If it gets colder than 27F and stays cold for the race, the top coat would be Solda HP04.

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Video Update from 30/50 K Championships in Fort Kent, Start Lists

After eight inches of snow during the day Tuesday and into the evening, precipitation in Fort Kent changed to heavy rain overnight. It was a long night for the groomers, who did their best to set a firm track, but without a freeze, the course for Wednesday’s U.S. 30/50 k Championship will be soft and slow. With an hour to go before the women’s start, it was still snowing lightly at the venue, but forecasts showed the precipitation to be sporadic throughout the day.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/hJDp1rvRxYc" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

There was a change to the day’s schedule last night: the women’s 30 k will start at 9:00, while the men’s 50 k will not begin until 11. Originally, the men were to start three minutes ahead of the women this morning, but coaches were concerned about the top female athletes catching some of the slower men, changing the dynamic of the race.

FasterSkier will have live updates on the Continental Cup blog throughout both races–check back starting at 9 AM. Summit Timing will also have live splits–click here and follow the links on the lefthand side.

Start lists

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Video Interview With Torin Koos and Laura McCabe.

Methow Valley Sport Trails Association Danica Kaufman sat down with Olympians Torin Koos and Laura McCabe as the Methow SuperTour’s approach.  Koos will race in the SuperTour this weekend before heading to Canmore for the World Cups and Olympics.  McCabe, a Methow local adds some great insight into the sport and its importance.  She is also racing this weekend.

The video was originally published on the MVTSA blog.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/1tWuCpvOG5U" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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