TRAVERSE CITY — Illness prevented Sam Holmes from defending his 2016 16K classic title at last year's North American VASA, but the 25-year-old Traverse City resident returned Sunday to win it again.
Holmes finished in 42 minutes, 52 seconds — nine ticks ahead of runner up Alex Vanias (43:01).
"I knew it would be a good race," Holmes said. "For the Michigan Cup, this race had all the competition that is generally spread out between the other races. Everyone was out, so I knew it was going to be awesome."
Holmes and Vanias skied together for the first 15K of the race, but as the pair hit one of the final hills on the course, Holmes kicked it into high gear.
"It was a pretty good uphill, and on that uphill, I went for it," he said.
Vanias said he tried to match Holmes' acceleration to keep pace, but his kick slipped a couple of times and Holmes opened a the gap he needed to earn the victory — just a day after finishing runner up in the 43rd annual event's 50K freestyle at Timber Ridge Resort.
"He got a little gap over the top, and I couldn't close it," Traverse City's Vanias said.
Still, not a bad finish for Vanias, who has competed multiple times at VASA but never in the classic style.
"I haven't been on much snow, so I figured I'd race another day and get a good workout," he said. "I felt way better than yesterday."
Holmes isn't done racing yet. The Michigan Tech alum is getting ready for this "target race" — the American Birkebeiner in Cable, Wis., which takes place in two weeks.
He also has his eye on a couple other races in the meantime.
"I've been racing pretty well, but the key now is to make sure I'm not getting overtired," Holmes said. "It's been a lot of long races lately.
Lars Hallstrom (Ann Arbor) finished third in 44:38, Kyle Hanson (Traverse City) fourth in 45:59 and Jay Woodbeck fifth in 46:42.