Randall struggles in return to World Cup

Beth Bragg

Four women cracked the top 30 for the U.S. Ski Team in a World Cup race Saturday in La Clusaz, France, but Anchorage's Kikkan Randall wasn't one of them.

Randall, 30, had her worst result of the season, placing 32nd while struggling with iced-up skis in a 10-kilometer classic race.

Liz Stephen of E. Montpelier, Vt., led the American effort by placing 15th, a career-best classic finish. Jessie Diggins of Afton, Minn., was 24th, Sadie Bjornsen of Anchorage was 28th and Ida Sargent of Orleans, Vt., 29th.

Norway's Marit Bjoergen marked her return to the World Cup following by claiming the gold medal. Bjoergen missed the Tour de Ski and last week's World Cup races in the Czech Republic due to a heart irregularity that hospitalized her briefly.

Temperatures were above freezing, conditions were wet and wax choices were challenging. Randall's skis packed on so much snow she said it was like skiing on stilts. She crashed once and came to a complete stop another time to scrape off snow her skis.

"I tried to knock the snow free several times but the snow kept packing on more," Randall said in an email. "I crashed once on the downhill when my skis grabbed while I was trying to kick free. I finally stopped at the top of the second-to-last hill and slid my skis across each other to clear the snow. That at least allowed me to glide again."

Matt Whitcomb, a coach for the U.S. team, said the Americans did well considering the conditions.

"Today was a challenging waxing day," he said. "The top of every hill was quite dry -- good, hard wax conditions -- while the gradual climbs and flats were glazed klister conditions. Even the best skis out there today were challenging, so I feel we fared well."

Randall was coming off a two-week break from competition, choosing to skip last week's races in the Czech Republic to recover from the demanding Tour de Ski, a series of seven races in nine days. Randall said she wasn't at 100 percent Saturday, but noted that her skis were a bigger factor than her fitness.

"I think my rest period post-tour was good and this weekend, no matter how it goes results-wise, will be a good training component for the buildup to world championships in the next few weeks," she said.

In the men's 15-K race, Andy Newell led the American men in 28th place. The win went to Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan.

Randall will race in Sunday's relay on a team that will also include Stephen, Diggins and Holly Brooks of Anchorage. That same group won a bronze medal earlier this season in a relay race in Sweden.

APU lands 4 on world team

Four Alaska Pacific University skiers, a group led by World Cup star Kikkan Randall, were named to the U.S. team that hopes to make an impact at the Nordic Ski World Championships next month in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

Thirteen skiers will represent the United States at the Feb. 20-March 3 championships. The Anchorage-trained group includes Randall, Holly Brooks and the brother-sister team of Sadie and Erik Bjornsen.

This will be Randall's seventh appearance at the World Championships, where she claimed a silver medal in 2008.

Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen, members of the 2011 team, are back for a second time, and Erik Bjornsen will be making his first appearance at the world championships, held every other year.

Besides Randall, only one other American has earned a medal at the worlds -- Bill Koch, back in 1982. But this season's team has high expectations.

Randall, 30, has become a regular on the World Cup podium the last two seasons, and a U.S. women's relay team, featuring Randall and Brooks, claimed a historic relay medal earlier this season.

"This team will be lean but focused on bringing home a medal," said U.S. Ski Team coach Chris Grover, a West High graduate who grew up skiing in Anchorage. "We have a history of success in Val di Fiemme and come to the championships in the midst of a strong season.

Ebner claims 2nd career win

UAA junior Lukas Ebner bagged his second career win and freshman Marine Dusser picked up her second podium finish of the season Saturday at the Denver Invitational in Minturn, Colo.

Ebner won the 10-kilometer freestyle race in 26 minutes, 16.1 seconds, more than 40 seconds ahead of Colorado's Rune Malo Oedegaard (26:57.0). UAA's Viktor Braennmark (27:34.9) finished seventh, and Lasse Molgaard-Nielsen (28:14.0) came in 14th.

MaDusser placed second in the women's 5-K freestyle race in 15:44.9, trailing only Colorado's Joanne Reid (15:27.3). UAA's Sarah Freistone finished 18th at 17:29.7, and Patricia Sprecher was 22nd at 18:05.2.

Through six events, UAA is in fifth place with 512 points. Denver leads the pack with 639. The last two events, a women's 10-K classic and men's 15-K classic, are Sunday.

Iverson, Brennan take Twin Cities titles

Mark Iverson and Rosie Brennan of Anchorage collected victories Saturday in the Tour de Twin Cities, a cross country race in Minneapolis that drew a strong field of skiers.

Iverson topped the men's 10-K freestyle in 21:09.5, ahead of longtime U.S. Ski Team member Torin Koos (21:18.8).

Brent Knight, a member of the APU nordic program along with Iverson and Brennan, was third in 21:26.6 and Tyler Kornfield, an Anchorage skier who races for UAF, was ninth in 21:45.1.

Brennan led a group of six Alaskans into the top 10 of the women's 5-K. She won convincingly in 12:03.0; Kate Fitzgerald of APU was fourth (12:26.1), Lauren Fritz of APU was seventh (12:43.1), Becca Rorabaugh of APU was eighth (12:43.5), Alyson McPhetres of UAF was ninth (12:50.8) and Crystal Pitney of UAF was 10th (12:55.7).

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.