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Roller Ski Race Fitness Check For Cross Country Athletes

By Tom Horrocks
August, 4 2019
Caitlin Patterson leads Sophie Caldwell at App Gap Challenge
Caitlin Patterson leads Sophie Caldwell during the skating portion of the App Gapp Challenge in Vermont. (U.S. Ski & Snowboard - Tom Horrocks)

There is nothing like a hot dip into the pain cave for a winter athlete to check the fitness meter with the 2019-20 competition season less than 100 days out. Recently, a number of U.S. Cross Country Team athletes strapped on the roller skis to do just that at Vermont’s App Gap Challenge, and Colorado’s Summit Roller Ski Festival.

“It’s always fun to just put a bib on this time of year,” said Simi Hamilton (Stratton Mountain, Vt.) after winning the 10th Annual App Gap Challenge a 7k uphill skiathlon on Aug. 3. “We spend so much time just easy training and doing intervales with teammates, but it’s rare in the summer that you are actually putting a bib on and racing. So it's nice to kind of touch base with those emotions again...and it's always fun to push hard.”

The App Gap Challenge featured more than 1,500 feet of climbing and started off with skate technique over mostly rolling roads, except for a steep climb to the Mad River Glen Ski Area parking lot where athletes swapped out their skate skis for classic roller skis to tackle the final push to the summit that featured grades in excess of 10-percent.

“Uphill races have never been my strength, so my strategy was just to hold on for as long as I could to conserve energy whenever possible,” said Sophie Caldwell (Stratton, Vt.) who competed alongside her U.S. Cross Country Team teammate Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury, Vt.). “Caitlin led the whole time (on the skating portion), which was really nice.”

“I led all of the skate, and I really wish that someone else took the lead for a bit, but I couldn’t get them to do it,” added Patterson, who laid down a blistering pace on the skate portion, and held on to the lead through the transition to classic before being overtaken by Caldwell, and eventual winner Katherine Ogden (Landgrove, Vt.). “Katherine, Sophie and I all started out the classic together, but Katherine pulled ahead and was really strong on the classic. I think I burned myself up a bit too much on the skate, but still, it was a good day - a good hard effort!”

Caldwell rolled to the summit in second, while Patterson, who won last year’s App Gap Challenge, held on for third.

At the Summit Roller Ski Festival in Breckenridge, Colo., Noel Keefe (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) made the trip to Summit Country to test his sprint fitness, taking the victory in head-to-head competition against Sweden’s Simon Hallstrom, the 2018 Swedish national biathlon champion. “It was a super fun race and a cool event,” said Keefe, who will also compete for the University of Utah this season. 

With the World Cup season kicking off Thanksgiving weekend in Norway, Hamilton is pleased with his fitness level, and he’ll have a few more opportunities to test it as he heads to Europe next week with U.S. Cross Country teammates Caldwell, Sadie Bjornsen (Anchorage, Alaska), Rosie Brennan (Anchorage, Alaska), Kevin Bolger (Sun Valley, Idaho), Erik Bjornsen (Anchorage, Alaska) and former U.S. Ski Team teammate Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, Vt.) to compete in four roller ski events at the Toppidrettsveka in Norway, August 22-24.

“We’re always a little uncertain about how the race shape is this time of year because we haven’t been doing very much hard stuff,” Hamilton said. “But training has been going really well, I’ve been doing a lot of easy base training, with some threshold work here and there and the body is feeling really good, so I’m psyched.”

Like Hamilton, Keefe is also happy with his fitness level with the competition season on the horizon.

“My fitness is at the place where it should be,” said Keefe, who is also looking forward to getting back on snow Thanksgiving weekend at a training camp in West Yellowstone, Mont. “I have been training in my home town for the past month or so and that has allowed me to do some time trials that I have a lot of historical data on. This has provided me a pretty good picture of where I am, and I am looking forward to this season. I increased my training hours this year and it is hard to tell at this point in the season, but I think the work I am doing is going to pay off in time for race season.”