They entered the Tour with high ambitions and a fair amount of confidence from Canmore, but on the whole the first two stages of the Tour de Ski in Oberhof, Germany, have not been outstanding for Kris Freeman, Noah Hoffman and Andy Newell. Two of them had a promising prologue but the pursuit did not go as planned, and rankings from the weekend have left them happy to leave Oberhof in the rearview mirror.
Though dissatisfied, there are still five stages to go for at least two of the three Americans and they’re staying optimistic about what could happen between now and the top of the Alpe Cermis.
Freeman, remarkably, is the top U.S. man in 58th, 3:26 behind Maxim Vylegzhanin’s (RUS) mark at the top of the list.
After a career-best opening Tour stage in 35th, Freeman crashed in the first of 15 k in the pursuit on Sunday, causing a painfully bruised shoulder, lost downhill momentum and a broken pole. Taking a page out of Holly Brooks’ book he finished anyway, clawing back from the 70s to the low 50s. As of Sunday evening planned to keep racing the rest of the Tour, but was advised by the Canadian team osteopath to give his shoulder a break from skiing on Monday’s rest day.
A top-ten was in Freeman’s sights prior to the Tour; now he’s taking the rest of it one day at a time.
“Any time you drop three minutes in a stage you kind of have to reassess — it’s a Tour, it’s a long event,” Freeman said. “I’m pretty bummed out. Barring some incredibly good racing I’ll just be looking for some good individual races here.
While the fall forced Freeman backwards in the Tour standings, Hoffman was able to start moving up through the pack in the pursuit. He was 94th out of 97 competitors in the prologue and unimpressed with his own first stage, and on day two moved into 69th.
“I’m not sure why I wasn’t competitive,” Hoffman said of the 4 k. “I stayed under control and actually achieved many of my execution goals.”
Though the prologue is a relatively unimportant stage, he’d still been hoping for a better start to his Tour. Starting 1:17 down to the leaders the next day on a course than was soaked overnight by warm precipitation, Hoffman sought to put himself in a better position on Sunday.
He improved place-wise, easily moving through scant traffic at the back of the field into 69th, but sits nearly four minutes off the leaders.
“Certainly it was better than yesterday, you know, I moved up. Maybe not quite a much as I was hoping to but it’s a long tour,” Hoffman said.
He looks at the next three days — two rest days on either side of a freestyle sprint — as opportunity to recharge for the last four back-to-back distance days of the Tour.
“The sprint will be something where…I’ll do my best and I’ll focus on it and I’ll try to be on the right pair of skis and everything, but it’s probably not going to help my overall standings,” Hoffman said. “I’m going to take these three days to really focus on recovery and get ready for four days of racing in a row at the end of this thing.”
The third and final American in the current Tour standings is Andy Newell, who produced his team’s top result in the prologue in 21st but dropped to 74th in the pursuit (+4:36.0), which was not the top-30 he’d been aiming for.
On that first day, which is his best prologue result in the three years he’s been racing the Tour, Newell expected to do pretty well.
“I have been feeling good in training and preparing for the Tour, so I kind of expected to feel good [in the prologue],” Newell said. “I think on a really good day in a prologue I could be top 15 and I was just outside that, so I would have liked to be there but I’m still happy with scoring some points.”
Scoring points is his primary goal this Tour, as each race is only valuable to him individually instead part of overall standings. Many notable World Cup sprinters didn’t show up this year, and Newell plans to drop out after the sprint on Monday in Val Mustair, Switzerland. There’s a possibility he could continue on after that if some travel logistics work out in favor of going to Cortina, Italy, for stage four instead of back to Predazzo for training, but he still hadn’t decided after the prologue.