Kris Freeman (USST) had one last chance to nail it.
A type 1 diabetic, Freeman had had two straight races in Sun Valley in which his efforts had been stymied by the disease. Saturday’s freestyle hill climb up Dollar Mountain, the final race in the four-stage SuperTour Finals, was his last shot to get it right.
He did, which allowed him to leave behind three other athletes on the toughest section of the four-kilometer course, claiming the overall win in the process.
Simi Hamilton (SVSEF/USST) was second, with Noah Hoffman (Aspen/USST) holding on for third over a hard-charging Tad Elliott (CXC), who ended up notching the fastest time of the day.
In the end, though, nobody else had the same combination of strengths as Freeman, who skied to the overall win thanks to a second place in the prologue and a win in the 15 k classic—and despite a 46th place in Friday’s sprint.
“I finally got the sugar right, which was probably the most relieving part of the whole day,” Freeman said. “After yesterday’s frustration, this was pretty good.”
In both the 15 k and the sprint, Freeman ended up with his blood sugar spiking prior to the start, which leaves him with painfully high lactate levels while he’s racing.
On Saturday, he decided to ratchet up his dose of insulin—which takes the sugar out of his blood and moves it into his muscles—for the period leading into the start, and during the race. That strategy worked better—instead finishing with his sugar high, like he did on Friday, he finished right where he wanted.
That allowed him to ski comfortably with a group of three athletes that caught him early on in the race. With times from the three previous stages being used to handicap Saturday’s start, Freeman had a four-second lead on Hamilton, 11 seconds on Drew Goldsack (CNST/AWCA), and 16 seconds on Hoffman—but the gap closed almost immediately.
The four men skied together on the first section of the course, which was flat and rolling through a golf course, before heading straight up a narrow valley to the top of a saddle. Then, it turned hard right, ascended one more steep pitch, and topped out after a few hundred meters of flatter terrain.
Freeman skied through the golf course with the other men, letting them lead. When he finally went to the front, on the
climb, he got a gap almost immediately—which he then tried to turn into a race-winning move.
“I decided right there that I just wanted to break any hope they had of beating me,” he said.
Realistically, Hoffman was the only one who had any chance of sticking with Freeman on the uphill, but he said that he was tired, having not slept well the night prior. Just to catch Freeman early on in the race, he’d had to chase down Goldsack and Hamilton first, and by the time the course started climbing, he was toast.
“I was struggling to hang on them, once we caught them, and then we hit the base of the climb, and I just bonked,” he said. “It was brutal… I was just not feeling it this morning.”
That left the door open for Freeman, who was able to ski essentially unchallenged to the win, despite hitting the wall about two-thirds of the way up the climb. By the time he hit the flatter section near the top, after the right turn, he was flailing, and he said he even threw in a couple of double-pole strokes—though his effort was still enough to stay well clear of the rest of the men.
“I pretty much hit absolute max at the corner, and had to just hold it in….From the hard right turn to the top, I was in full survival,” he said. “I was honestly wondering, with 200 meters to go, how I was going to finish.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, was able to leave both Hoffman and Goldsack behind, and ski to a surprising second place, just 18 seconds behind Freeman. He ended up with the seventh-fastest time of the day—not bad for a guy who’s supposed to be a sprint specialist.
After Freeman made his move, Hamilton said he tried to ski efficiently and control his breathing, which worked until roughly the same place that Freeman started suffering. But with Hoffman suffering just as badly, Hamilton was still able to hold on, finishing with a four-second cushion.
“I’m psyched with it,” Hamilton said. “I’m feeling good this week, and just decided to go for it.”
While Elliott had shown some versatility in Sun Valley, notching two surprisingly strong results in classic races here—his less-preferred technique—his race on Saturday was a reminder that his skating, uphill especially, is top-notch.
He skied up from ninth at the start of the day into fourth overall, and was putting some fear into Hoffman as the two neared the finish. At the line, he was just 11 seconds off the podium.
Elliott’s time of 12:46 for the hill climb was a full 10 seconds faster than Freeman’s—a result which, at least in part, he chalked up to pacing that was good, or at least good enough.
“It’s always like one of those things where you’re waiting to give your surge and close a gap down really quick,” he said. “You feel like you’re pacing it well—and then you’re tapped.”
Freeman’s time ended up being the second-fastest, while Brian Gregg (CXC), took third. For Gregg, the result was especially significant, since it also gave him the victory in the overall distance SuperTour rankings—a win that comes with a $2,000 check. He had been leading by seven points coming into the day, and held on, as second-placed Lars Flora (APU) couldn’t overcome some tired legs that had been holding him back all week.
“Obviously, Lars was the guy I was marking today,” Gregg said. “It was a good race for me.”
Link to full results. (Scroll down to find the men.)
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.