With a chance to ski the free technique, Alaskans fare well in World Cup pursuit race

Monday, 27 November 2017, 09:49:20 AM. After the season's first three races, Sadie Bjornsen ranks 10th in the World Cup overall rankings.

Sadie Bjornsen capped the best start of her career Sunday by grabbing 10th place in a World Cup pursuit race in Kuusomo, Finland.

She was one of several Anchorage skiers who enjoyed solid results on the first day of freestyle competition after two days of classic-technique racing on the demanding trails at the Ruka ski area.

Kikkan Randall, a four-time Olympian, turned in her best result in the three-day, season-opening series by registering Sunday's eighth-fastest time in the women's 10-kilometer race. She had finished 48th in the previous day's 10K classic, and her effort Sunday allowed her to finish the pursuit in 25th place.

Bjornsen, who set the tone for her strong start Friday by qualifying for the Olympic team with a second-place finish in the classic sprint, had  Sunday's second-fastest time by an American and 11th fastest overall to move from 23rd place to 10th.

"Today, it was my goal to catch the group in front of me, and then just hang on for dear life," Bjornsen said by email. "I woke up feeling good, and recovered after the past two days, so I was feeling excited to see what I can do in skate skiing. I feel like I dug deeper than I have in a long time, and was really satisfied when I finally got to the finish line."

Erik Bjornsen, Sadie's brother, started the pursuit in 26th place and finished in 26th place to score World Cup points on three straight days.

Chris Grover, the head coach of the U.S. Ski Team's nordic squad, was impressed by Bjornsen, who led the U.S. men.

"This was a great opening World Cup Tour for Erik and we got to see his versatility, skiing equally strong in both skate and classic, sprint and distance, as well as his improved fitness," Grover said in a news release from the U.S. Ski Team. "Erik has been in outstanding shape all prep season and it is showing already on the World Cup."

Also showing promise was Scott Patterson, who moved all the way up from 86th place to 55th in the pursuit. His 15K freestyle time Sunday was the 31st fastest of the day.

Two other skiers from Alaska Pacific University's nordic ski center also improved their positions in the pursuit. Rosie Brennan started 33rd and finished 28th, and Chelsea Holmes started 64th and finished 60th.

Brennan collected World Cup points in two of the three races on the Ruka trails, which challenge skiers with multiple steep climbs.

Waxing conditions were difficult on Friday and Saturday because of temperatures near freezing, making the switch to freestyle skiing a welcomed one. Sadie Bjornsen said the U.S. wax crew did a good job preparing skis.

"It was nice to have skate skis under my feet after two really challenging classic days," she wrote. "Ruka is what I consider one of the toughest race courses on the circuit. It is just wall after wall, and you never seem to get a break.

"It is also really great to see so many girls and boys racing so well here to start the season. You can see that every person on our team feels like 'today can be my day,' and it shows. We are ready to take on this season and see the new levels we can reach."

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