Starting 52 spots back and just over four minutes out of first, U.S. Ski Team member Kris Freeman wasn’t too worried what was going on up front. But he did wish he hadn’t crashed into that fence on the second day of the Tour de Ski.
The 32-year-old, who also races for the Maine Winter Sports Center, was thinking about the resulting position he had been dealt – falling from 35th to 57th during the single pursuit race. The next stage – a sprint – he placed 41st to rank 52nd overall.
So on Thursday, during the grueling 35-kilometer freestyle pursuit from Cortina to Toblach, Italy, Freeman was thinking about what he could realistically do. And the group he was skiing with wasn’t doing it for him.
“I wasn’t in a group that was interested in doing a lot of work,” Freeman said. “So we just kind of faded as we went along.”
Hovering in the 40’s for most of the race, he ended up leading his pack to try to get them to pick it up. Without much luck, Freeman settled for 43rd, 5:51.9 minutes back from Tour leader Petter Northug (NOR).
“It wasn’t a great day by any means,” he said. “The Tour has been a pretty big disappointment for me thus far, but the next three days are all good individual races for me.”
And that’s all that remains in the Tour de Ski, with one more stage in Toblach on Friday (5 k classic individual) and the last two in Val di Fiemme, Italy (20 k classic mass start on Saturday and 9 k pursuit hill climb on Sunday).
Two years ago, Freeman placed seventh in the same hill climb up Alpe Cermis. He ended up 28th overall.
“I’m so far out of the top 10 now that that [top-30] goal is pretty far behind me,” he said. “Just trying to stay focused and move forward.”
Starting exactly 10 spots behind Freeman, 4:37 out of first, teammate Noah Hoffman (Ski & Snowboard Club Vail/Team HomeGrown) moved up to 57th, but is now 8:12 behind the leader.
Disappointed with his result after crashing around 20 k on the downhill into Toblach, Hoffman said he had been skiing well, skiing alone then leading a group up the climb until the 16-kilometer mark. A few kilometers from the top, another pack caught his group, including Great Britain’s Andrew Musgrave. The two groups combined and all was going well for Hoffman until he fell.
“Unfortunately on a road crossing about three or four kilometers down the other side towards Toblach, it was like 6 or 8 inches of sugary, really sugary snow, and I just lost my balance and crashed pretty hard and lost contact with the group,” Hoffman said. “Once that happened, it was really, really difficult to ski that downhill on your own anywhere as close to as fast as you could ski it in a group.”
The group he lost sight of ended up catching Freeman’s pack. Hoffman skied alone again and was caught by another group with a kilometer or two to go.
“So I would say, encouraging signs, but disappointing result,” Hoffman said. “I would say that top 30 in the Tour as a whole would be pretty hard to come by at this point, but I’m really glad that the next three races are all scored individually and I feel like there’s still a lot for me to race in. Basically I can get as many World Cup points in the next three races as I could in three individual world cups.
“Tomorrow might not suit me super well, being a short race,” he added. “I’m hoping certainly for a better result than the opening prologue, and I think I can actually do decently in a race like tomorrow. But I’m really looking forward to the mass start on Saturday and the hill climb.
The third American in the Tour, sprint specialist Andy Newell (Stratton Mountain School T2 Team) hung in for the duration, starting 61st (+4:30.9) and finishing 67th (+11:55.5).
“Long skate races aren’t my thing, I was actually surprised at how [good] I felt,” Newell said. “But I lost a ton of time just because of some bad mistakes out there. I broke a pole right out of the start.”
Because of the nature of the point-to-point race, he couldn’t find a coach for the first five kilometers and skied with the broken one for that long.
“[My pole] was big enough that I was able to use it,” he said. “The one pole was down at my waist, it was kind of a stub of a pole and then I had a normal size skate pole so I skied the first five k like that and obviously dropped a bunch of places.”
Once he got a pole around five or six kilometers in, Newell skied ahead and successfully caught a pack, but broke another one when he kicked it near the top of the climb. He skied another kilometer or two with a broken one, and was unable to catch the group on the downhill.
“I skied the whole descent by myself, which sucked, but I felt good so I’m not too disappointed,” Newell said. “It was a good experience to do that race and I’m looking forward to do it again in the years to come.”
Looking ahead, he expected to be tired on Friday – but that’s his last race of the Tour and “kind of the one I’ve been focusing on in the last few days so I’m going to hopefully go ski fast,” he said. “My goal is to be in the points tomorrow, that’s all I’m working on doing, and then I’ll be done.”
— Topher Sabot and Matti Rowe contributed reporting