Take heart, Anchorage skiers. The world’s best ski racers are dealing with a snow-deprived winter too.
The season-opening weekend of World Cup cross-country racing wrapped up Sunday in Kuusamo, Finland, where skiers and race organizers were challenged by a lack of snow.
Anchorage skiers Sadie Bjornsen and Rosie Brennan both collected World Cup points and Erik Bjornsen just missed a top-30 finish in the classic distance races.
For the second straight day, Sadie Bjornsen led the Americans by placing eighth in the women’s 10-kilometer race. Coupled with her 11th-place showing in Saturday’s sprint, the performance allowed Bjornsen to leave the Ruka ski trails as the world’s 10th-ranked skier.
“It was a fun and furious first distance race on the World Cup,” she said by email. “Due to a lack of snow, the course got changed to three laps of a 3.3K course, with an evil combination of constant work.
“The downhills were wicked fast, so there was little to no recovery. I went out hard, and did my very best to hang on. Despite losing my ‘fight for the podium’ on my third lap, I feel so excited and encouraged about finishing 8th today.
“I had good feelings, I had good skis, and I know where I lost my time a bit.”
Bjornsen, a two-time Olympian, finished 70.5 seconds behind winner Therese Johaug of Norway, who won in 28:02.5.
The race marked Johaug’s return to competition following an 18-month suspension for use of a banned substance. The World Cup overall champion in 2016, Johaug received the punishment — which kept her out of the 2018 Winter Olympics — for using a lip balm that included clostebol, a banned steroid.
Brennan finished 23rd, 2:02.8 behind Johaug. She was the third American finisher behind Bjornsen and 14th-place Jessie Diggins of Minnesota.
“It’s always nice to get things rolling,” Brennan said by email. “Ruka is a tough place to find your groove with very challenging tracks, but any signs of strength in Ruka are good signs for the future.”
Caitlin Patterson of Anchorage, who trains in Vermont, place 46th, nearly three minutes behind Johaug.
In the men’s 15K classic, Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov won in 36:17.5 for his second straight victory. He also won Saturday’s sprint.
Erik Bjornsen finished 31st, one spot out of World Cup points and 1:50 behind the winner. Scott Patterson was 2:47 back in 57th place and David Norris was 2:53 back in 59th.
The Bjornsens, Brennan, Norris and Scott Patterson are members of the Alaska Pacific University nordic program. The group’s next stop is Norway as World Cup competition continues with weekend races in Lillehammer.
“It is a long season ahead, and this weekend was a good first checkpoint,” Sadie Bjornsen said. “I know each race will build on the one before, so I am just loving every second of this process.
“I am also feeling pretty thankful Ruka was able to put on a good weekend despite the lack of snow. There was no quality lost in the process, so that was wonderful!”