Andy Newell is very pleased with the state of his fitness. After struggling to advance past the quarterfinals in many World Cup sprints last season, Newell feels like his endurance is better than ever.
“I have never been able to keep up with Bird [Kris Freeman] and Tim [Tim Burke] and Hoff [Noah Hoffman] and guys like that during some of these level 4 intervals, but this summer I have been starting to ski alot more with those guys, and feel comfortable skiing along side them.”
Newell skied a good portion of the five-mile Climb to the Castle race with those three and Tad Elliott, before falling off the pace. In the past, Newell said he would focus on skiing his own race, but for the first time, he went into the event with the plan of hanging with the top distance skiers, and was pleased with the results.
“This is probably the closest that Andy Newell has ever been to Kris Freeman and Noah Hoffman in this event, so I think he has made a real big step up in his distance,” US Ski Team (USST) Head Coach Chris Grover told FasterSkier after the Climb to the Castle.
Stephen and Sargent Looking Fast
Grover also pointed to the improvements of Liz Stephen and Ida Sargent over the course of the summer. The two took the top spots in the Climb to the Castle, but are entering the season in very different stages of their careers.
Stephen has been a long-time member of the USST and has shown flashes of excellence on the World Cup, but se has been unable to find consistent form at that level. Two years ago she was hurt by overtraining. She has demonstrated the potential to be a regular top-30 threat on the World Cup, and possibly more.
“I feel good about the season and health-wise I have stayed healthy all year,” Stephen said. “I had a two-day cold right before this camp, but that is the only problem I have had all year. My feet have been great. I really can’t complain— I have had a great training season.”
Stephen battled significant foot issues last year, the pain and swelling brought her season to a premature end. She sat out the SuperTour Finals in Sun Valley to begin resting and hopefully avoid surgery, which she ultimately did.
Sargent on the other hand is a USST rookie who has shown the most promise as a sprinter at times skiing faster than any US woman this side of Kikkan Randall. But Sargent also has potential as a distance skier.
Early Placid Camp a Success With Some Downside
The annual USST Lake Placid camp was held nearly a month earlier this season, resulting in better weather for training in general, and for the Climb to the Castle in particular. It also allowed the cross-country skiers to coordinate some intensity workouts with the US Biathlon team.
“Having those guys [biathletes] involved has kept the standard of the workouts high, and given both the men and women a good measuring stick of where they are” Grover said.
“It’s been great,” Stephen added. “It’s nice to have another team around and learn from them a little.”
Including the Climb to the Castle, which provided an entertaining showdown between Freeman and Burke, the cross-country skiers and biathletes teamed up for three intensity sessions.
The earlier camp date however did have some downside. The camp is also open to National Elite Group (NEG) skiers. With many of those athletes attending eastern colleges, Lake Placid is an ideal spot for a camp. But with the school year just getting underway, it was harder for many of the skiers to get away.
While there is another USST camp in Park City next month, Grover does not see that as a reasonable NEG alternative. While more western-based atheltes could attend, few from the east would likely make the trip. And the cost of lodging in Park City is much higher.
The appeal of Placid as a venue goes beyond the accessible mountains and scenic back road. The Olympic Training Center provides affordable housing for the athletes— something that is unavailable in Park City.
Elliott Looking for Speed
Tad Elliott (USST), a native of Colorado,was unable to hold on in the Climb to the Castle after a fast start leading the race.
“Wheels kind of came off toward the end, but it was fun,” Elliott said of his race.
“It was a really good camp,” he continued. “I’m really tired. The goal for me was to come down here and blast off with these guys – get some power and some fast twitch.”
Training at sea-level, or close to it, is a good opportunity for developing high-end speed as workouts at altitude are often slower due to the lower oxygen levels and the need to moderate pace accordingly.
Elliott was also appreciated the opportuntiy to race with biathlon Olympian Burke.
“Burke V2s everything!” Elliott said after the race. “He just keeps the pace so steady. It is pretty impressive.”
Burke Feeling Good
Burke, a veteran of multiple Olympics and World Championships is feeling good after an up-and-down 2011 campaign. He also enjoyed having the opportunity to train with the his cross-country counterparts.
“It’s been awesome, it’s been really fun having them around,” he said. “It’s supper motivating to train with different guys, especially some of these guys that are going really good right now. I got to do another interval session with Andy and Simi [Hamilton] and Tad, and those guys are super strong.”
Burke says his fitness is right where he wants it to be for this time of year. He will be looking to improve his race fitness and finishing speed as the start of the season approaches.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.