Andy Newell and Noah Hoffman started today’s 15 k skate pursuit at World Cup Finals just three seconds apart. But after their paths briefly crossed on the Falun trails, the American teammates’ trajectories diverged, sending Hoffman into the points and Newell towards a 37th-place finish in the mini tour.
Hoffman, along with Alex Harvey of Canada and Tord Asle Gjerdalen of Norway, quickly caught Newell. Johanne Duerr of Austria, who had started another twelve seconds behind, joined on. The pace was too high for Newell, who fell off the back.
“Distance skate races are tough for me,” he told FasterSkier. “I tried to ski with Hoff and Gjerdalen for a little bit, but they were obviously moving a little too quick.”
Hoffman didn’t have the same feeling; far from it.
“I felt like I was one of the stronger guys in the group, definitely Johannes Duerr was very strong but he had caught us… so he was probably a little more shot than I was,” Hoffman explained.
From their starting positions in the mid-30’s the group climbed their way into the high 20’s; Hoffman had the 22nd-fastest time of the day. He was left feeling gratified to have scored points in the World Cup finale – which he only qualified for in the last pre-Finals weekend of the season – but still a little frustrated to end up 27th in the tour, after failing to beat Harvey and Duerr to the line.
“I felt like I probably should have won the group, but I tried to break them – I basically tried to go for the entire last lap and was kind of stretching them and getting a little bit away on some of the hills, but they were able to come back,” he told FasterSkier. “Gjerdalen crashed around the final corner, so he took himself out of the sprint, but I lost the sprint finish to Alex and Johannes. I still need to work on my finishing abilities.”
That said, the group caught everybody they could in front of them – there was a gap to Tobias Angerer of Germany – and Hoffman did the best he could on the Falun course.
“I felt like the course skied quite easy, a lot of V2, a lot of transitions, not long hills,” he said. “I think that had we been on a more typical World Cup course I might have been able to break them, but that’s neither here nor there. You race the course that’s presented to you, and overall I’m glad to move up into the points in the Tour.”
The third American racer was Continental Cup leader Torin Koos, who started a bit behind Hoffman and finished a bit ahead of Newell. He also left the line twelve seconds before the wave, which encompassed anyone four minutes back or more in the tour standings going into the final day. That, he said, had made him nervous.
“I was a little concerned about if the wave caught me and then you’re all hitting a tricky downhill at the same time,” Koos explained. “So I knew they were catching me and I just made sure that they didn’t catch me on Morderbacken on the first lap so that I could choose my own line… There were no big issues. Nobody was really attacking the downhill.”
And getting caught had its upsides, too.
“I was right before the wave, so the wave caught me at the end of the first lap, with David Hofer and Ivan Babikov driving,” he said. “So then I had a group to ski with for the next three laps, and that was pretty cool.”
Making the best of the situation, Koos ended up 35th in the tour standings; Newell was 37th. As one of the only men in the field who was not associated with a national team (Rosie Brennan filled a similar position in the women’s field), that was an accomplishment for the Bridger Ski Foundation racer.
“I thought that if everything broke right, there would be a possibility of being in the top 30 in the Tour, and I think I was about 20 seconds away from that after all was said and done,” he told FasterSkier. “So that’s right in the mix and I have to be pretty satisfied with it.”
What does it mean? A few years after parting ways with the U.S. Ski Team, Koos believes he has proven himself again.
“I think that I showed that I’m absolutely at a world class level in all disciplines – skating, classic, not very far away in distance, right in the mix in sprinting,” he said. “It wouldn’t take much for me to be in the top ten on a week-in, week-out basis, so hopefully I’ll get some more opportunities.”
Hoffman and Newell also considered the season successful, and both considered that they had made progress in redefining themselves as skiers. For Hoffman, that meant being consistent. A big goal had been to make the distance Red Group, and he appears to have fallen just short, but how close he came underscored the major improvements he has notched this season.
“On my good days I was definitely a top-30 skier, so that’s progress,” he said. “I think I took a step forward this year and I’m looking to take another one next season… I made my goal of qualifying for Finals and just missed out on my goal of the Red Group, but those are ambitious goals and you can’t expect to achieve all of the goals you set out to achieve.”
While he can carry that goal on to 2014, there’s also some bigger things the Coloradoan wants to accomplish. Notably, he had a disappointing Tour de Ski. Not scoring points until the final climb, he said, didn’t help him in the overall standings and is something that he needs to improve on. And there’s also the Olympics next season, which will make some other goals take the back seat.
This year Hoffman has learned some important things to help him succeed, however. It’s not just the better consistency, but the ability to ski well at big races and some lessons about how to live on the road.
“Certainly the World Championships 15 k skate [was a highlight]”, he said. “After a disappointing first race at World Championships in that pursuit… I talked to Zach Caldwell about fixing some things in my day-to-day routine. I feel like that was the biggest accomplishment of my season when it comes to execution in the days leading up to the race and then in the race, the pacing was also a big improvement for me and something that I can learn from and take confidence in.”
For Newell, finishing fifth in the Sprint Cup was a return to the form that saw him end up fourth in the rankings in 2010. Notably, he qualified for the heats in every sprint this season.
“I’m not sure about my best season ever, but one of my most consistent seasons ever,” Newell said. “I feel like I’m back up to that level, of being super consistent and super competitive in any kind of sprint, whether it’s classic, skate, flat, hilly. I feel like I can do all that now, which is a good feeling.”
Furthermore, he’s been trying to drop the sprinter label “since high school” and made some big steps in his distance skiing this year.
“It was pretty fun this year to be pretty good in some of those mass start classic races,” he said. “And my relay skiing has really improved. I feel like every relay I did this year I was able to have a really good leg and bring the team in right with the leaders at the front of the pack.”
He admitted that he’ll probably always be called a sprinter.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do it, that’s just the way it is,” Newell lamented. “People still call Kikkan a sprinter too, and she’s obviously very good in every race. But I think that people see now, the way that I can ski relays and the way I skied some of the mass start races that I’m not just a sprinter. And I hope to show people more of that in the next few years.”
While Koos and Newell are headed for Spring Series in California when they get home, Hoffman will go in for surgery on his shoulder this Friday, eschewing any late-season racing. The shoulder, originally dislocated a few years ago, is finally going to get fixed for good.
“It was a question last spring after one dislocation, and we decided we could wait a season and I’m glad we did because I don’t think I was ready mentally for surgery,” he explained. “But it really has been an issue, it has come out upwards of 15 times in the last year including several times this season, in races… at this point, no longer am I questioning the surgery, I’m actually looking forward to it.”
While he’s rehabbing, Newell will be enjoying the sun and the opportunity to race on U.S. soil for the first time all season.
“Two years ago I was really tired, too much to race at Spring Series, and then last year I got sick,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to hopefully feeling good for Spring Series and having a good mini tour… Sometimes by now I’m feeling really blown out, really psyched for the season to be over and to get back home. I’m definitely ready to go home, but I feel like it has been such a good season and such a fun season of racing that I’m not totally blown out yet. That will be fun.
-Audrey Mangan contributed reporting.