FasterSkier had the opportunity to catch up with the US Ski Team’s Andy Newell, who today took third at the Drammen World Cup classic sprint race.
A WC sprint in Norway is about as stacked as it can get since the Norwegians are not limited to just four starters like they are in the Olympics. Did you feel like you had something to prove today? Did you have any extra motivation and fire?
Definitely, you know out for revenge. I have been working on classic sprinting so much over the past two years to get ready for the Olympics. Then to have done an ass grinder during the qualification and not qualify was such a bummer. I was definitely trying to prove a little something out there today and show everyone out there that I could do it because my fitness has been good the last month. I have prepared for this season really well so it is just frustrating not to have been able to show that, so today was a good opportunity to be able to do that.
How did the course suit you today? Can you describe it for us?
It’s fairly flat, but there is still some good climbing out of the start finish area and then around the church. Conditions were a little bit soft, which is always good for me and the uphill finish tends to be good for me too. My doublepole felt good and my skis were really fast today. Starting with the heats, in the quarterfinal my skis were ripping, so it was a combination of everything coming together.
Was it klister conditions or were you on hardwax?
Yeah, pretty much straight forward klister conditions. A few people doublepoled in qualification, maybe five or six, but the majority of the people were striding and everyone was striding in the heats.
Obviously you had some misfortune during qualification at the Olympics, did that come into your mind at all or change your approach today?
Not really, I am always pretty relaxed during qualification and today I did not feel like I nailed the qualification. I am so used to doing longer sprints that pacing a little bit shorter sprint can be hard sometimes. I definitely was not tired at all after qualification. I knew I would be able to recover really well and then ski really well in the heats.
You are normally one of the fastest qualifiers and today you were 11th. Did you hold a little something back to make sure you had more left for the rounds?
Yeah, a little bit. I am just a lot fitter now then I used to be so I can control my pace during the qualification. You cannot really hold back because it is so tight, especially in Drammen. It is such a tight spread between first and thirtieth and also like you mentioned Norway gets something like twenty-two start spots in this race, so it is one of the most competitive fields anywhere. You can’t hold back too much during qualification.
One of the biggest things I have noticed this year is that I can continue to get faster as the heats go on. That was something that I could never do in the past when I was qualifying top three or top five consistently. I was starting to slow down as the day went on, but these days I can qualify outside of the top five and then continue to get faster as the day goes on.
In both the quarters and semis you finished 2nd to Joensson. Were you intentionally following him? Did you feel good in the early heats?
He is always a good person to have in your heat because he pushes the pace a little bit. There was all kinds of movement going on during the heats. During my first heat I got kind of tangled on one of the down hills and had to ski on one ski down the hill because my one ski was hooked on one of the other skiers. So that was super sketchy and some of the corners for sure were pretty sketchy. It was really tight trying to sneak on the inside of people because you have to try to pass wherever you can.
I was actually in the lead during both the quarterfinal and the semifinal and actually lead Joensson into the final straightaway. He just kind of snuck past me both times in the last hundred meters because he has such a fast, quick stride. The finish shoot is not a doublepole, it is a striding finish, so he is really good in that terrain. So it seemed like he was pretty much unstoppable in that last hundred meters today.
How did the final play out? Can you give us a little play by play?
During the final everyone was kind of bumping into each other up that first hill because we were fighting for tracks. So Northug and I were kind of rubbing skis quite a bit up the first hill. As soon as you come off the downhill it is pretty flat, but there are bridges that you roll over. So everyone is kind of hammering as hard as they can at that point to get in a good position for the final straight. I came into the final straight kind of in a pack, I don’t really know. I have not even seen it on television or anything, but I was behind Northug and decided that I would try to pass him so I pulled in behind Joensson and tried to stride it out as fast as I could, but Northug ended up pulling away in the last little bit.
You were only .1 seconds behind Northug – were you guys battling down the homestretch?
It was not close enough for a lunge or anything so he pretty much had me at that point. It is such a tough finish, it is actually a really hard finish to lunge too because it is uphill. You basically fall over backwards when you lunge. Drammen is known for some of its close finishes.
In distance racing there is time to think about things; strategy, pacing, where to make a move. Do these things come into your mind during a sprint heat or is it just ‘go’ from the gun and moving up on your competitors whenever an opportunity presents itself?
By the finals it is more of a fitness race then anything else, but it is also pretty tactical. Whoever is feeling fresher by the last heat definitely has an advantage. My fitness was feeling good all day and my doublepole was really good. I felt like I was making up time on the bottom third of the race because there is so much doublepole there. You definitely have to be on your toes during the quarterfinals and the semifinals just to look for opportunities. You can go into sprints all the time with a game plan, but more often then not, its not going to play out that way and you have to think on your feet. Especially in a tight course like Drammen you have to be ready to change tracks or rethink your strategy as you ski.
Do you ever think that this is not the right opportunity or even early on do you try to move forward whenever a space opens up or do sometimes you let chances go purposely?
Sometimes you let opportunities go because you do not want to waste too much energy. There were tons of instances today where I could have tried to pull three tracks over and try and get around somebody, but that would have probably cost me too much energy and I would have been toast by the finish. So you have to try and choose your attacks and when you want to pass without using too much energy.
You have said quite a few times that your fitness is the best it has ever been. Do you still feel that way? Does it feel good to finally ride that fitness to the podium?
Yeah, I think that has a lot to do with it. I have been saying that my fitness has been really great the last month and that is why it was so unfortunate to not be able to compete well at the Olympics. I have worked hard this year and it feels good to have it pay off, especially in a classic sprint. This is my first classic podium, so it is pretty sweet. I am fired up for the next two weeks because we don’t really have anything else to do other then race the next two weeks.
This is your third career podium. Does this one feel any different? Is it more important because of the personal disappointment of the sprint in the Olympics?
It feels great to do it in Drammen. Not only is it one of the most competitive and hardest sprints to make it through, but it is also one of the most exciting because there are 70,000 people out there. There are people hanging out of balconies and screaming, it is so loud. So to get it done in Drammen feels great and it … it has been too long since my last podium, which is frustrating to be close so many times, but not make it to the podium. It feels good to remind yourself that you can make it to the podium.
Did you try anything new today in preparation or between rounds?
Not really, just pretty standard stuff. I think that it really helps to have raced Drammen so many times. The more times that you race Drammen the more experience that you have. It is kind of a crazy venue because you have to jog. You cannot ski between the rounds. You only have 25 minutes to test your skis before the prelim and you’re trying to decide whether to doublepole or to stride and there is so much chaos going on that it helps to stay cool. If you have done it a few times then that can help.
What do you typically do between rounds? You mentioned that you run around, but do you listen to music or anything to mellow out or get fired up?
I listen to music before hand, but once we start warming up it is just kind of jogging around. I do half of my warm-up on the skis and the other half I am running with poles on the streets of Drammen. So I try not to get hit by cars.
That must be an interesting sight. Are all the other athletes doing the same thing, just running around through the streets?
Yeah, we are all just running around. I mean the kids love it, there are so many high school and little kids around. They are so fired up to see all the athletes and chase you around trying to get your autograph and yelling your name. It is cool to be in a place where people appreciate cross-country skiing so much.
What’s next on your schedule?
I will be racing the sprint here on Sunday, which will be the World Champs preview for next year. After that the World Cup final starts, which is a classic sprint in Stockholm and then a little three-day mini tour in Falun [Sweden]. So I will get some good distance racing in too.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today Andy, FasterSkier and the entire Nordic community back home is really excited for you.