Today’s 7 k men’s hill climb in Fort Kent was scripted to end with an exciting finish. It didn’t disappoint.
At the bottom, Andy Newell (USST) started the day with a 1:20 advantage over Ivan Babikov (Canada), one of the best pure climbers in the world. By the time they arrived at the top, Babikov had made up all the time.
But he couldn’t shake Newell, who had saved just enough for the one kilometer of rolling terrain to the finish. And everyone knows what happens when you stack Newell up against a distance skier in a sprint—he took the win by a full second.
“That’s a hell of a way to finish the year,” he said.
Newell said he went out hard, but at his own pace. He’d lost about a third of his lead by the end of the two-kilometer promenade loop before the climb, then set about attacking the big hill.
For just over one kilometer, the course went straight up one of the alpine trails at the Lonesome Pines Ski Area. Organizers stuck in a couple of bends and switchbacks, but there was still nowhere for Newell to hide.
Especially not from Babikov. He ate up the climb, using a quick-tempo V1 to pass Torin Koos (USST) and take more than 55 seconds from Newell by the top.
When Babikov caught him, just a few seconds from the hill’s crest, Newell had been working, using a mix of V1 and even coach’s skate—but he was still skiing his own race. He said he didn’t look over his shoulder once.
Eventually, though, Newell said he heard someone behind him, and sure enough, it was Babikov.
The Canadian put in a big push, hoping to get clear, but Newell hung on tenaciously.
“I was just dying at the top, but [I] was able to tuck in behind him,” he said.
There was one more small climb before they reached the stadium, and they hammered it, V2-ing side by side. Newell got a bit of an advantage, and he held it to the line.
“I couldn’t have played it out any better,” Newell said. “It was fun to try to ski with some tactics and actually get a sprint finish.”
Koos brought it home for third, just holding off APU’s Lars Flora.
While the tour format makes some big demands on athletes and coaches, Newell said he thinks that the events suit him well.
“Tours are the future,” he said. “It’s hard on the athletes to race so many days in a row, it’s hard on the technicians, it’s hard on the coaches, but the fans seem to like it.”
Babikov had the fastest time on the day, taking into account Newell’s head start. Noah Hoffman (USST) showed that he can also climb with the best, finishing second, and Flora was third.
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.