Lenka Palanova glided around the final corner and started striding for the finish.
Jettisoned along by powerful double-pole plants, Palanova coasted across the line at the Aspen Cross-Country Center to win the women’s division of the 2014 Owl Creek Chase on a brilliantly sunny Sunday morning.
Palanova, a cross-country ski coach in Vail, looked back down the groomed nordic tracks and watched Maria Strubel, a cross-country ski coach in Aspen, finish second in the main event of the Aspen Nordic Festival.
Minutes earlier, three more coaches with the Aspen Valley Ski Club — including two brothers— teamed up to finish 1-2-3 in the men’s classic race.
Nils Koons edged his brother Ben Koons for the men’s classic title with AVSC colleague Bryan Cook close behind in third place.
“I didn’t really expect to win it,” said Palanova, a native of the Czech Republic. “I’ve been coaching a lot, but I haven’t been training as much.”
Formerly racing out of Boulder, Palanova and her husband moved to Vail when she took a coaching position there.
“We are glad to be in the mountains,” she said, adding that the classic technique for the Owl Creek Chase was a big challenge, even though the course was a bit shorter than the scheduled 21 kilometers.
“I was happy to see the finish line, and see Maria was behind me,” Palanova said. “But doing this race classic ... oh, my God, it’s tough.”
She finished in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 49 seconds.
Generally, she said she prefers the skate technique but opted for classic for the traditional Owl Creek Chase, which measured closer to 19K, according to many skiers.
“It’s a good challenge in classic,” she said of the Snowmass-to-Aspen tour. “(At the start), we were all excited and scared at the same time.”
A day earlier, Palanova and all of the top finishers in the Owl Creek Chase were wearing their coaching hats and working the waxing tables for their respective junior skiers in the Aspen Duathlon cross country races, hosted by Aspen High School and AVSC.
“(Saturday) was a great day, but it was pretty hectic,” men’s classic winner Nils Koons said of the junior duathlon, where skiers did half ofthe race classic and half skating.
On Sunday, he and his fellow coaches could focus on their own classic events.
“It was beautiful snow. It’s great getting out early in the morning before the snow transforms,” said Nils, who grew up with brother Ben in New Zealand.
The two moved to Maine, where they got into cross-country ski racing. After college in New Hampshire, they kept moving west — to Aspen.
“It was great skiing with Ben and Bryan. I’ve been racing on the same team with Bryan the last few years,” said Nils Koons, 25. He won in 56 minutes, 50 seconds. Ben was second in 57:53.
“The three of us skied most of it together. ... That was fun,” said Ben Koons, 27. “Perfect conditions for a classic race. The organizers and groomers did an awesome job putting this race on.”
In the women’s classic division, former longtime valley resident Tammy Jacques, finished third.
Jacques, now living in Steamboat Springs with her family, is a former pro mountain biker making a cycling comeback.
“At Steamboat, I fell in love with nordic,” Jacques said. “It’s so much fun. It’s awesome competition.”
About 150 skiers participated Sunday — half in the classic race and half in the skating race.
Tabor Scholl, of Kremmling, won the women’s skate race Sunday in 1:06:58.
Cara Borchers, of Basalt, was second (1:09:05). Christena Ward, of Dillon, was third (1:15:06).
Boulder’s Matt Hunteze, 28, won the men’s skate race in 57:11. Breckenridge’s Mike Schilling was second (58:48). Jason Anderson, of Basalt, finished third (59:36).
Complete results are on Page A16 in today’s sports section.