TRAVERSE CITY – Alex Vanias and Sam Holmes have been battling for the top spot at the podium all season long.
Nothing changed on Saturday when the pair finished first and second, respectively, in the 50K freestyle race at the 43rd North American VASA.
The competitors are no strangers as they compete on the cross-country skiing circuit nearly every weekend and have had many battles for the top spot.
"It is nice to be able to leave it all out here," said Vanias, who finished first in 2 hours, 27 minutes and 49 seconds. "There is a lot of quality competition at VASA. Sam Holmes beat me a couple of weeks ago, so it is good to be in the front once in a while."
Holmes was able to keep pace until the final stretch, placing second in 2:30:36, and is no stranger to the level of skill that Vanias brings to the course. Vanias has won this race three times in four tries.
"Alex (Vanias) and Eli (Brown) weren't around last weekend (at the White Pine Stampede) and I have only skied against Eli one time," the Traverse City resident said. "I have skied against Alex a lot of times and know he is a great competitor. You have to go out there and expect to try and hang with him as long as I can."
Vanias, who resides in Ann Arbor, used the first half-hour of the race as a warm-up because he didn't have a chance with the new snow before the race and said the lack of snow downstate has put a damper on his conditioning. However, he used his knowledge of the course (he lived in Traverse City before moving downstate) to his advantage and took home the top spot.
"It is great to know the course because I can go full speed down every hill," the 28-year-old said. "I didn't have to slow down at all and having lived here is a definite bonus."
Holmes noted that fresh lake-effect snow is some of the slowest skiing racers have to deal with, but the grooming crew did a "great" job of preparing the course on a short schedule.
Eli Brown (Williamsburg) placed third in 2:32:43; Brad White (Holland) finished fourth in 2:34:10 and Kyle Hanson (Northville) placed fifth in 2:36:55.