Proving once again that he can hold his own in a distance race, Andy Newell’s led the way for the U.S. men on Saturday in La Clusaz, France, with a 28th place in the 15 k classic mass start. Teammates Noah Hoffman and Tad Elliott were 68th and 69th, respectively.
Newell’s result was his best performance in a true distance event this season and just a few places shy of his career best in the discipline, which came last year with a 24th in Rogla, Slovenia. At this point in the year, Newell now expects to be able to land in the points on a distance day.
“It’s for sure my best distance race of the year so far, so that’s good,” he said on the phone from La Clusaz. “I was shooting for a top 25. I think I got passed by three Swedes around the last corner which put be back in 28th, but yeah, I felt good.”
Starting with bib 66, Newell decided before the gun went off that skiing from the middle of the pack would be his best chance. The fitness, the right conditions and the right skis let him do just that, and his race went almost exactly as planned. He finished 23 seconds off of Alexey Poltoranin’s (KAZ) winning time.
“It’s a really hard course and it’s also at altitude, so I was planning to not come to the front too quickly,” Newell said. “Definitely the first lap I chilled really far back…and moved up more on the second or third lap. The pace picks up for those preems, but not too bad.”
Newell moved from 44th at the 6 k mark to 32nd at 10 k, which is about where he stayed for the remaining 5 k. On a potentially tricky waxing day with temperatures hovering around freezing, Newell attributed perfect skis with part of his success on La Clusaz’s challenging course. More than any other time in a classic race this season, he said he didn’t have to overwork his arms on the climbs; his skis kicked fine on their own.
“I chose to go with more kick over speed, which I think helped my skis out… I definitely had bomber kick on the uphills so I was able to ski them well,” Newell said. “That’s what I really wanted to do [today] because the last few distance races I didn’t have enough kick and it really made me blow up a lot more than I should have, because I was arming on the uphills and working hard to make the skis kick. So today I had bomber kick and that worked out well.”
His compatriots didn’t have as much luck. Hoffman, who remained close to the top 30 for the first third of the race, felt flat in the last kilometers and was in 50s at 10 k. On top of not feeling 100%, he fell on a downhill in the last lap, dislocating a troublesome shoulder once again. Though not ideal, Hoffman says the arm is fine to ski on and that the crash was certainly not the defining part of his race.
“I was struggling for most of the race… I kind of blew up after a couple lap and started drifting backwards,” he said. “I was not skiing super well before the crash. It was a little bit of a disappointing day but I know I can do better. I’m looking forward to trying again in Russia.”
Hoffman and Elliott finished within ten seconds of each other, about four minutes behind the winning time. While Hoffman felt flat, Elliott was fairly certain recent chaos in his travel schedule partly held him back. After more than two days worth of travel time from Durango, Colo., to France, Elliott arrived in La Clusaz three days before the first race.
“It as a little rough for me out there today,” Elliott said. “I had good skis, our coaches did a great job in really tricky waxing conditions, but unfortunately I wasn’t doing a great job out there on the course.”
Saturday was Elliott’s first European World Cup since Kuusamo in early December. Though disappointed in his first result back, he hopes to quickly put it behind him.
“Hopefully you get one bad one out of the way. Newell skied awesome today, scored some points, so it’s really fun when your teammate has a good day. We’re looking forward to the relay — Simi [Hamilton] should be back in action and we’re all hoping for a better day tomorrow and then looking forward to going to Sochi, where some magic’s gonna happen.”
The men’s 4 x 7.5 k relay begins on Sunday at 6:00 a.m. EST. Newell will scramble, followed by Hoffman, Elliott and Hamilton.