New start format creates controversy at Tour of Anchorage

Mike Nesper

One major difference in this year's Tour of Anchorage was the distance -- the race was cut in half due to poor conditions at Kincaid Park.

But it was another change that irked Lauren Fritz.

Instead of grouping elite skiers by gender, start times were based on individuals' speed. A pace time was calculated for each skier based on races 24-kilometers or longer over the past three years. The total time divided by total distance equated a pace time in minutes per kilometer.

Waves of 50 skiers, ranked fastest to slowest, went out in two-minute intervals. Being able to ski with the elite men gave the three women in the first wave an advantage, Fritz said.

"I don't think it's a legitimate way to hold a race if you're going to have prize money," said Fritz, a member of Alaska Pacific University's Nordic Ski Club elite team.

Winners received $1,000 and a round-trip ticket courtesy of Alaska Airlines.

Though it was unlikely she would have beaten her APU teammate Kate Fitzgerald, who won the women's 26-K race in 1 hour, 7 minutes, 33.2 seconds, Fritz said she wasn't given the chance.

"I would have liked the opportunity to have skied with her," said Fritz, who finished second in 1:12:33.2.

Drafting was another issue for women in the second wave. They couldn't do it, said APU's Lex Treinen -- who won the men's 26-K race in 1:01:48.4 -- edging Mark Iverson by less than a second. And on a fast course like Sunday's, the ability to draft can mean better times, he said.

"It was so fast drafting made such a big difference," Treinen said. "They had to ski the whole race themself."

Race director Diane Moxness disagreed. Moxness said the women in the first wave did not have an advantage. They were skiing with racers with a similar pace time.

A lot of whom Fritz caught.

"I probably passed 15 wave one skiers," she said.

Fitzgerald had mixed feelings about the start. For her, starting with the elite men was an advantage.

"That was really beneficial," she said.

On the other hand, Fitzgerald said, it's difficult to mix genders because women in the second wave don't know where the other women are ahead of them.

"I totally understand how some people would feel like that's unfair," she said.

It was a well-intentioned idea, Fitzgerald said, but didn't translate well to this race.

"I feel bad for the organizers," she said. "They're doing their best to make it fair for everyone."

Moxness said the new start was intended to minimize passing.

"The goal was to have the fastest skiers go out first," she said.

Women in the top 50 were given the option to start with the second wave, Moxness said.

However, Fritz said, that wasn't permitted because race officials said "wave two was full."

Fritz also disagreed with how pace time was calculated -- long distance skiers would naturally have slower times.

"Someone who raced a 25-K is going to be faster than someone who raced a 50-K," she said. "When you break it down like that, it's arbitrary."

In a typical year, that wouldn't be as much of a factor. This year, the Tour consisted of just 26-kilometer and 19-kilometer courses because Kincaid Park and the Coastal Trail were eliminated from the route. The decision to reduce the annual event from 25, 40 and 50 kilometers was made Friday after groomers reported seeing standing water at Kincaid.

Any complaints are being taken into consideration as staff evaluates the race, Moxness said.

"We're trying to make it better each year," she said.

Temperatures dipped into the teens Saturday night, making for a fast course the following day. Conditions were optimal considering the lack of snow Anchorage has seen this season, Fitzgerald said.

"The groomers did a fantastic job working with next to no snow," she said. "It seemed like, to me, totally normal snow. Not like chopped up ice."

For full results, visit

Reach Mike Nesper at or 257-4335.

Tour of Anchorage

Top 3

Men's 26-kilometer freestyle

1. Lex Treinen, 1:01:48.4; 2. Mark Iverson, 1:01:49.1; 3. Jack Novak, 1:03:42.6.

Women's 26-kilometer freestyle

1. Kate Fitzgerald, 1:07:33.2; 2. Lauren Fritz, 1:12:17.2; 3. Aubrey Smith, 1:13:30.7.

Men's 19-kilometer classic

1. Canyon Tobin, 55:28.8; 2. Riley Bickford, 55:40.4; 3. Hamish Wolfe, 55:48.6.

Women's 19-kilometer classic

1. Anna Rix, 1:05:47.6; 2. Darcy Dugan, 1:10:48.2; 3. Merry Ellefson, 1:12:27.4.

Men's 19-kilometer freestyle

1. Luke McLaughlin, 49:38.7; 2. Roan Hall, 49:39.7; 3. Luke Jager, 49:41.5.

Women's 19-kilometer freestyle

1. Tasha Bergt, 58:19.7; 2. Hannah Booher, 1:0141.3; 3. Jenni Grunblatt, 1:02:35.0.