Noah Hoffman (USA) turned heads today, surprising both himself and onlookers, in the final stage of the Ruka Triple in Kuusamo, Finland. Hoffman, who started the 15k freestyle pursuit in 38th and a little over a minute behind Russian Dimitry Japarov, made his way through the field, achieving the fastest time on the day to end in 9th place.
Prior to the pursuit, Hoffman had expressed that he would be happy finishing in the top 30, and even happier in the top 20. Unexpected and unplanned, he was able to capitalize on the conditions of the day.
Despite the big gap, he made it to the lead pack just halfway through the race.
“A minute is a lot of time. Luckily they didn’t go out at too hard of a pace. It was basically a constant train of people,” he said in a phone interview with FasterSkier. “I was only a 1:02 back in 38th so it was more than a person every two seconds. I didn’t feel like I was chasing down this lead pack. It felt like I was just moving up person by person, group by group.”
He was also able to catch a ride with French skiers Maurice Manificat and Jean Marc Gaillard, who eventually helped him reach the lead group. “My energy was really good and I was feeling really good. I was trying to conserve energy and stick in behind those guys,” he said of his position upon reaching the lead pack.
He continued to maneuver, and worked his way up to third, before making a tactical error on the big descent, a move that cost him dearly with three k to go.
“They set one track down that hill and so you really had to figure out a place in line going into the hill. And I didn’t fight for a place,” he explained. “I was like ‘I’ll probably be ok out of the track’ and that was the fatal error. I went from skiing 3rd or 4th in the lead group to the back.”
He didn’t dwell, and worked to make up the lost ground. “Energy was still good, and I was able to move up a couple places on the last lap,” he said.
The final stretch of the race proved to be a defining moment for the 24-year-old, who was able to maintain his position as he crossed the finish line. “I really believe that I can hold my own. I haven’t been there that often, today, and in Canmore last year,” he said when asked about his sprinting abilities. “I really feel a sprint at the end of 15k, or a 30k, or a 50k is very different from a sprint against these guys when they’re fresh. I think at the end of one of those races I can hold my own. I had no trouble holding my position today, but I wasn’t able to move up.”
When asked whether he would have been able to place higher had he been with the three skiers who broke away on the final hill, Hoffman had no regrets but also wished to use the race as a learning experience. “I was hurting pretty bad. If I had been up in that group, maybe I (could) hang on for dear life. You know, live and learn. I certainly will learn from that tactical error on the downhill, and the more experience I get being with the leaders at the finish of those races I think is really good for me.”
U.S. Head Coach, Chris Grover had nothing but praise for Hoffman.
“Hoff was on fire obviously to have the fastest time of the day by seven seconds,” he said in an interview. “I was really impressed with him because not only did he make up a minute on those guys, but then he was able to hang with them all the way to the finish line. It is really exciting for him.”
Grover is excited to see Hoffman progress. “We knew he was in good skating shape based on that seventh place in Beitostølen last week, but this was clearly another huge step forward” Grover said. “He keeps getting better and better at skiing in a pack and making his way through a crowd and staying out of trouble. He made some great moves and knew when to attack and when to catch his breath and just skied smart all the way through it. It is really gratifying to see him have a great finish.”
By having the fastest time on the day, Hoffman earned himself 50 World Cup points and 5,000 Swiss Francs in winnings, of which he said he was “pretty psyched” to have. In addition, he won another 1,125CHF for his 9th place overall in the mini-tour.
“I am obviously excited with the result, and excited where my fitness and energy are right now and looking forward to keeping it rolling,” concluded Hoffman.
He heads to Lillehamar as the 7th ranked distance skier in the world and 9th in the overall.
Last year he scored a total of 151 World Cup points. This season, just three races in, he already has 111.
“I am so happy and excited for him. He works really really hard, and it’s really fun to see someone like Noah excel,” teammate Liz Stephen told FasterSkier.
– Topher Sabot and Matt Voisin contributed reporting.