The American men were overshadowed in Sunday’s 30 k pursuit by the performances of their Canadian counterparts, but there were still some promising signs from a pair of U.S. starters.
Kris Freeman (USA) skied three quarters of the race with the lead pack of men, before losing contact and trailing in for 29th, two minutes behind the winner—while by no means Freeman’s best, an improvement on some subpar races over the past week.
He said he was “satisfied” with the day, but his hopes are higher for Tuesday’s 15 k classic, which he called his specialty.
Freeman’s teammate Noah Hoffman was 37th, another minute down, after racing just over half of the 15-kilometer classic leg with the leaders. Lars Flora and Tad Elliot were the two other American finishers, in 53rd and 55th, respectively.
After a month-long training block during which he got sick, Freeman had returned to Europe and had his “worst race of the season” last weekend in Drammen, finishing 57th. He’d started in Thursday’s sprint, but that event is far from his best, and he ended up 58th.
Coming into Sunday’s race, Freeman had “no expectation at all,” and he said he was a little apprehensive in his first attempt at a 30 k pursuit since the Vancouver Olympics last year, where a severe low blood sugar incident left him collapsed on the side of his trail, and essentially ended his season.
Since then, though, Freeman, a type one diabetic, has developed a new insulin dosing regime for the event—one that relies on far less insulin, and consequently gives him a much lower risk of experiencing hypoglycemia.
The strategy, he said, was largely successful on Sunday. He finished with his blood sugar at 209—a bit high, but not high enough to hurt his performance.
Freeman just managed to hold on to the lead pack for the classic portion—he was dangling perilously at the back over the final kilometers heading into the exchange.
Through half of the skate leg, he kept in contact, but he lost the leaders with 7.5 kilometers to go, and had to be content with beating Germany’s Jens Filbrich in a duel to the finish.
“I tried hard to get back on, and just realized it wasn’t there,” he said. “Any time you’re in the top 30, you can’t complain about the race, but it wasn’t great….I felt good, and in control, but any time I had to punch into a red line, it just wasn’t there.”
Freeman said his aim was to help bring his body around in time for Tuesday’s 15 k, and hopefully, he said, it’s “going
to wake up.” Sunday’s result, he added, was a good sign.
“When you finish 58th [in Drammen] after a five week layoff, you’re like, ‘I hope it’s still there,’” he said. “And I think it is.”
Hoffman didn’t last quite as long with the leaders, but he said that his race was still a good experience.
At 21, Hoffman has had his first taste of World Cup ski racing this season, and the pursuit in Oslo represented just his second mass start at that level. For the first quarter of the race, he was a rare American accomplice to Freeman in the lead pack, though eventually, he was shaken.
“I think I broke a little bit. I don’t know if the pace went up, or if I just started to feel it at like eight or nine [kilometers]—that’s where I was struggling, a little bit, for sure,” Hoffman said.
A more measured effort might have helped Hoffman to a stronger result, but he said that he was shooting to make it the whole classic leg with the leaders.
“I mean, maybe I blew up a little hard and, like, should have backed off a little more. But I really wanted to ski with those guys,” he said. “I felt like I could sustain that.”
After being dropped, Hoffman said that he wasn’t alone for long—he was caught quickly by a handful of chasers. His skate leg wasn’t quite as good as his classic, which is unusual for Hoffman, but he said that the latter “has come a little ways this season.” Regardless, the effort was still enough to leave him in 37th, in striking distance of veterans like Tom Reichelt (GER), Remo Fischer (SUI) and Vincent Vittoz (FRA).
Elliott, on the other hand, had a better skate leg, and he said he got an opportunity to work with Flora during that half of the race.
Three minutes down at the exchange, Elliott wasn’t close to the leaders, but he did say that the atmosphere in Oslo was still exciting—especially since he was skiing with Norwegian sprinter Eirik Brandsdal during the classic leg.
“Those guys love Norwegians,” Elliott said. “It was real loud—it was sweet.”
–Topher Sabot contributed reporting.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.