It’s all Benes at Mammoth Marathon
Special to the Sun
In a long and arduous cross country ski racing season, there are always a few “bellwether” races that stand out throughout the winter, either because of their uniqueness, their popularity or their place in the Far West Nordic schedule.
The Snowshoe Thompson Classic at Auburn Ski Club is one, as the first “important” race in some of the various race series competitions (Fischer Cup, Masters Team, Junior Olympic qualifier, etc.) and as the first local Classic-style race. The Great Race and the Gold Rush always stand out as well, the former because of its overwhelming local popularity, the latter because of its national-caliber stature and 50-kilometer distance.
The Mammoth Marathon has become one of those events, allowing local racers to “wrap up” the season in a beautifully scenic, slightly out-of-the-way race venue. Sure, there are a couple more races on the schedule, such as the popular Billy Dutton Uphill at Squaw Valley next Sunday, noted for its novelty and great cause (a major fundraiser for the local Junior Nordic teams). But as the ultimate wind-up of the regular Nordic season, with its incredibly fun course, great volunteers and scrumptious post-race banquet, the Mammoth Marathon can’t be beat.
And there’s one local racer who has developed quite an affinity for racing the trails at Tamarack Lodge XC. Jakub Benes, a Team FsX (Fischer-Swix) racer from Oakland and Soda Springs, made a triumphant return this year to defend his title from 2006, cruising away from a strong field to win the 2007 event.
Even more impressively, Benes has won his last four races he’s competed in at Mammoth Lakes, notching wins in the Allan Bard Memorial Classic the past two years to go along with his Marathon victories.
“I guess I just like racing down here,” a tired but exultant Benes said after his most recent win. “I really like the courses down here; I seem to always ski well on them.”
Benes was content to let the pack take the pace out slow on the initial climb up to the beautiful Lakes Basin, where racers doing the 42-kilometer distance would perform three winding figure eight laps.
Though the conditions at the start were firm and fast, the warm sun would take its toll throughout the race, softening up the snow and slowing it down significantly by the final lap. Benes bided his time in the lead pack of five racers, then three, before turning on the jets and cruising away to a convincing 1 hour, 56 minutes and 15 seconds victory, a 2-minute-plus edge over his next competitor, Rossignol skier Chris McGovern of Nevada City (1:58:34). FsX teammate August Brautigam of Truckee managed to stay out in front of the rest of the pack, taking third place with a time of 2:00:16.
In somewhat of a small women’s field, Julie Young of Auburn (Rossignol) easily outdistanced her competition to cruise to a win in 2 hours, 25 minutes and 19 seconds, comfortably ahead of Truckee’s Cherie Kopytko (2:33:05) and Bishop’s Carolyn Tiernan (2:35:41).
In the 21-kilometer Half-Marathon event, it was Truckee’s own Junior Olympian Russell Kennedy who took top honors with a time of 1:03:48, edging out two-time U.S. Olympic athlete Nancy Fiddler of Crowley Lake (1:05:58) and Far West teammate Bryce Tiernan of Bishop (1:08:25). The Junior 10K division was won by Truckee athletes Justin Ondry (32:02) and Annika Taylor (33:41).
The Far West Nordic race schedule wraps up next weekend with two events, the 10-kilometer Tom’s Classic Race in Bear Valley on Saturday, April 7, and the aforementioned Billy Dutton Uphill at Squaw Valley on Sunday, April 8. All the results and information is available online at http://www.farwestnordic.org.