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Treinen Defends Qaniq Challenge Title; Frankowski Tops Brooks in Two-Day Event

 

Sunrise in Valdez, Alaska, site of the Qaniq Challenge. (Photo: Gavin Kentch)

Sunrise in Valdez, Alaska, home of the Qaniq Challenge. (Photo: Gavin Kentch)

By Gavin Kentch

VALDEZ, Alaska — Lex Treinen defended his title in the second-annual Qaniq Challenge while Rosie Frankowski set the pace for the women, completing an Alaska Pacific University (APU) sweep of the two-day series last Saturday and Sunday.

The Qaniq Challenge sent skiers around a classic course on the first day of racing, then over a different skate course on Day 2.  Each course was roughly 15 kilometers.  Lowest combined time from both days wins.  In this year’s race, as in 2015, time gaps created on Day 1 proved difficult to overcome on Day 2, and the overall finish order remained largely unchanged after the first day of racing.

Saturday sent the field of 36 racers over a classic individual-start course.  Race organizers called the classic course as 19 k, but by general acclaim it seems to have been somewhat shorter than that. Two-thirds of the course was pancake-flat, running along a river and out to the shores of the Pacific Ocean and back.  The remaining third had rolling hills, plus one steep uphill and dramatic downhill.  All top male finishers chose to double pole the course on skate gear.

Snow coverage was impeccable, with a base ranging from two to three feet on the designated nordic trails to at least one foot running along the river.

Rosie Frankowski (APU) races to a victory in the Day 1 classic race on Saturday, the first of the two-day Qaniq Challenge. Frankowski won the classic leg by 1:20 over Brooks. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

Rosie Frankowski (APU) races to a victory in the Day 1 classic race on Saturday, the first of the two-day Qaniq Challenge. Frankowski won the classic leg by 1:20 over Brooks. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

Frankowski had the fastest classic time in the women’s field, in 47:40.6, and fifth-fastest overall.  Holly Brooks (APU) was second (+1:20.7) for seventh overall, and Lauren Fritz (APU) came in third, roughly three minutes behind Brooks (+4:17.3).

Treinen was fastest among the men in 42:01.7. Teammate Tyler Kornfield (APU) followed 14.3 seconds later in second.  There was a gap to Paul Kovacs (Australian National Team) in third (+2:01.5).  Treinen and Kornfield were the only two racers in the field to complete the classic course faster than the next day’s skate course.

A freestyle mass start followed on Sunday.  The skate course was advertised as 14 k, but seems to have been somewhat longer than that. Race organizers seeded skiers for the mass start in the order of their Saturday finish time, with small numbered posts along the tracks in the start area to help racers find their correct position and line up for the chevron start.

The skate course started in a clearing on the side of the Richardson Highway, approximately five miles east of downtown Valdez.  The skate course took racers up a dramatic valley ringed by mountains, twice around a loop of approximately 4 k, and then back to the finish by the same route.  It was very flat; a decent citizen racer was able to V2 100 percent of the course.

Start of the Day 2 skate race of the 2016 Qaniq Challenge, with Kornfield (2), Treinen (1), Kovacs (3), and Brooks (7). Treinen went on to win the event, posting the fastest skate and classic legs. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

Start of the Day 2 skate race of the 2016 Qaniq Challenge, with Kornfield (2), Treinen (1), Kovacs (3), and Brooks (7). Treinen went on to win the event, posting the fastest skate and classic legs. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

The top-three from Saturday finished in the top three on Sunday, as the flat course and mass start format made it difficult for any of the top contenders to break away.  The top four finishers from Saturday – Treinen, Kornfield, Kovacs, and Dylan Watts (former APU Elite Team coach) – skied together in a lead pack throughout the race, before Treinen pulled away near the end for a narrow victory.  The next four overall finishers – Brooks and Frankowski, along with two male citizen racers – followed in a chase pack approximately 3 1/2 minutes back.  The third woman, Fritz, skied nearly the entire race on her own, finishing 10th overall.

The two lead packs were reflected in the final results.  Treinen was first for the men in 42:55.0, with second through fourth finishing within 20 seconds of him.  Kornfield in second was 3.3 seconds back, Kovacs was 9.3 seconds out in third, and Watts finished fourth (+19.6).

Similarly, Brooks was the fastest woman, finishing within the chase pack in 46:46.9.  Frankowski came in 3.3 seconds later in second. Brooks later explained, in informal in-person remarks after the race, that the four members of her pack took turns trading off the lead, but that Frankowski wasn’t particularly keen on letting her open up a big gap.

The final podium, based on combined times, remained unchanged from the first-day results: Treinen, Kornfield and Kovacs for the men, then Frankowski, Brooks and Fritz for the women.

Lex Treinen (1) leads APU teammate Tyler Kornfield (2) and Australian Paul Kovacs (3), and former APU coach Dylan Watts (4) into the finish of the skate race on the final day of the Qaniq Challenge in Valdez, Alaska. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

Lex Treinen (1) leads APU teammate Tyler Kornfield (2) and Australian Paul Kovacs (3), and former APU coach Dylan Watts (4) into the finish of the skate race on the final day of the Qaniq Challenge in Valdez, Alaska. (Photo: Susan Orlansky)

Treinen and Frankowski each pocketed $3,000 dollars for the victory, receiving symbolic oversized checks at an awards banquet on Sunday evening.  Kornfield and Brooks took home $1,500 apiece for second.  Kovacs and Fritz, in third, each earned $500 for the weekend.

It’s fair to say that $3,000 is a lot of money in the world of American domestic cross-country ski racing.  As Frankowski noted in an in-person interview, “The most money I’ve previously won is $150 at a SuperTour [for fifth place in the Sun Valley SuperTour 10 k classic last month], so this is an extreme amount compared to that.  I’ve never won nationals or anything like that.  It’s, honestly, awesome, because being a ski racer is a very un-lucrative profession, and so even with side jobs, it’s hard to make ends meet.  So this is awesome.”

An ebullient Frankowski continued, “I’ve won money on the SuperTour probably three times in my life, and it’s always been $100, or $150.  Let’s just say, a race like this – I don’t think I’ve ever made $3,000 in my life at one time.”

Treinen echoed more of the same.  While he took home $4,000 for his fifth-place finish in last year’s American Birkebeiner ($1,500 for fifth overall, then $2,500 more as the top American), “the next closest race [last year] was 100 bucks or something.”

Treinen rejected the suggestion that this payout represented a generous $3,000 in income for fewer than 90 minutes’ worth of work.  “I do not think that’s a fair way to look at it,” Treinen noted.  “Although it does sometimes feel like that. … I would rebut that the race itself was the fun part, the enjoyment part of it.  And the work itself was the hours over the summer and all winter long, training.  So there were many long hours spent to earn this victory.  But right now it does feel like I only worked an hour to get the victory, so it feels kind of good.”

Treinen leaves Valdez as the two-time defending champion, and as the only male winner in the race’s history.  When asked if he’d ever won any other race twice in a row, the gracious and fraternal Treinen responded, “No, I have not won any other race this year.  But I maybe beat my brother twice in a row [in recent Besh Cup races], and that’s as good as winning a race two years in a row.”

Race Director Darryl Verfaille reports that the Qaniq Challenge is fully funded, at current prize levels, through 2017.

Results: Combined times (overall results) | Day 1 classic individual start | Day 2 freestyle mass start

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