FAIRBANKS — Jessie Diggins of Minnesota continued her victory streak Sunday on the Birch Hill trails, skiing away from the field after five kilometers of the women's 30-kilometer race to take a minute-and-a-half win.
Anchorage's Scott Patterson of the APU Nordic Ski Center used a similar tactic to win the men's 50K by more than three minutes.
The win gave Diggins a sweep of the three individual races at the week-long race series. Two of her victories – the 30K Sunday and the freestyle sprint Wednesday – came in U.S. national championship races. She was also a member of Friday's gold-medal winning relay team.
Patterson won two of the three men's races, with his first victory coming in Monday's skiathlon, which wasn't a national championship race. He added a silver medal in the relay.
Diggins, a two-time medalist at the world championships in February, skied remarkably consistent laps, slowing by only about 10 seconds on her middle two laps while her closest competitors slowed by nearly a minute over the same time frame.
APU teammates Kikkan Randall and Chelsea Holmes skied most of the race together and finished 13 seconds apart to grab the silver and bronze medals.
Diggins clocked the fastest split time of the field for each of the four laps.
Temperatures were just above freezing with occasional rain flurries, making for slow conditions for the racers.
"It got slower throughout the week as things warmed up," Diggins said. "It felt like suction cups on the bottom of your skis, but the snow stayed pretty hard. It wasn't like we were wading through slush."
After Diggins dropped the field, a chase pack formed that included Randall, Holmes and Caitlin Gregg of Minnesota.
Holmes, a 30-year-old from Girdwood who finished 13th in the 30K in her world championship debut February in Finland, said she took turns leading the chase pack until the last three kilometers.
"Until the last few kilometers, I led climbing sections to the top and (Randall) was taking the gradual and the grinding sections," Holmes said. "She is definitely stronger than me in those areas … It was a feeling of working together and work where each one is strong."
On the fourth lap, Randall skied away from Holmes to take her fourth silver medal in as many races. She finished 1:35 behind Diggins and 13 seconds ahead of Holmes.
"Part of me wishes I would have gone with Jessie at the beginning, because I had a lot of energy at the end," said Randall.
APU put three in the top 5 in the women's race, with Rosie Frankowski of Minneapolis finishing fifth.
Frankowski gave a frank assessment of what an hour-and-half ski race feels like.
"It wasn't like I died," she said, "but I could tell the death was very close."
In the men's race, Patterson skied with the group for three laps before decisively pulling ahead of Brian Gregg. It was the 24-year-old's second national title after winning a 15-kilometer classic championship last season in Houghton, Michigan.
"I thought today was pretty good — I'd put it right up there with my Holmenkollen results," said Patterson, referring to his 28th place on the World Cup earlier this year. "I think it was definitely a top-30 World Cup results."
Second-place Brian Gregg of Minneapolis was the only skier to match Patterson's pace for the first three laps, but he eventually succumbed to Patterson's gritty skiing.
"He was super strong," third-place Eric Packer said of Patterson's performance. "He went out similar to the way he went in the skiathlon … I made the decision to race the second pack."
Packer grabbed third place by putting 20 seconds on his APU teammate Tyler Kornfield.
In Sunday's junior races, Gus Schumacher, a 16-year-old from Anchorage, beat Ti Donaldson of Fairbanks in the boys race, while Schumacher's Alaska Winter Stars teammate Molly Gellert, 17, placed second to Nicole Schneider of Northern Michigan University in the girls race.
For most competitors, the races mark the end of a long season and they will enjoy a few weeks off in April before resuming full-time training.
For Randall, that means getting back to her Anchorage home for the first time in four months, as well as a vacation to Maui. Meanwhile, about a dozen racers will travel to rural Alaska as volunteer coaches for NANA Nordic and Skiku....Read more