Cross-country Ski World Cup sprint champion Kikkan Randall, 30, of Anchorage, Ak. fought hard to earn a fifth-place finish during Sunday’s 10-kilometer freestyle pursuit, the finale of the Ruka Triple mini-tour and cross country World Cup season opening weekend at Kuusamo, Finland.
Randall posted the best result for the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team while Marit Bjoergen from Norway took the victory for the second-straight year.
In Sunday’s men’s 15k pursuit, former Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Gold Teamer Noah Hoffman, 24, of Aspen, Co. posted the fastest race time of the day to wrap up the Ruka Triple mini-tour.
Hoffman (37:02) emerged with an impressive ninth-place finish after starting 38th. The U.S. Ski Team “B” teamer finished only 12.2-seconds behind winner Norwegian Martin Johnsrud Sundby (36:50) in the field of 100 finishers.
The weekend also featured Saturday’s women’s 5k and men’s 10k classic highlighted by Sadie Bjornsen’s career-best seventh-place finish, and Friday’s classic sprint opener when Randall earned the best World Cup classic sprint result of her distinguished career with a second place.
“It was an excellent start to the World Cup season for the U.S. with many personal bests. The team’s results have certainly exceeded our expectations,” said former SVSEF Nordic coach Chris Grover, now head coach of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team Head Coach.
Hoffman added about Sunday’s skate results, “We had a great day here in Ruka. Noah Hoffman skied the fastest time of the day in the 15k skate pursuit to move from 38th to ninth overall in the mini-tour.
“Kikkan Randall, Jessie Diggins and Liz Stephen skied the seventh, eighth, and ninth fastest times of the day, and Jessie did this despite having her pole and glove pulled off when someone stepped on her pole. Jessie skied most of the race without a glove in -14 Celsius temperatures.
“Kikkan moved from seventh in the tour to fifth, outsprinting Astrid Jacobsen and Yulia Tcheckaleva to secure the top-five finish. She put the hammer down around the last corner and into the finishing straight and the others could not respond.”
Hoffman was stoked. He said, “I’m happy with the way I skied. I get 50 World Cup points and 5,000 Swiss francs on top of that. It’s not a full World Cup win by any means but I’ll take it. Skiing in ninth in the tour is a big improvement over where I was yesterday so I’m happy with that as well.
“I’m really encouraged by my energy and my fitness right now and feeling like the best part about it is that my coaches and I have really good control over the situation, over my energy. I don’t think this happened by accident and so I think it’s repeatable and I’m looking forward to continuing on the rest of the season.”
Randall, in Sunday’s freestyle pursuit, said, “I’m super happy to wrap up a successful Ruka Triple today with a fifth place finish. It felt so good to be back on my skate skis! In classic I feel like I have to focus so hard on my technique and I can’t always use all the power and fitness that I have. But today I felt so comfortable on my skis and was able to use my full capacity.”
Sadie Bjornsen, 24, of Winthrop, Wa. finished 17th Sunday, 1:52 back, after a breakout weekend featuring a career-best seventh-place finish in the 5k classic Saturday and a third-place sprint qualification on Friday.
Bjornsen said, “Ruka was a fun and exciting way to start the World Cup Season. There is a long season ahead and many more races to come, but I am excited to have a great series under me. It was fun to get my first top ten in distance, fun to figure out some classic sprinting and even more fun to challenge myself on an intimidating course surrounded by fast people.”
Having earned International Ski Federation (FIS) start rights on the European World Cup from his results on the USSA SuperTour last winter, Super Tour king Mike Sinnott, 28, of Ketchum competed in all three Ruka mini-tour events. He placed 74th in the classic sprint Friday, 114th in the 10k classic Saturday and 93rd in Sunday’s 15k skate pursuit.
Former SVSEF Gold Teamer Simi Hamilton, 26, of Aspen, Co. missed qualifying for rounds by a second Friday in the classic sprint, settling for 36th place, the second American behind Andy Newell (24th).
Next weekend the World Cup moves to Lillehammer, Norway Dec. 7-8 for men’s and women’s 15k and 10k classic races as well as 4x7.5k and 4x5k team relays.
Here are U.S. results by day in Finland:
Dec. 1, women’s 10k freestyle pursuit: 5—Kikkan Randall 44:44 (1:02 back). 17—Sadie Bjornsen 45:34. 24—Jessie Diggins, 22, Afton, Minn. 45:51. 32—Liz Stephen, 26, East Montpelier, Vt. 46:14. 34—Holly Brooks, 31, Anchorage, Ak. 46:23. 51—Ida Sargent, 25, Orleans, Vt. 47:27. 64—Sophie Caldwell, 23, Peru, Vt. 48:07. 70—Rosie Brennan, 25, Park City, Utah 48:15 (86 finishers).
Dec. 1, men’s 15k freestyle pursuit: 9—Noah Hoffman 37:02 (0:12 back). 58—Kris Freeman, 33, Concord, N.H. 39:10. 88—Andy Newell, 30, Shaftsbury, Vt. 42:23. 93—Mike Sinnott 43:16 (100 finishers).
Nov. 30, women’s 5k classic: 7—Sadie Bjornsen 14:02 (0:29 back). 15—Kikkan Randall 14:21. 35—Ida Sargent 14:42. 40—Jessie Diggins 14:46. 47—Sophie Caldwell 14:50. 53—Holly Brooks 14:56. 67—Rosie Brennan 15:06 (103 finishers).
Nov. 30, men’s 10k classic: 288—Noah Hoffman 25:32 (0:49 back). 57—Kris Freeman 25:59. 77—Andy Newell 26:19. 79—Simi Hamilton, 26, Aspen, Co. 26:20. 114—Mike Sinnott 27:50 (120 finishers).
Nov. 29, women’s classic sprint: 2—Kikkan Randall. 16—Ida Sargent. 26—Sadie Bjornsen. 36—Sophie Caldwell. 48—Holly Brooks. 64—Jessie Diggins. 77—Rosie Brennan. 96—Liz Stephen (104 finishers).
Nov. 29, men’s classic sprint: 24—Andy Newell. 36—Simi Hamilton. 74—Mike Sinnott. 101—Kris Freeman. 106—Noah Hoffman (125 finishers).