Ruka Mini Tour Kicks off FIS Cross Country World Cup
More than eight months since the abrupt end of last season’s FIS Cross Country World Cup season, 13 members of the Davis U.S. Cross Country Team are more than ready to get back on snow and kick off the 2020-21 World Cup tour in Ruka, Finland. Friday’s classic sprint will mark the first event of the season, and open the three-day Ruka Mini Tour, which includes classic distance races Saturday, and a freestyle pursuit Sunday.
“I'm just feeling really lucky that we still have an opportunity to race,” said Katharine Ogden, who returns to the team this season after racing for Dartmouth College on the NCAA circuit the past two seasons. “I think that's amazing, and I know how much work has gone into it.”
Indeed, everything from social distancing, to face masks, multiple COVID-19 tests, and tips for safe international travel have all played a part in not only keeping the athletes and staff safe, but keeping events on the FIS World Cup schedule for the upcoming season.
“All smooth,” noted U.S. Ski & Snowboard Cross Country Program Director Chris Grover on the team’s trip to Finland. “All athletes and staff had a negative COVID test before getting on the plane, a negative test upon arrival, and here in Ruka we’re staying isolated from the public, from other teams, and even from each other.”
After enduring a 30-hour travel day to get to Finland, including multiple flights, the team is really happy to finally be on snow and put their summer training to the test against the best in the world.
“The Alaskans of course have been on snow for a few weeks, so they are likely more prepared for this weekend’s races than those coming from the East or Midwest who haven’t been on snow since last spring,” Grover added. “I anticipate that some athletes are ready to compete, while the others will be better prepared by the time we get to the World Cups in Davos, Switzerland (Dec. 12-13).”
Gus Schumacher is one of those Alaskans who was able to jump on snow before departing last week for Finland. Gus made his World Cup debut in Quebec at the end of the 2018-19 season, and after storming through last season, including winning the first gold medal for an American male at the Junior World Championships, and anchoring the gold-medal-winning men’s Junior World Championships relay team for the second-consecutive season, he is stoked to start in what feels like the ‘regular season’ World Cup.
“I'm definitely a little nervous, mostly because of my expectations for myself (top 30, maybe better), but I'm trying to manage that by just focusing on the process,” he said.
Like the rest of the team, Gus stayed close to home this past summer after all U.S. Ski & Snowboard Davis Cross Country Team on-snow and dryland camps were cancelled. But, sometimes something different is a good thing!
“My summer and fall training had a lot of positives; a lack of travel made it easy to follow a really strong, structured plan, and I've been able to be on great snow at home, and for that, I'm very thankful,” he said.
“I like traveling and I love racing, but when it comes down to it, I'm kind of a homebody,” added Katharine, who trained alongside her Stratton Mountain School Elite Team teammates, which included Davis U.S. Cross Country members Julia Kern, Sophie Caldwell Hamilton, Simi Hamilton, and Jessie Diggins. “Just being in Vermont all summer and training consistently with my teammates has just been a blessing. We've done some simulated camps, and some team bonding camps, and it was a really great summer.”
“The absence of travel this summer has given me the gift of consistency,” added Jessie. “My training has been so dialed in...same time trials, same roads, and I get to see my coach every single day. Plus, we have a great group of athletes, Sophie, Simi, Julia, Katharine to train with.”
Jessie and her East Coast teammates did enjoy an early-season taste of winter prior to departing for Europe. “It snowed in Stratton and I got to crush some hard intervals on the snow,” Jessie said. “I was so happy...and it really made me realize I was built for this sport. That feel of the skis sliding under your feet, it is amazing!”
With the entire World Cup remaining in Europe this season - with the exception of the World Cup finals in Beijing in March - the big challenge for the team will be staying healthy throughout the five-month season. “We are in good hands with a carefully thought out, flexible plan, that will mitigate risks,” Jessie said. “We know the routine, but the key for us will be our ability to remain flexible throughout the season.” That flexibility has already been put to the test as the second event of the season scheduled for Lillehammer, Norway, has been cancelled. So the team will enjoy a rare off-race week prior to the Davos events.
Of the 13 American’s set to start on Friday, Jessie, Simi, Sophie, Rosie Brennan, Scott Patterson and Caitlin Patterson are the most experienced with numerous World Cup seasons to their credit. Julia, Katharine, Hailey Switbul, Gus, Kevin Bolger, Logan Hanneman, and JC Schoonmaker, will all be looking up to their veteran teammates for advice and guidance as they kick off a very different World Cup season for the first time.
One teammate who will be missed at Ruka is Sadie Maubet Bjornsen - the Queen of Ruka - who became the first American to lead the overall World Cup standings last year following a third-place finish in the classic sprint, and a fourth-place result in the 10k classic. Sadie is taking a different approach to this season and looks forward to joining her teammates in Europe later this season.