CRAFTSBURY, Vermont — Even in the morning rain, the men’s 15 k mass start classic played out essentially as expected on Sunday at the SuperTour Finals. A lead group of five separated themselves from the rest of the field fairly early, comprised of all the usual suspects in a domestic classic distance race.
After keeping a consistent position at the heart of the lead group for the entire race, Kris Freeman (Team HomeGrown/USST) made his move with Noah Hoffman (Team HomeGrown/USST) in the final third of the race. The two put a gap on the rest of the field, but only one could prevail at the end.
Freeman proved that even in recovery, he can out-kick his younger teammate. He beat Hoffman to the line by 1.6 seconds. Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) took third (+15.5).
“It was a solid race today,” said Freeman, who is racing himself back into shape after a recent bout of illness.
Knowing that his energy was lower than he would have liked, Freeman waited until late in the race to take the lead.
“I don’t have a lot left, so I made Hoff do a lot of the work today. We started working together for the last 5 k,” he said.
“It played out the way I was hoping it would — I was hoping I’d have enough to outkick him at the end.”
While Freeman sat back, Hoffman knew it was up to him to set the pace at the beginning. With the overall Finals standings in mind, he skied consistently at the front to push the pace.
“Tuesday’s [classic sprint] is going to be tough for me to stay within reach, so I wanted to put on as much time as I could today, and the only way to do that was to make the pace hard because nobody else was going to do it,” said Hoffman.
Not that nobody else was willing to give it a shot — Bjornsen took more than one turn at the front, but each time it was for only a few minutes.
“Those guys weren’t too happy with my pace, so it was only for half a k the couple times I was leading,” said Bjornsen.
Skiing with the leaders for most of the race, Bjornsen said he could tell that Hoffman and Freeman were going to make a break on the fifth lap. Bjornsen and Tad Elliott (Team HomeGrown/USST) skied together in the third and fourth positions, and Bjornsen eventually pulled away to finish third with no one else in sight.
Hamilton, who had hovered slightly off the pace of the lead group for the middle of the race, quietly moved from seventh to fourth in the last 2.5 k. Elliott finished in fifth less than two seconds behind him (+32.5).
The rain on Sunday made for variable conditions. For the 9:00 am start, the snow outside the tracks was the better bet, with most skiers picking their own spots to ski. As the snow got slushier due to the traffic and rain, the tracks became the better option.
“The course broke down really fast,” said Freeman. “The figure-8 was very congested, but nothing ever impeded. It was a good race, and with the conditions [Craftsbury] did a great job.”
With such tricky conditions, wax had the potential to significantly affect the outcome of the race. For the lead pack at least, the techs from various teams produced comparable skis in the kick and glide department — grip that climbed well and speed that was fairly consistent across the field, if not over the snow.
There were two sprint preems on the course for prize money only, but did not seem to significantly affect the top of the results sheet.
With over 100 skiers on the 2.5 k course at a time, there had been concern beforehand amongst coaches and officials that the middle stretch of the figure-8, which was skied twice each lap, was going to be chaotic with the lead pack and lapped skiers trying to get to opposite sides of the course. Freeman didn’t think the fear came to fruition.
“People got out of the way pretty well — I was pretty loud,” he said with a smile.
Official results (with splits)