Babikov skates to easy win
The Russian rocket is for real.
Ivan Babikov slaughtered the elite field of the Owl Creek Chase nordic race on Saturday, crossing the finish at the Aspen Golf Course in 1 hour, 7 minutes and 3 seconds ” more than 90 seconds faster than American Justin Freeman, who captured silver.
Babikov, who grew up near the Arctic Circle in Russia, maintains it wasn’t an easy feat.
“Oh man, it’s the hardest course ever, it’s freakin’ impossible,” Babikov said in nearly flawless English after the race. “I almost stopped a couple times … but I didn’t.”
The 25K race from Snowmass Village to Aspen has always been grueling, but until Saturday, the extent of the difficulty remained unknown to most pros. Over the past 17 years, the race has been largely dominated by locals and pros with ties to the Roaring Fork Valley, like Aspen native Casey Ward, who finished fifth in the elite division with a time of 1:11:22. But this year, the Chase counted as a Super Tour stop, an FIS North America Marathon Cup event and a 2006 Olympic qualifier.
Those distinctions combined to attract the big guns in the 18th running of the Chase.
“This is the most competitive the Owl Creek has ever been, by far,” Ward said after the race. “There are guys that have raced in World Cups that are here this year.”
Ward, who was instrumental in boosting the Chase’s prominence as a marquee event, said the future looks bright.
“I hope this becomes one of the premier events in the U.S., and this was a good start,” he said.
Babikov, who skied the beginning and end of the course in the days leading up to the race, said he was not prepared for what he faced on the rest of the course.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be this hard, a couple of those uphills were just unbelievable,” he said. “But I like it when it’s hard.”
Freeman, who finished second in 1:08:34, echoed Babikov.
“It hurt like hell,” he laughed. “I was really impressed by the course … it wasn’t fun, but it was a great course.”
Freeman added that it’s as tough mentally as it is physically.
“When a course is this high and this steep, it’s a little scary when you see a hill,” he said. “It’s tricky mentally.”
The women’s elite winner, Irene Eder, who finished with a time of 1:17:17, said the physical demand of the course forces racers to strategize.
“It was hard, and the key is to ski it smart, you have to do your own thing,” Eder said. “It’s the way a race is supposed to be.
“If you’re not in top shape, you’re going to have a tough time.”
Sun Valley’s Brooke Baughman, who finished second behind Eder with a time of 1:19:03, also said the course requires foresight and planning.
“It was actually more hilly than I thought it would be,” she said. “You definitely have to consider that and not take it as hard as I did … I took it a little too hard.”
Baughman said the Chase deserves to be a marquee race and a must-stop on the pro circuit, but the date may need to be adjusted slightly. The Chase conflicts with the Mora Vasaloppet in Minnesota, which is a famous nordic marathon. Baughman said even more pros would race the Chase if the two events didn’t overlap.
Bob Wade of the Ute Mountaineer, which is one of the main organizers of the Chase, said the race has proven that it’s worthy of being considered a marquee event. He added that the schedule will be adjusted next year so that the Chase will not conflict with other races.
“We have proven ourselves as a good venue, and we’re heading in the right direction,” he said.
Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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