Over the weekend, Alaska opened its annual Besh Cup competitions in Fairbanks after a rushed move of venue from Kincaid Park, Anchorage to Birch Hill, Fairbanks due to minimal snow conditions. The pre-Christmas Besh Cup races attract large fields with many collegiate skiers competing from Alaskan universities (UAA, APU and UAF) and from out-of state colleges whilst on Christmas break. Representing Australia were: Casey Wright (UAA/Birkebeiner NSC), Liam Flanagan (VIC XC/NSCF-FXC), Brianna Oldis (VIC XC/NSCF-FXC) and Thomas McMahon (Birkebeiner NSC/NSCF-FXC).
Saturday’s race was a 1.3km Classic Sprint where Casey used her speed early to qualify second behind APUNSC Elite Team Skier and Fairbanks local, Becca Rorabough. Casey cruised through her quarter and semi-finals to make the Women’s Open A Final alongside two APU Elite Team skiers Becca Rorabough and Rosie Frankowski, Dartmouth College’s Taryn Hunt-Smith, Alaska Winter Stars’ Molly Gellert and UAA Teammate Hannah Rudd. Casey was well placed going into the final downhill, but a mishap took her from second to fifth at the finish.
Quote from Casey: “I was feeling really good and in a great position in the final to challenge for the win but I caught an edge and fell. Shattered I couldn’t finish the race how I wanted to but stoked with my feeling through the day.”
Liam Flanagan qualified as the 29th U18 Male (80th Open Male) in a very strong junior men’s field and Thomas McMahon finished as the 16th Senior Male (64th Open Male). Brianna Oldis qualified as the 16th U18 Woman (39th Open Women) just missing out on the Junior Bonus Bracket by 2.62 seconds.
Sunday’s race brought some complications with the Pisten Bully breaking down overnight leaving the trails to be prepared “old school” by snowmachines (what we call snowmobiles in Alaska). The Open Women and Men raced over 10 and 15 kilometres respectively on what can only be described as a brutal course. The Chief of Competition in Fairbanks, John Estle (who some Australians may remember from Falls Creek in the early 90’s) is renowned for designing hilly loops that challenge skiers greatly. Due to the low snow levels, the courses were toned down from the standard FIS loops used at Birch Hill, but only a little bit.
In the Men’s 15km a breakaway formed early with David Norris (APU Elite Team) and Gus Schumacher (Alaska Winter Stars) taking the early lead followed by a pack of mixed college, APU Elite Team and club juniors who broke apart as they completed their second lap. Tom McMahon was the first Aussie across the line in 40th place, followed by Liam Flanagan, who felt as though he’d been thrown in the deep end having only just turned 16, finished in 50th.
In the Women’s 10km race, Rosie Frankowski broke away early and a pack containing Casey Wright and about 12 other skiers formed. In the final lap the pack split apart with Becca Rorabough and Molly Gellert getting some space in an attempt to catch Frankowski. Suffering from glide issues on the fast 1km downhill down to the biathlon range and then up over the final 600m climb Casey lost some ground on the pack to ultimately finish a strong 16th position just behind UAA teammate and 2017 World Junior Championships competitor for Canada, Natalie Hynes. Brianna Oldis, suffering from an ongoing injury wisely chose to pull out after the 7km point and rest.
Earlier results from Australians in the Alaskan race season:
Report by Alasdair Tutt