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Gregg Second at OPA Cup Finals; Halvorsen 10th in Mini Tour

Some of the American team members and staff at 2017 OPA Cup Finals in Seefeld, Austria: (from left to right) U.S. development coach Bryan Fish, Hannah Halvorsen, Logan Hanneman, Ben Saxton, Anne Hart, and Caitlin Gregg. (Photo: Garrott Kuzzy)

Caitlin Gregg led a contingent of American cross-country skiers in Seefeld, Austria, last Friday through Sunday, starting OPA Cup Finals with a freestyle prologue win, then placing seventh in the 10-kilometer classic, and finally second in the 10 k freestyle pursuit.

The Europa Cup, or OPA Cup for short, is Central Europe’s International Ski Federation (FIS) Continental Cup series, similar to the U.S. SuperTour and Canadian NorAm circuits. The overall male and female winners of the OPA Cup circuit earn World Cup starts for next season.

This year’s OPA Cup Finals were held in Seefeld in the form of a three-day mini tour. It was Seefeld’s first test event leading up to the 2019 Nordic World Championships. The next test event will be the 2018 Cross-Country World Cup scheduled for next Jan. 26-28 in Seefeld. Athletes competing in OPA Cups are selected by their respective national teams, which creates a field of the best athletes not competing on the World Cup.

While most Canada’s top talent was racing in North America, either at World Cup Finals or Canadian Ski Nationals, several Americans made the trip, led by U.S. Ski Team Development Coach Bryan Fish and assisted by Justin Beckwith and Jon Fillardo. Four U.S. senior skiers competed, Gregg, Anne HartLogan Hanneman, and Ben Saxton, along with 16 juniors in the under-20 junior age category. These included athletes from the Dartmouth Ski Team, Stratton Mountain School (SMS), Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV), and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC).

Caitlin Gregg (c) after winning the women’s 2.5 k freestyle sprint prologue on March 17 at OPA Cup Finals in Seefeld, Austria. She was joined on the podium by Germany’s Elisabeth Schicho in second and Sofie Krehl in third. (Photo: Garrott Kuzzy)

Coming off a third-place finish in the Engadin Ski Marathon a week earlier, Gregg (Team Gregg/Loppet Nordic Racing) won the OPA Cup Finals women’s 2.5 k skate prologue on Friday, March 17, finishing 1.5 seconds ahead of German runner-up Elisabeth Schicho in 6:23.7 minutes. Germany had two on the podium with Sofie Krehl in third (+2.8). Hart (SMS Elite Team) finished 14th (+11.8) out of 46 competitors.

In the men’s 3.3 k skate prologue that same day, France took first and second with Jean Tiberghien finishing first in 7:30.1 and Paul Goalabre placing second, 1.9 seconds back. Italy’s Maicol Rastelli finished third (+4.9). For the U.S., Hanneman, of Alaska Pacific University (APU), placed 15th (+15.2) and Saxton (SMS Elite) finished 38th (+28.3) out of 79.

Also on Friday, Hannah Halvorsen, of Sugar Bowl Academy and the U.S. Ski Team Development Team, placed second in the junior women’s 2.5 k skate prologue. She finished 4.8 seconds off the winning time of Germany’s 2017 Junior World Championships silver medalist Antonia Fräbel (6:38.5), and ahead of France’s Laura Chamiot-Maitral in third (+6.4).

American Hannah Halvorsen (l) of the U.S. Ski Team D-team and Sugar Bowl Academy, on the podium after placing second in the junior women’s 2.5 k freestyle pursuit at OPA Cup Finals in Seefeld, Austria. Germany’s Antonia Fräbel placed first and France’s Laura Chamiot-Maitral (r) with third. (Photo: Garrott Kuzzy)

Seven U.S. women competed in the junior women’s prologue, with Lauren Jortberg (Dartmouth Ski Team) placing 20th, Maddie Donovan (SSCV) 33rd, Katja Freeburn (Ski Club Vail) 38th, Waverly Gebhardt (SSWSC) 39th, Gracelynn Shanley (SSCV) 40th, and Lyle Shipp (SSCV) 42nd.

Nine American men competed in the junior men’s 3.3 k skate prologue, with Ben Ogden (SMS) leading them in 25th, 28.4 seconds off the winning time set by Germany’s 2017 Junior World Champion Janosch Brugger in 7:37.0. Italy’s Luca Del Fabbro finished 0.8 seconds back in second and France’s Martin Collet was 1.7 seconds behind in third.

For the U.S., Nolan Herzog (SSCV) placed 40th, Conor Munns (SMS) 47th, Wyatt Gebhardt (SSWSC) 48th, William Haig 51st (SMS), Adam Witkowski (SMS) 53rd, Eli Eppolito (SMS) 55th, Ty Willoughby (SSCV) 56th, and Christopher Seabury (SSCV) 57th.

In the classic individual-start races on Saturday, athletes of all levels were literally competing side-by-side. Event organizers wanted to run the races early, before rain in the forecast began to fall to prevent the courses from deteriorating before Sunday’s pursuit. Despite classic skiing for only the third time this season due to injury, Gregg was able to finish seventh in the women’s 10 k classic, 1:48.5 behind German winner Theresa Eichhorn, and stay in the running for Sunday’s pursuit final.

Led by Eichhorn, who won by almost a minute and a half in 31:38.2, Germany swept the top five in that race, with Julia Belger and Pia Fink reaching the podium in second (+1:24.6) and third (+1:29.5), respectively. Hart finished 22nd (+3:20.3).

The men’s 15 k classic was considerably closer, with Rastelli pulling out a 3.1-second victory over Germany’s Hannes Dotzler in 42:07.5. Switzerland’s Jason Rueesch rounded out the podium in third (+31.4), while Hanneman placed 40th (+3:43.9) and Saxton 63rd (+5:45.7).

Halvorsen again led the U.S. women in the junior 5 k classic on Saturday, finishing 18th, 1:39.8 behind Italy’s Anna Comarella, who won in 15:47.2. Fräbel took second (+10.5), and Chamiot-Maitral third (+18.4).

Four other Americans placed in the top 40 in that race, with Jortberg in 34th, Gebhardt in 37th, Shanley in 38th, and Shipp in 39th. Freeborn and Donovan were disqualified for skiing on a wrong section of leaving the marked course.

Ogden led the Americans again in the junior men’s 10 k classic, placing 21st and 2:16.4 behind France’s Hugo Lapalus, who won in 28:31.1. France went 1-2 with Collet reaching the podium again, this time in second (+13.4), and Italy’s Simone Dapra placed third (+31.2), just 3 seconds ahead of Brugger in fourth.

Herzog finished 37th, Gebhardt 40th, Munns 42nd, Eppolito 48th, Willoughby 49th, and Seabury 50th. Haig did not start.

On Sunday, Gregg jetted from fourth at the start to second at the finish in the women’s 10 k skate pursuit with the fastest course time (28:32.6). She finished 8.9 seconds behind Germany’s Eichhorn, who started first and held on for the overall win in 29:50.7. Germany had two on the pursuit podium with Fink in third (+27.8). Hart placed 16th in the mini tour (+3:43.2), moving up from 19th at the start.

Logan Hanneman (APU) competing at OPA Cup Finals in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo: Garrott Kuzzy)

In the men’s 15 k skate pursuit, Rastelli defended his lead to finish first in 40:26.4, just 1.6 seconds ahead of Dotzler in second. Ruessch placed third overall (+32.2) and the top three all held their starting positions. Hanneman finished the mini tour in 37th (+6:51.1) and Saxton 41st (+7:07).

Halvorsen notched 10th place in the junior women’s 10 k skate pursuit, finishing 2:42.1 out of first with the ninth-fastest course time. Fräbel started first and won it by 13.2 seconds over Comarella, who started second, in 30:13.6. Chamiot-Maitral held onto third place (+33.9), and two other Americans completed the mini tour, with Jortberg in 25th (+6:13.5) and Shanley in 33rd (+15:13.3).

In the junior men’s 15 k skate pursuit, Ogden repeated in 21st, finishing 4:01.8 behind the winner, Brugger, who started third and raced to first in 42:56.3. Del Frabbro skied the fastest course time to race from sixth at the start to second at the finish (+9.4), just 0.2 seconds ahead of another Italian, Dapra, in third (+9.6).

Six U.S. junior men completed the weekend, with Munns placing 33rd overall, Herzog 36th, Gebhardt 38th, Eppolito 39th, and Willoughby 40th.

Gregg, who was second overall in the mini tour, told FasterSkier contributor and founder of Lumi Experiences Garrott Kuzzy that competing at OPA Cup Finals was almost an afterthought. When she realized she would be in the region for the Engadin, she decided to compete and said she was excited to join the trip with athletes of various experience levels.

Gregg mentioned how the enthusiasm of young athletes like Wyatt Gebhardt, competing in his first European ski races, is infectious and helps inspire her skiing. Likewise, younger athletes are able to experience how athletes like Gregg prepare for and handle themselves at European races. Gregg thanked the National Nordic Foundation (NNF) for its support in making trips like the OPA Cup Finals possible for all the athletes and coaches involved.

Seeing Gregg on top of the podium and Halvorsen in second place on the junior podium on the first day showed their teammates what is possible — taking away some of the mystique around competing in Europe.

— Garrott Kuzzy contributed reporting

Results:

Skate prologue: Women | Men | Junior women | Junior men

5/10/15 k classic: Women | Men | Junior women | Junior men

10/15 k freestyle pursuit: Women | Men | Junior women | Junior men

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Kern Pulls Off Two More Podiums at OPA Cup Finals

Julia Kern with her "wheel of cheese" after placing third in the women's 10 k classic on Saturday, March 12 at OPA Cup Finals in Toblach, Italy. "A wheel of cheese is the best podium prize by far. Thanks to our amazing staff for making me some rocket skis and supporting me to a 3rd place at OPA Cup Finals!" Kern posted on Facebook. (Photo: Facebook)

Julia Kern (l) with her “wheel of cheese” and U.S. Development Coach Bryan Fish  (r) after Kern after placed third in the women’s 10 k classic on Saturday, March 12 at OPA Cup Finals in Toblach, Italy. “A wheel of cheese is the best podium prize by far. Thanks to our amazing staff for making me some rocket skis and supporting me to a 3rd place at OPA Cup Finals!” Kern posted on Facebook. (Photo: Julia Kern/Facebook)

(Press release)

TOBLACH, Italy – A week after placing third in the Alpen Cup freestyle mass start in Arber, Germany, Julia Kern (Stratton Mountain School) led the U.S. team once again, with two podium finishes in the final weekend of racing March 11-13 at OPA Cup Finals in Toblach, Italy.

The races kicked off Friday, March 11, with a 2.5 k freestyle prologue for the senior women, two U.S. women finished in the top 25. Erika Flowers (Stratton Mountain School T2 Team) finished 22nd overall followed by Liz Guiney (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) in 25th. Becca Rorabaugh (Alaska Pacific University) was the next American, finishing 29th, followed by Heather Mooney in 31st. Switzerland’s Nadine Faehndrich edged Germany’s Elisabeth Schicho for first by just 1.6 seconds, followed by Italy’s Ilaria Debertolis who finished third.

Women’s 2.5 k freestyle results

Kern, 18, led the U20 women, finishing fifth in a competitive 2.5 k freestyle, just 9.8 seconds out of first, behind Germany’s Katharina Hennig. France’s Delphine Claudel was second and Italy’s Anna Comarella finished third.

U20 women’s 2.5 k freestyle

The senior men skied a 3.3 k freestyle on Friday, where Logan Hanneman (APU) grabbed a spot in the top 10, finishing seventh overall. Hanneman was just 0.8 seconds from a top-five finish. Miles Havlick (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) was the next American, finishing 22nd, followed by Lex Treinen (APU) in 23rd, Akeo Maifeld-Carucci (Bridger Ski Foundation) 36th, Tyler Kornfield (APU) 42nd, and Kyle Bratrud (CXC Team) 49th. Switzerland’s Ueli Schnider edged Italy’s Roland Clara for the victory, just 0.3 seconds ahead, followed by France’s Clement Parisse who finished third.

Men’s 3.3 k freestyle

Zak Ketterson (Northern Michigan University) led the U.S. U20 men, finishing 10th overall. Thomas O’Harra (APU Nordic Center) was the next American, finishing 24th, followed by Leo Hipp (NMU) in 37th. Czech Republic’s Michal Novak stole first by 5.5 seconds ahead of Germany’s Janosch Brugger, followed by Italy’s Mikael Abram who finished third.

U20 men’s 3.3 k freestyle

Competition continued Saturday with a 10 k classic for the women. Rorabaugh finished 17th overall, followed by Guiney in 22nd, Flowers in 26th and Mooney in 32nd. Germany swept the podium as Elisabeth Schicho grabbed another victory, 4.7 seconds ahead of teammates Monique Siegel, and Julia Belger in third.

Women’s 10 k classic

Kern grabbed a coveted spot on the podium in the U20 women’s 5 k classic. Germany’s Katharina Henning claimed another victory, followed by Italy’s Anna Comarella and Kern who finished just 17.2 seconds behind in third.

U20 women’s 5 k classic

In the men’s 15 k classic, Hanneman led the U.S. men in 28th overall. Bratrud was the next American, finishing 38th, followed by Kornfield who finished 41st, Treinen 44th, Havlick 46th, Maifeld 47th and Saxton 48th. Switzerland’s Ueli dominated the 10k to claim another victory 1:41 minutes ahead of Italy’s Roland Clara and Czech Republic’s Ales Razym who finished third.

Men’s 15 k classic

O’ Harra and Ketterson led the U20 men, grabbing a spot in the top 30 in a 10 k classic race. O’Harra finished 28th overall followed by Ketterson in 30th. Hipp was the next American, finishing 35th. France’s Martin Collet skied to a convincing first place finish 36.2 seconds ahead of Germany’s Janosch Brugger and France’s Jules Lapierre who was third.

U20 men’s 10 k classic

The weekend concluded with a 10 k freestyle pursuit for the women on Sunday. Rorabaugh led the U.S. senior women, grabbing a spot in the top 20, finishing 16th overall. Guiney was the next American, finishing 22nd, followed by Flowers in 28th, and Mooney 32nd. Switzerland’s Faehndrich grabbed the victory 8.7 seconds over Italy’s Debertolis and Slovania’s Lea Einfalt.

Women’s 10 k freestyle pursuit

Kern grabbed another podium in the U20 women’s 10 k pursuit. Kern finished second overall, just 7.7 seconds behind Switzerland’s Lydia Hiernickel. Germany’s Henning finished third.

U20 women’s 10 k freestyle pursuit

Treinen led the U.S. men in a 15 k freestyle pursuit, finishing 18th overall. Havlick was the next American, finishing 29th, followed by Maifeld-Carucci in 42nd, Kornfield 43rd, Hanneman 46th, Saxton 50th, and Bratrud 62nd. Germany’s Florian Notz edged Italy’s Enrico Nizzi for first by 2.2 seconds, followed by Austria’s Johannes Kattnig who finished third.

Men’s 15 k freestyle pursuit

Ketterson grabbed another top 10 in a U20 men’s 15 k freestyle pursuit race, finishing ninth overall. O’Harra finished 23rd, followed by Hipp in 31st. Czech Republic’s Michal Novak grabbed first just 1.2 seconds ahead of France’s Jules Lapierre and Switzerland’s Dajan Danuser who finished third.

U20 men’s 15 k freestyle pursuit

 

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Nishikawa, Killick on the Podium: Planica OPA Cup Notes and Quotes

Canada’s Emily Nishikawa (National Development Team) racing to 30th in the women's 10 k freestyle at 2015 World Championships for her best result in Falun, Sweden. (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)

Canada’s Emily Nishikawa (National Development Team) racing to 30th in the women’s 10 k freestyle at 2015 World Championships for her best result in Falun, Sweden. (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)

By Gerry Furseth

Emily Nishikawa collected the first two OPA Cup podiums of her career last weekend, Jan. 9-10, to lead the Canadians at the Planica OPA Cup in Slovenia. World Cup skiers Nishikawa, Graeme Killick, Jess Cockney and Lenny Valjas joined up with Canada’s B-Tour group at the European equivalent of a NorAm event. The three-race weekend was a major focus of the U25 B-Tour.

Nishikawa, who was fourth in Friday’s sprint, took bronze in both Saturday’s 10-kilometre classic and Sunday’s 10 k freestyle.

I was happy with my race today,” Nishikawa, of Canada’s senior national development team, wrote after Saturday’s race. “It wasn’t my very best performance, but I fought hard.”

“Overall I think the weekend went really well,” she added on Sunday. “I’m looking forward to racing there again next weekend in the World Cup.”

Killick, also on the NST development team, joined Nishikawa on the podium Saturday, taking third place in the men’s 14 k classic before finishing fifth in Sunday’s 14 km freestyle.

I felt like my form is coming back after the sickness,” Killick wrote. “I haven’t raced in a while so it was good to get one going today.”

Despite the less-than-ideal weather, Killick was happy with the day.  “Our team did a great job with the skis today, I was able to ski smooth through the whole course.”

The OPA Cup, also known as the Alpen Cup, offers a unique Continental Cup (COC) racing experience outside North America.  The 28 senior women in Sunday’s race represented 12 countries.  At least 10 World Cup regulars of each gender raced.  Combining all age groups, 165 men and 79 women raced.  In comparison, next week’s NorAm in Thunder Bay has 250 athletes registered, but will likely have about three countries represented and only one athlete who has raced a World Cup this season.

Heidi Widmer, racing for Switzerland this season after starting her career in Canada, described the differences in an email.  “The coaches and athletes drift between COC and World Cup much more frequently because it makes sense logistically. It provides much more frequent and higher caliber racing and racing in more competitive fields fuels more competition and improvement.”

More quotes from the weekend after the results summary.

Complete results: Saturday | Sunday

Women’s 10 k classic
1 Victoria Carl, GER, 30:04.9
2 Julia Belger, GER, +6.6 seconds
3 Emily Nishikawa, CAN, +30.9
17 Dahria Beatty, CAN, +2:21.8
19 Maya Macisaac-Jones, CAN, +2:58.7
24 Cendrine Browne, CAN, +3:23.2
28 Katherine Stewart-Jones, CAN, +4:02.3

Men’s 14 k classic
1 Alexis Jeannarod, FRA, 35:52.1
2 Richard Jouve, FRA, +2.1 seconds
3 Graeme Killick, CAN, +6.9
24 Knute Johnsgaard, CAN, +1:36.4
35 Jess Cockney, CAN, +1:54.8
71 Andy Shields, CAN, +3:59.1

Women’s 10 k freestyle
1 Giulia Sturz, ITA, 25:27.2
2 Caterina Ganz, ITA, +25.2
3 Emily Nishikawa, CAN, +26.3
9 Cendrine Browne, CAN, +58.0
16 Dahria Beatty, CAN, +1:29.2
22 Katherine Stewart-Jones, CAN, +2:00.5
25 Maya Macisaac-Jones, CAN, +2:47.0

Men’s 14 k freestyle
1 Clement Parisse, FRA, 31:20.9
2 Valentin Chauvin, FRA, +9.5 seconds
3 Paolo Fanton, ITA, +28.0
5 Graeme Killick, CAN, +50.8
25 Knute Johnsgaard, CAN, +1:37.4
55 Andy Shields, CAN, +2:42.8

 

On the Planica courses, snow and weather:

“It was raining during our race, but the course held up really well especially given the number of racers on such a short course (2km loops).

“[On the sprint course,] there is a fast downhill with a corner right off the start.”

– Nishikawa, who placed fourth, third and third again

“It’s a brand new [sprint] course in Planica, it’s very tough but fair.”

– Lenny Valjas, Canadian World Cup Team member

“The course held up extremely well today, I was very impressed! I had good kick the entire way through and in exchange sacrificed some glide.

“I am really looking forward to the 10k skate tomorrow on the same course. It is a very hard course and with the success I’ve had in skate races in Canada this season, I am really looking forward to seeing what sort of performance I can put forward here.”

– Dahria Beatty (U23 Development Team)

“The conditions changed during our race because it was raining so … my wax wasn’t working too well.”

– Cendrine Browne (U23 Development Team)

“I think the snow changed a lot from when I tested to the race. The first lap I was able to stride most of it but after that I had a lot of trouble and ended up slipping a lot.

“The course is also a lot of fun. There are a lot of fun twisty downhills and the uphills are great for striding!”

– Katherine Stewart-Jones (U23 Development Team)

“We raced on a <2km loop today so I was able to get a sweet ride off a French guy for the first two laps. It felt really easy to follow him but as soon as I got to the top of one of the hills I was suddenly totally fried.

“We had rain last night and it’s raining now so it’s interesting. We had really good skis, the techs did a superb job with the klister.”

– Andy Shields (Thunder Bay NDC)

“The short 2k loop meant that a lot of terrain was compacted into a little course. A great course nonetheless and really happy with my skis today.”

– Widmer

“I was really looking forward to the skiathlon race this weekend but because of lack of snow it was switched to an individual skate.”

– Knute Johnsgaard (U23+ Development Team)

On racing in Europe:

“Racing here in Europe is way harder than in Canada and I just have to get used to it. I was surprised by how the girls were going so fast in my quarter final.

“Two minute sprints are not my strength…. I guess I’m also not used to them because in Canada they are much longer.”

– Browne

“It was a great learning experience. Today I got to ski with Emily for a bit. It was fun to try and hold on and to experience the difference in speed.

“The biggest difference is that in a NorAm there are rarely ever 30 women entered in a race so you always have a chance at the heats whether you have a good qualifier or not.

“The highlight of the trip has been being able to watch the Tour De Ski live on TV.”

– Stewart-Jones on enjoying the differences, like Eurosport being part of the cable package at every hotel

“Only missing the semis by 0.5 seconds and sitting in the lucky loser position for a while gave me the confidence that I can fight for those top spots here if I have a really good day.”

– Beatty

“I am having a lot of fun, learning until my brain hurts everyday but missing my family a lot at low points too.”

– Widmer, who moved in Switzerland to join her new team

“Going into the race I knew it was a tough field for an OPA.”

– Shields, on the names on the start list

On the races:

“My race today was definitely not my strongest performance. It was a five lap race. Lap one felt good but I got a bad cramp when I started climbing on the second lap and I was able to refocus well after that. I struggled a lot on the 3 middle laps fading on the top section of each lap but was able to refocus better on the final lap. Overall it was felt like a sub par performance but there were lots of good learning points and I am very happy to have the opportunity to be racing in such a competitive field.

“Even though the result was 1 better today I was happier with how I skied yesterday.

“I fell on the first lap and got tangled with another skier on the second lap and fell again in the same place. Then part way through the race my back seized. I was lucky to have Cendrine to ski with for the last two laps to motivate me to keep moving. It was great to see Emily and Cendrine both have good races.”

– Beatty on the distance races

“I felt good but unfortunately, I didn’t have enough kick. I don’t think I chose the right pair of skis for today’s conditions.

I am so happy about today’s race. I raced really well technically and was feeling very powerful and full of energy. Being at 25 seconds off the podium really shows me that I am in good shape and that everything is possible.”

– Browne, happier on Sunday after two tough days

“I felt a lot better than yesterday. I was able to ski efficiently and keep my technique together. It was a good hard effort and definitely a step in the right direction.”

“Unfortunately you can’t always be at your best. I’m staying positive and hoping the shape will come together.”

– Stewart-Jones, also happiest on Sunday

“[The] prologue was brutal. My legs were super blown and I was not able to break through the feeling. Really disappointed and will readjust and go forward to improve for the World Cup next week!

“My race was pretty good for the first couple laps then nothing left to offer.”

– Widmer on the sprint and the skate respectively

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Nishikawa Leads Canada in Fourth in Planica OPA Cup Sprint, Valjas 10th

Emily Nishikawa (AWCA/NDST) led the way for Canada to start the OPA Cup weekend in Planica, Slovenia, finishing fourth in the freestyle sprint on Friday. Slovenian World Cup skier Vesna Fabjan won both the qualifier and the final.

Fabjan, who earned the individual-sprint bronze at the 2014 Olympics was recently 10th in Stage 1 of the Tour de Ski in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Fabjan won in 2:43.37 on Friday, 0.43 seconds ahead of Italy’s Gaia Vuerich and 1.42 seconds ahead of Greta Laurent, another Italian World Cup regular. Nishikawa finished 6.22 seconds back from the win.

“I was happy with my racing today,” Nishikawa wrote in an email. “I wasn’t too sure what to expect as I haven’t done many sprints this year.”

Nishikawa was a lucky loser twice on the new course, which starts with a fast descent.

“I would be off the back in the first part of the course, and make my way up in the climbing sections,” she explained.

Nishikawa is looking forward to Saturday’s classic distance race, the discipline which is where most of her past successes have come.

Canadian-born but racing for Switzerland this season, Heidi Widmer qualified in 16th, 9.93 seconds behind Fabjan’s top qualifying time of 2:45.50, followed by Dahria Beatty (AWCA/NDST) in 17th (+9.97), and Nishikawa in 18th (+10.91). Maya Macisaac-Jones was 28th, Cendrine Browne 30th, and Katherine Stewart-Jones 31st.

In an email, Stewart-Jones wrote that she is looking forward to the classic race after a shortage of classic striding on the NorAm circuit.

“The course is also a lot of fun,” Stewart-Jones wrote. “There are a lot of fun twisty downhills and the uphills are great for striding!”

In the men’s sprint, France’s Baptiste Gros won in 2:22.32, 1.67 seconds ahead of Russia’s Gleb Retivykh. The second of four French skiers in the final, Jay Renaud completed the podium in third.

The main goal for Canadian World Cup skier Lenny Valjas was learning the new course before next weekend’s World Cup at the same venue.

“It’s a brand new course in Planica,” he wrote. “It’s very tough but fair.”

Valjas ended the day in 10th, after finishing fifth in his semifinal, 0.34 seconds away from a lucky loser spot.

“I took a few days off after Oberstdorf [Stage 4 of the Tour de Ski] so I felt a little flat this morning trying to go fast,” he explained. “By the heats I started to feel better but just missed advancing to final by a small margin.”

Knute Johnsgaard (AWCA/NDST) qualified 16th, 5.4 seconds behind Gros and 0.58 seconds ahead of Valjas in 19th. Andy Shields (NDC Thunder Bay) was 37th (+8.37) and Jess Cockney (AWCA/NDST) was 45th (+9.53).

Johnsgaard and Shields are on Canada’s B-tour to learn about racing in Europe.

“It was only my second time ever skiing in the heats in Europe and I definitely skied like a rookie,” Johnsgaard wrote. “I don’t have great speed but I can push hard through the whole course.”

Johnsgaard got behind at the start of his quarterfinal, and learned from the experience.

“If I sneak into the heats in the world cup next week, I’ll be more patient and hopefully make one successful move instead of 3 wasted efforts,” he wrote.

Johnsgaard had been looking forward to the skiathlon, but the snow conditions forced a format change to individual start skate.

Shields was also learning by experience. “I had an interesting dilemma with my race ski choice,” he wrote. “I had a pair that were fast but handled very poorly on the icy-ish manmade snow, and I had another that were slightly slower but handled really well. I went with the skis that handled well, but I should have tested some of my teammate’s skis to see if I could get the best of both.”

All the athletes are looking ahead to World Cup races on these courses the following weekend. “It’s an amazing venue,” Valjas wrote, “and should be fun next weekend.”

Complete results | More info and photos

— Gerry Furseth

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Canadians Jump into Austria Cup: Nishikawa, Cockney Win 5/10 k Classic

Emily Nishikawa (1st) and Dahria Beatty (2nd) on the women's 5 k classic podium at Sunday's Austria Cup in Villach, Austria. (Photo: CCC)

Emily Nishikawa (1st) and Dahria Beatty (2nd) on the women’s 5 k classic podium at Sunday’s Austria Cup in Villach, Austria. (Photo: Cross Country Canada)

By Gerry Furseth

While the Tour de Ski and U.S. nationals are grabbing most of the headlines this week, a group of Canadians have been training in Obertilliach, in the Tyrol region of Austria.

“There is 6km of beautiful terrain and Europe’s first snowfall came a few nights ago,” Dahria Beatty of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) and Canadian National U23 Development Team wrote in an email.

The group, dubbed Canada’s U25 European B-Tour,  has been preparing for the OPA Cup races this Friday through Sunday (Jan. 8-10) in Planica, Slovenia, followed by the Planica World Cup a week later.

“[The] Austria Cup wasn’t originally on the plan,” Beatty wrote, “but when we found out it was near by some of us opted to change up our training plan a bit and get in an extra race.”

Canada's Jess Cockney (c) beat out two Austrians in the men's 10 k classic on Sunday to win the Austria Cup race by 7.9 seconds. (Photo: Cross Country Canada)

Canada’s Jess Cockney (c) beat out two Austrians in the men’s 10 k classic on Sunday to win the Austria Cup race by 7.9 seconds. (Photo: Cross Country Canada)

On Sunday, four Canadians made the short drive to Villach. Jess Cockney (AWCA/NST B-Development Team) won the men’s 10-kilometre classic in 28:24.5 minutes, 7.9 seconds ahead of Austria’s Philipp Leodolter in second. Another Austrian (and like, Cockney, a 2014 Olympian)  Max Hauke placed third, 24 seconds back. Thirty-eight men finished, the vast majority of which were from Austria.

“I was really happy to have a distance race again since I don’t get that chance often anymore,” Cockney, who started the season on the World Cup circuit, wrote in an email, neatly summarizing the downside of the European opportunity that left him “quite disappointed” with his skiing.

“I have some positives I’m drawing on lately in training and we have some great chances in the next couple weeks racing [in] Slovenia,” he added.

After Slovenia, Cockney will return to Canada to compete in the NorAm series and prepare for the Ski Tour Canada in March.

Emily Nishikawa (AWCA/NST B-Development Team) beat out 30 other women in the 5 k classic to win in 15:09.6, 18.2 seconds ahead of Beatty in second. Austria’s Barbara Walchhofer placed third (+25.2). Maya Macisaac-Jones (Rocky Mountain Racers) finished sixth for Canada, 55.8 seconds back from Nishikawa.

“It was fun to put a race bib on and get in a hard race effort before the OPA Cup races next weekend,” Nishikawa wrote on Sunday. “I started hard in today’s race and really tried to hold the pace, but I think I faded a bit in the last km.”

“I’m happy with my season so far,” the World Cup regular added. “I have been feeling better and better with each race weekend.”

The three-loop 5 k race was a bit chaotic, Beatty explained, with laps of 1.7 k “so lots of people on course at the same time,” she wrote. “I pushed hard the whole way. It was a great way to get the travel body prepped for next weekend. Emily caught the 20 seconds on me at about 3.5km and then we skied together to the end. Tracking didn’t seem to be a thing so there was lots of switching tracks and practice adapting.

“The trip has been great so far, awesome team and good weather,” she added.

Most of the training group, which also includes Cendrine Browne (CNEPH/NST U23 team), Katherine Stewart-Jones (NDC Thunder Bay/NST U23), Knute Johnsgaard (AWCA/NST U23+), and Andy Shields (NDC Thunder Bay), will head to Planica and then to Nove Mesto for a second World Cup weekend. Nishikawa, who has spent the whole season as the lone Canadian woman in Europe, is enjoying having training partners again.

“It’s great to have more women on the team now!” she wrote.

Results: Women’s 5 k | Men’s 10 k

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Bjornsen Podiums in OPA Finals Prologue

Two days after sprinting in the Drammen World Cup heats, Sadie Bjornsen (USA) was back in a race bib at OPA Cup Finals in Toblach, Italy, on Friday. She led a sizable American contingent there with a third-place finish in the women’s 2.5 k freestyle prologue, 5.4 seconds behind Christa Jaeger’s (SUI) winning mark with a time of 8:07.2.

Bjornsen’s Alaska Pacific University teammate Kate Fitzgerald was behind her in 12th (+17.3). Erika Flowers (SMS T2) was 22nd (+27.8), Caitlin Patterson (CGRP) finished 24th (+28.3), Becca Rorabaugh (APU) took 26th (+32.9), Lauren Fritz (APU) was 34th (+50.0) and Anna Van Der Rhee (MWSC) took 37th (+1:14.9).

In the men’s 3.3 k prologue, Mike Sinnott (SVSEF) led the way for the U.S. in 29th place, 19.4 seconds back from Loris Frasnelli’s (ITA) top time at 8:28.4. Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) was 36th (+22.2), Pat Johnson took 39th (+23.7) and Matt Gelso tied with an Italian for 48th (+29.9).

College skiers Sam Tarling (Dartmouth) and David Norris (Montana State University) made the trip back over to Europe after NCAAs to compete as well; Tarling was 54th (+32.0) and Norris took 62nd (+44.6).

In the men’s junior division, Paddy Caldwell (SMS) posted the top U.S. result with a 17th-place finish, 21.3 seconds off the winning time from Switzerland’s Livio Bieler. Kevin Bolger (SVSEF) tied for 19th (+24.5).

Women’s 2.5 k Free Results

Junior men’s 3.3 k Free Results

Senior men’s 3.3 k Free Results

 

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Johnson and Fitzgerald Lead US in Italian OPA Cup

Patrick Johnson (SVSEF) and Kate Fitzgerald (APU) paced the American contingent in OPA cup racing today in Italy.

Fitzgerald finished the 15 kilometer freestyle competition in 14th place, finishing in a time of 40:36.7, 2:45.1 seconds behind  winner Debora Agreiter (ITA).

Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury) was the next best placed American, notching a 19th place finish. Erika Flowers (SMS T2) finished just behind Patterson in 20th position. Rebecca Rorabaugh (APU), Lauren Fritz (APU), and Anne Van Der Rhee (MWSC) finished 24th, 28th, and 29th respectively.

Patrick Johnson improved upon his 29th place showing the day prior to lead the American men, finishing the 30 kilometer examination in 22nd place with a time of 1:17.27.

Matt Gelso (Sun Valley), Eric Parker (SMS), and Michael Sinnott (SVSEF), placed 34th, 36th, and 37th respectively.

Patrick Caldwell (SMS) and Kevin Bolger (SVSEF) represented the US in the 15km freestyle junior competition, finishing 13th and 22nd respectively.

No American Junior women took part.

Women’s 15km Freestyle Result

Men’s 30Km Freestyle Result

Junior Men’s 15km Freestyle 

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Patterson, Gelso lead American contingent in Italy Continental Cup

Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury) and Matt Gelso (Sun Valley) led an American contingent in a pair of Continental Cup races in Italy on Saturday, placing 13th and 28th, respectively.

Patterson finished the 5 km classic in Campo Carlo Magno in 16:40, roughly 45 seconds behind German winner Stefanie Boehler. Becca Rorabaugh (APU) was 14th, with Kate Fitzgerald and Lauren Fritz (both APU) in 20th and 27th.

In the men’s race, a 10 km classic, German skier Franz Goering won the race with a time of 28:31, ahead of Italian Maicol Rastelli and German Sebastian Eisenlauer.

Gelso finished in 31:04. Patrick Johnson (SVSEF) was one place and less than a second back, in 31:05, with Mike Sinnott (SVSEF) in 33rd and Eric Packer (SMS) in 37th.

Patrick Caldwell (Stratton) finished the juniors competition in 30:58, good for 15th in his field. The race was run on the same course as the men’s event, earlier in the day.

Men’s results.

Women’s results.

Junior men’s results.

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Contenders Show Form Ahead of the Tour de Ski; Krogh and Jacobsen dominant in Sjusjøen.

Opa/Marathon Cup

While North American eyes were riveted on unprecedented performances in Quebec and Canmore it’s easy to forget that other races have been going on across the Atlantic, races used by potential Tour de Ski contenders to test their form.

Perhaps most ominous is the victory of Petter Northug (NOR) in La Sgambeda ski marathon, the first of 9 events in the FIS Marathon Cup.  Northug was his typical self, playing around mid-pack until Matti Heikkinen (FIN) started turning the screws at the front and shattered the pack down to 8.  Northug would linger towards the back until producing his trademark kick to victory.  He mentioned that he was pleased with the effort especially after all the heavy training he’s been doing ahead of the Tour de Ski.

As a side note, cast your eye down the results list.  Look to the 7th position.  That’s right, it’s Christian Zorzi, now 40 years old, showing form that would make Giorgio di Centa jealous.

One cannot help but notice the absence of Dario Cologna (SUI), a 3-time winner of the Tour de Ski, in Canmore.  Cologna is arguable Northug’s greatest challenger in this year’s Tour de Ski.  Clearly he has not been idle.  Today he skied clear of Alexander Legkov (RUS) , a potential Tour overall contender, by 19 seconds in an Opa cup in St. Ulrich.  The prior day he skied to a second place finish behind Franz Goering (GER) in a classic sprint.

Judging by the form of the two top contenders, this year should make for fascinating viewing.

Scandinavian Cup

Friday Finn Hagen Krogh returned to his best form in Sjusjøen, Norway.  He won Friday’s 15km free style by a clear margin of 47 seconds ahead of Tord Asle Gjerdalen with a time of 36:27.

Mike Dixon and any british fans will note Andrew Musgrave’s presence in the top 10, just under a minute behind Krogh.

Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen (NOR) made her intentions clear with a comfortable 41 second victory ahead of teammate Tuva Staver (NOR) in a time of 27:38 in the women’s 10km freestyle event.

Saturday brought a surprise successive victory by Krogh over Thomas Northug,the brother of Petter Northug, in the freestyle sprint.  Krogh began his day in 3rd position after the prologue and would go on to sweep his quarterfinal, semifinal, and final.  Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen demonstrated her fitness with a storming victory in the free style sprint to complement her win in the 10km freestyle.

Sunday Anders Aukland gave his younger competitors a lesson in the 30 kilometer classic, just shading Lars Nelson, a Swedish club-skiing revelation, by 0.5 seconds.  Krogh, the previous days winner, had to content himself with 4th place finish behind  Simen Håkon Østensen, but his performance was good enough to give him a clear 119 point lead over Snorri Einarsson (NOR) over the three day competition.

Astrid Jacobsen secured her overall victory over Tuva Staver (NOR) with a second place performance Sunday in the women’s 15km classic race. , losing narrowly to Britt Nydal (NOR).

Jacobsen (NOR) and Krogh (NOR) emerged from the weekend the clear leader in the Scandinavian cup, which consists of 13 competitions, 3 of which were completed this weekend.

Complete Results

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Brennan, Bjornsen Lead US in OPA Cup 15/30k Mass Start

OPA Cup racing continued in Slovenia with a 15/30km classic mass start.

Rosie Brennan was the top American in 5th, finishing 1:23 behind winner Barbara Jezersek, a regular on the Slovenian World Cup team. Jezersek is coming off a 19th place finish in the World Cup skiathlon last weekend in Lahti and bested Aurelie Dabudyk (FRA) by just a hair under 10 seconds in the 15k on Sunday.

Alenka Sebasek gave the host ocuntry two-thirds of the podium, placing third, 24 seconds behind Dabudyk.

Becca Rorabaugh placed 7th, 34 seconds behind Brennan.

Chelsea Holmes was 12th and Lauren Fritz 20th of 21 finishers.

In the men’s 30k race, Marco Muehlematter (SUI) bested Ivan Perrillat Boiteux (FRA) by seven seconds.

Erik Bjornsen was the top American in 23rd, +4:20.

Matt Gelso was 27th, Brian Gregg 28th, Reese Hanneman 30th, Tad Elliott 37th and Peter Kling 38th for the US.

Forty-three men finished the race.

On Saturday, Cebasek edged out Jezersek by just .6 seconds to win the 5k freestyle race.

Holmes was 10th for the US +31 seconds.

Rorabaugh was 15th, Brennan 18th and Fritz 24th.

In the men’s 10k Perrillat Boiteux earned a six-second victory over countryman Mathias Wibault.

Wibault was third in the 30k.

Tad Elliott finished 15 seconds off the podium in 5th and was 39 seconds behind the winner.

Matt Gelso was 21st, Brian Gregg 23rd, Erik Bjornsen 37th, Peter Kling 50th and Reese Hanneman 52nd in the 53-man field.

The OPA Cup season concludes next weekend with the OPA Cup Finals in Toblach, Italy.

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