Andy Newell to Compete in 2010 Tour de Ski

Topher SabotNovember 11, 20098
Andy Newell, Canmore World Cup
Newell, racing in the Canmore World Cups, 2008.

The 4th annual FIS Tour de Ski will be held this season, and for the first time an American will compete.  Andy Newell will start the eight-stage event that is modeled on the Tour de France.   In the past it hasn’t made much sense for US athletes to take part.  Contesting the Tour requires not only a high level of fitness, but the ability to excel at every distance and technique.

Rule changes for the 2010 Tour have altered the landscape of the Tour somewhat, and it is now more attractive for sprint specialists like Newell to participate.

In the past athletes would only keep World Cup points and prize money earned during the Tour if they completed the entire event.  This is no longer the case, and now, if a skier drops our midway through, they will keep both points and cash.    This, combined with scheduling a short prologue (2.5km for women and 3.75km for men) and two sprints as three of the first four races of the Tour combine to make a Tour start appealing for the sprinters.

US Ski Team Sprint Coach Chris Grover told FasterSkier that these changes “absolutely” had an impact on Newell’s decision to compete.  Newell agreed, noting how tight the World Cup field is, and how important it is to get points whenever possible.

Andy Newell at the finish.
Newell would be the first American to start the Tour de Ski.

The decision to start was also a byproduct of Newell’s travel schedule and how he wanted to setup for the Olympics.  He decided he only wanted to travel to Europe once prior to the Games.  With his girlfriend (US Ski Jumper Jessica Jerome) also in Europe, he decided to spend the Christmas break overseas, and race the World Cup through Otepaa, then skipping the Russian races and heading back home.

“The original plan was just to find a good place to train and hangout with Jess, who was going to be over in Europe jumping.,” Newell explained.  “But then once we heard that you could keep your World Cup points from the individual stages  [of the Tour] we started seriously looking into the Tour.”

Since the Tour was not on the original US schedule, some budget reshuffling was required to cover the costs of bringing Grover and serviceman Peter Johansson.  Newell will have to cover the costs of remaining in Europe until the Tour.

Both Grover and USSA Nordic Director John Farra don’t necessarily see this historic first as a an indication of more Americans racing in the future.  As Farra noted, “The decision to be in the Tour de Ski is not a program wide strategy, rather it was deemed a good plan for one athlete.  For Andy it seems like a good fit and we are of course psyched to have him in the Tour this year.”

Added Grover, “We choose to race in World Cup events when they make sense for a given athlete.  In the future we will have a presence in the Tour, but it depends on when we as a nation develop the kind of all-around cross-country skiers that might have the skills to do well in the Tour.”

Over the past decade, only one US athlete would have had a reasonable chance to produce a solid result – Kris Freeman.  But Freeman has often struggled to stay healthy throughout the season, and he appears to be more focused on producing top performances at the biggest events – the World Championships and the Olympics, as opposed to maximizing season-long results.   Additionally, the US is currently highly focused on winning medals, and participation in the Tour does not necessarily support that goal.

Kikkan Randall, as her distance skiing has developed, now seems a viable candidate to complete the Tour, but again, focus appears to be on winning medals at the Olympics.

Newell is scheduled to start the first four races before withdrawing from the Tour.  But he isn’t going to settle in the distance races, and in fact, is looking to discard the “sprint specialist” label as his career progresses.   Participation in this Tour seems to be an early step.

“I’ve never wanted to just be a sprint specialist,” Newell told FasterSkier.  “I want to race everything and especially get my distance skiing up to a level where I can compete in events like the Tour.  For me sprinting has taken the top priority over the past few years, but I think you will see a pretty big shift from me, especially after this Olympic season, in the direction of more distance racing. ”

Farra also points out that racing the Tour is a huge commitment for a North American athlete as they would have to be in Europe from early November well into January at the least.

And the Tour presents its own set of challenges.  The tight race schedule makes for significant logistics, and an extra burden on coaches and support staff.  Despite this, Grover is looking forward to the event, and will draw upon experience from last year’s World Cup Final in Sweden – a mini Tour of four events.  It also helps that the US Team will only consist of a single athlete – fewer skis to wax and plans to manage.

Newell is appreciative of the sacrifices being made on his behalf – “The hardest thing was probably having get in touch with Peter, my tech, and be like…’dude, how do you feel about traveling some more and waxing some more skis?’ Those guys don’t get much time off and it’s right during their Christmas break so I’ll have to race extra hard for him to make up for taking him away from his family.”

Since Newell will not be completing the entire Tour, success will be determined by his performances in the individual races.  Grover hopes to see solid performances in the two distance races, and a battle for A-final spots in the sprints.

Half the normal World Cup points are awarded for individual Tour races, but a strong early season and Tour could put Newell in position for his best overall World Cup finish ever.  Focus, however is still on the Olympics.  Said Newell, “the Olympic are far and away the top goal for the season so if the Tour interferes with that in any way you’ll see me pulling the plug.”

In fact it was the Olympics that setup the possibility of a Tour start.  According to Grover, Newell and teammate Torin Koos both felt that the break between the Rogla World Cup (December 19) and Canmore (February 6) was too long if they were to be fresh for Vancouver.  So Newell opted for the Tour and the Otepaa World Cups, while Koos will race Otepaa and the following weekend in Rybinsk, Russia.

Other US Ski Team athletes will follow a different strategy, remaining in the US to focus on training.   Explained Grover, “We are trying to help our key Vancouver athletes individualize their pre-Game programs based on what they know has worked for them in the past.”

Regardless of the reasons, and even the outcome, the prospect of having an American join the fray at the 2010 Tour de Ski is an exciting one for US ski fans.  If the Canadians opt to send a full team, as they did last year, there will be plenty for North Americans to root for in the January.

More information on the Tour de Ski, including the complete schedule

Andy Newell hot on the heels of Ola Vigen Hattestad (Photo: Phil Bowen)
Andy Newell hot on the heels of Ola Vigen Hattestad (Photo: Phil Bowen)

Topher Sabot

Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.

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  • Mike Trecker

    November 11, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Sweet! I love the Tour de Ski and am psyched an American is racing. I really think the U.S. needs to re-asses their current schedule to allow more participation in the Tour.

    Seeing as there really isn’t a ‘tryout’ per se at U.S. Championships in January, and seeing the cost of the sport rise and rise. Wouldn’t it make sense to scrap the nationals in the middle of the season, combining with J.O.s in the spring? This would allow the top U.S. athletes to stay in Europe rather than coming home for the nationals and would also prevent the top juniors from having to travel to major championships twice a year.

    I can hear the junior coaches yelling about the JWC tryouts and the Scando Cup, but honestly, there should not be one method of making a team as a junior and another method once you’re a senior. Let’s either have a system of real tryouts or let’s universally chase points, but not both. The best juniors need to get their FIS points in order anyway, let’s just get them to chase the best points like always and choose the junior teams based on that, just like the big boys.

  • Patrick Stinson

    November 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    So cool, Andy. I’m psyched for you that you get to go check out the newest coolest series for skiing! Best of luck out there, can’t wait to hear about it.

  • davord

    November 11, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Good points Mike. I think there should be more opportunities throughout the race season for both juniors and seniors to pick up points for gaining a place on a team heading over the Europe, be it the WSC, Olympics, J1, etc. Spreading out qualifier races throughout the the country might be good, in my opinion, because that could help everybody as regards to altitude (which was a concern in the past) and being closer to home for some teams, but then again that would be hard with all the travel and cost would quickly be adding up.

    Putting most eggs in one basket for Nationals is hard to do every year for most people. My opinion is that perhaps there should be a bigger emphasis on SuperTours throughout the year. It’s good that a SuperTour winner gets to race the spring world cups, but for WSC or Olympic seasons, there has to be more opportunities than just US nationals and relying heavily on a couple of races in deciding a team. This is a way that teams such as Norway, Italy and Russia do it. In Norway you often see different people skiing in different world cups. Russia has two big sprint teams and two big distance teams competing this coming weekend. One half is in Beitostoelen, and the other one is in Muonio. Yeah, yeah I know it’s Norway and Russia and I know that they have a lot more trees to choose to pick the apples from, but there is no reason why we can’t have this in the future. I think by sort of enabling more racers to have more chances to race and have more opportunities to qualify and show what they are made of will go a long way in establishing a nice core of competitive skiers heading overseas, rather than just having a smaller group of national team skiers going abroad. At the end of the day, our national team could also grow and that will have a trickle down effect, more money will be poured in, more interest, etc., if you know what I mean.

    We have made significant inroads the last couple of years as far as international success goes and it should continue to improve, but we also have too many talented and motivated skiers who will not get to strutt their stuff when it really matters.

    Regarding the number of skiers we are able to field for the Olympics, that is just bogus decision making from the FIS. If you are gonna make a decision like that, fine, but don’t make it just a few months before the olympics, good riddance! Why didn’t they say this right after Torino or that summer at their meetings? So they only want to have 40 men and 40 women in every event? Had they made this decision some time ago, more federations (including the US) would have had more time to make the needed adjustments to give every possible contender in their country a decent chance of reaching their goal and fighting for the medals, thus you would have more people under that points quota and the top 300 FIS ranking. I am not saying that everyone who goes to the Olympics has an excellent shot at the medals but I am also not saying “I don’t want to see” 90 skiers within 5 minutes of each other in a 50km race.

    FIS has to realize that they are making more favors for the more stronger teams, and that is not the way to expand interest in ski racing in the throughout the world. Heck, let’s just have the Red Sox or the Yankees play the Dodgers or the Cardinals in the WS every year and forget about the regular season and all the other teams. (Actually that may not be a joke, since the MLB seems to really want that!). FIS might might be trying to do the same thing for all I know.

  • caldxski

    November 11, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    It’s not clear to me when the FIS went to this quota system. Does anyone really know? I have been trying to find out because when I was on the FIS CCC things never happened very fast and so it’s hard for me to believe they suddenly dropped this little bomb.

  • Cloxxki

    November 11, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    As a European Newell fan, I look forward to “seeing” him compete in the Tour field.
    But, setting all these logistics up, getting a starting bib for something so big, and then in advance saying you’ll only do the first four races (1 short prologue, 2 sprints, and one distance as I understand?) seems a bit half-asses, for the effort and commitment it’s said to be.
    Sure, it may be an Olympc year and all, but why not wrestle yourself all the way to the alpine mountain top a the finish? I’m not much of a bike racer anymore, but the first week of the Tour De France, I would not HAVE to be dead last. But that’s not the point. If you’re a young sprinter, sure, see how far you can take it (7x200km). But as a pro skier, no rookie, is a week’s skiing really too much? Would it SO hurt Newell’s prospects further into the season, if not just boosting his stamina for the longer sprints?

  • Reese

    November 11, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    So you actually listened to me when I said you should sack up and be the first American to do it? Nice… mega props!

  • crashtestxc

    November 11, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Good points everyone. I especially agree with what Mike noted. It is smart to field the fastest team at a particular point, but the qualifying and U.S. nationals would be much better being at the end of the season. It would be much easier to work towards those final races at the end of the season, rather than having them at the beginning. It would be nice to see a more centralized location for US Nationals as well, AK is a little far!

    Put more emphasis on the SuperTour Races and base the decisions off of points, rather than a few races. It was kind of a joke when the U23 and WJ Sprint teams were decided on “before” the sprint race!!! Sheesh…

  • dougherty.andrew

    November 11, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    I really like the idea of combining Junior and Senior Nationals, but how would NCAAs fit in?

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