Nordic Skiing: Three Alaskans complete grueling Tour de Ski in Italy, and 3 more make the finals of a classic sprint in Utah

By: Beth Bragg, Alaska Sports Report

US Ski Team members celebrate the end of the Tour de Ski in Italy. Photo courtesy of U.S. Ski Team

It was a day of guts and glory for Alaska skiers on global and national stages Sunday.

The guts: Rosie Brennan, Scott Patterson and Zanden McMullen completed the most brutal race in the most brutal of cross-country ski series, surviving the climb up an alpine ski slope in the final competition of the Tour de Ski in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

The glory: Luke Jager captured victory in the men’s classic sprint race in a Super Tour event that marked the end of a week’s worth of action at Utah’s Soldier Hollow. Prior to Sunday, skiers vied for national championships in three races.

Jager was among three Alaskans who claimed medals in U.S. championship races. He took gold and David Norris won bronze in the men’s 10-kilometer classic race on Tuesday, and Kendall Kramer earned silver in the women’s 20-kilometer freestyle race on Friday.

In Italy, Brennan, Patterson and McMullen — all members of Alaska Pacific University’s ski club — were among 53 men and 30 women still standing at the end of the Tour de Ski, an arduous challenge with seven races in nine days that takes skiers from Italy to Switzerland to Italy again.

The series started with 169 of the world’s best skiers – 99 men and 70 women – but daily withdrawals winnowed the field.

The big news of the day was Sophia Laukli’s win in the Tour’s most famous race, a 10-kilometer freestyle that ends with a steep climb up the Alpe Cermis alpine ski slope. The race gains 1,400 feet in the final four kilometers.

Laukli, a 23-year-old from Maine, is a dual-sport athlete whose trail-running resume includes triumphs in Alaska’s Bird Ridge hillclimb and the Alyeska Cirque race.

She placed third in the Alpe Cermis race last year, and she demonstrated her comfort on mountains Sunday by winning in 38 minutes, 16.9 seconds for a 17-second margin of victory.

Minnesota’s Jessie Diggins placed sixth to secure the overall Tour title of her career. Diggins, 32, built a big lead in the Tour standings by winning one race and finishing third in three others.

Brennan placed 12th in Sunday’s race and 12th overall. Her best results were second place in the 20K classic pursuit race in Davos, Switzerland, and fourth place in the 10K classic race in Toblach, Italy.

In the men’s race up Alpe Cermis, McMullen placed 36th and Patterson 42nd. They were both more than three minutes off the winning pace of 33:00.7 set by France’s Jules LaPierre.

McMullen and Patterson were the only two American men to complete the Tour. Patterson finished 26th in the overall standings and McMullen was 36th.

The top result by an Alaska man came from Gus Schumacher of APU, who posted a career-best fourth-place finish in the classic sprint in Toblach — the fourth race of the series. He dropped out the next day because of illness.

At Soldier Hollow, the next tier of U.S. skiers competed throughout the week for national championships in three events and for Super Tour points in Sunday’s classic sprint.

Sunday belonged to Jager, who started the season in Europe on the World Cup tour with the U.S. Ski Team. He crushed Sunday’s qualifying with the fastest time by 5.81 seconds — a huge margin in a sprint race.

He went on to win the finals by more than four seconds.

Jager was joined in the six-man finals by APU teammate Michael Earnhart, who grabbed the bronze medal, and UAA’s Peter Hinds, who placed sixth. In all,14 Alaskans advanced to senior-division quarterfinals.

For Earnhart, 21, third place was a nice consolation prize after coming close to the podium in two national championship races. He finished fourth in the freestyle sprint and was the fourth American, and fifth overall, in the 20K free.

On Friday, 21-year-old Kendall Kramer of Fairbanks collected the first U.S. championship medal of her career by grabbing second place in the 10K freestyle. Skiing for UAF, Kramer finished 6.3 seconds behind winner Haley Brewster of the University of Vermont, who clocked 54:37.2.