Noah Hoffman hadn’t won a major domestic race in…well even he wasn’t sure…maybe the Owl Creek Chase two or three years ago, Junior Nationals…?
But the youngest member of the US Ski Team, who has had considerable success racing in Europe, left no doubt about who would stand on the top of the podium on a cold snowy day in Lake Placid. This was in fact his first significant US victory since the Owl Creek Chase in 2008.
Hoffman skied to a 58 second win over Brian Gregg (CXC Elite) in the men’s 15km freestyle SuperTour in Lake Placid, New York. Alex Howe (UVM) finished a surprising third, capping an excellent weekend for the Catamounts.
The day dawned frigidly cold with clear skies and temperatures below zero. But by the time the first man took to the course at 11:30 in the interval start race, clouds had moved in, light snow was falling and the course had transitioned from squeaky slow to a more reasonable speed.
Friday’s 10km classic winner, Lars Flora (APU) made a game-time decision not to race. After arriving at the venue, Flora made the call, opting not to take any chances with his health. The overall SuperTour leader has a flight to Europe tomorrow, a potential World Cup start spot waiting in Estonia, and a berth on the US World Championship team to worry about.
With James Southam (APU) also scratching, Hoffman entered the race as a clear favorite, despite the fact that the event did not align with his strengths.
“It was about as hard of a skate race that you could make for me,” Hoffman said in the finish area. “There were four ghosts in front of me, soft conditions and a flat course – everything I would not ask for.”
But the 21-year-old from Aspen, Colorado was in control from the start. He hit the first climb with impressive snap and never faltered, skiing with an intensity that showcased his impressive engine.
The course was quite flat, with only several steep short climbs, and a seemingly endless section of gradual twisty terrain. There was little rest and transitions aplenty.
“This is the stuff I have really been focusing on,” Hoffman said, noting that he has always been strong at V1. “I’m really happy that it seems to be working.”
Pacing was key, and Hoffman did an excellent job, turning in lap splits of 12:43, 13:01, and 13:04.
“You have to make sure you keep it at a sustainable level, because if you blow up, you can blow up really hard on this course,” Hoffman said, noting the lack of opportunities to recover.
At the eight-kilometer mark, Hoffman held a 34 second lead on Gregg, a margin that would only grow.
Gregg, who missed a spot on the World Championships team, posted his best Continental Cup result of the year, just bettering his 3rd place in the 10km classic, this fall in West Yellowstone.
“I really like to climb, but it is fun to have variety,” Gregg said in reference to the course.
With so little rest, Gregg, like Hoffman, pointed to the need to staying controlled.
“Pacing was key. If you went out hard, there were only a few places to recover. It was hard,” Gregg continued, before adding, “It was a day for skiing really big and relaxed. It was really fast.”
Gregg’s plan was to try to negative split the three-lap course. He didn’t quite succeed, but was close – 13:03, 13:21, and 13:21.
The event combined the SuperTour with an EISA Collegiate Carnival, giving the East’s top college skiers a chance to mix it up with some of the top domestic racers. And overall the students fared quite well.
Howe followed up teammate Scott Patterson’s podium performance in the classic race with one of his own. Throw in two fifth place races by Scott’s sister Caitlin, and UVM had quite a weekend.
“It went really well. I was happy with the way I was skiing, my skis were running really well, and it was a great course,” Howe said.
“I like the transitions a lot – all the corners and ups and downs.”
Unlike Hoffman and Gregg, however, Howe’s pacing may not have been ideal. The UVM junior completed his first 5km lap less than four seconds down on Hoffman, but was 33 seconds slower on his second lap and a minute off his first lap pace on his last circuit.
Colin Rodgers (SVSEF) started slowly, ranking back in 11th after 5km, but rode a strong second lap up the standings to place 4th overall. He was less than two seconds up on Bryan Cook (CXC Elite) in 6th. This was Rodger’s top SuperTour finish in a distance race.
Cook nailed the pacing, turning virtually identical splits across the board. Patterson, on the other hand, went the other direction, dropping from 5th after the first lap all the way down to 20th.
With US Nationals over, the SuperTour headed to the Midwest, and World Junior/U23 Championships just over a week away, athletes and coaches were furiously packing skis and waxing equipment.
Hoffman flies to Finland on Sunday for a short preparation camp prior to the start of the U23 Championships, meeting the rest of the team there. Gregg is headed back home to continue on the SuperTour circuit, and Howe will be racing the collegiate junket for the remainder of the season.
Hoffman is looking to be on the podium in Estonia – the site of World Juniors and U23 Championships, and feels he is in a good place with his fitness.
“I’m very happy with my energy and how I feel. I’m psyched to go race in Europe,” he said.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.