It was a big day for the two North American teams in Dusseldorf, Germany, with Kikkan Randall taking the victory for the United States, and Chandra Crawford just missing out on the podium and finishing fourth for Canada.
There was plenty of other action out there for ski fans from the west side of the Atlantic. In addition to Randall and Crawford, nine North American skiers took to the streets of Dusseldorf for the fast and furious skate sprint qualifier.
On the men’s side veterans Andy Newell (USA) and Devon Kershaw (CAN) both qualified for the heats, with Newell in 14th and Kershaw just behind in 15th.
Newell was 3.64 seconds behind top-qualifier Paal Golberg (NOR) with Kershaw just .08 seconds behind the American.
“I felt decent today and was comfortable in qualification, feeling like I was going fast enough but also controlled, and recovered well afterward,” Newell wrote to FasterSkier in an email following the race.
Newell described the course as “slower in some places, faster in others,” and overall, “fun.”
After qualification, Kershaw told FasterSkier that he felt good “which was a surprise.” Kershaw had been in Livigno, Italy, training “a ton,” and flew in the night before the race.
The weather was blustery and rainy, “kinda gnarly,” according to Newell. But the American sprinter said it cleared a little as the heats got under way, and “the snow got real fast.”
Newell matched up with eventual silver medalist for the day Alexei Petukhov (RUS), Norwegians Anders Gloerrsen and Tomas Northug as well as two lesser-known Germans.
Potential disaster struck on the lone hill on the first lap of the two-lap race. Another skier stepped on Newell’s pole, snapping the shaft. But the speed dropped as the group moved into one of the hairpin corners, allowing Newell to quickly get a replacement pole without losing much ground.
He wasted no time in aggressively moving back up into second, and tailed Petukhov down into the lanes for the final sprint. The Russian was well in control, but Northug sat right on Newell’s heels and the two staged a drag race to advance. Northug got the upper hand with a lung at the line, besting Newell in a photo finish.
While Newell was obviously disappointed not to advance, he was pleased with his skiing and fitness.
“The good new is that I felt pretty comfortable and fast today, it just didn’t work out,” he said.
Last season, Newell struggled to advance out of the quarterfinals. In two sprints this year, the end result has been the same, but both times he has missed out by mere inches, and has looked strong throughout the races.
Newell ended up 16th on the day.
Kershaw couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mix it up on the banks of the Rhine, and the chance to grab some World Cup points. Most of the top distance skiers skipped the weekend in order to train.
In the third heat with Teodor Peterson (SWE), the winner of last weekend’s classic sprint in Finland, Nikita “I’m not a Femme” Kriukov (RUS) and Federico “Water Boy” Pellegrino (ITA) among others, Kershaw had trouble getting position out of the start.
The narrow twisty course makes passing difficult, and openings are few. Kershaw made a bold move coming through the lap, taking the outside lane down the straightaway. But with the field five-across, he couldn’t get ahead before the corner. So far on the outside, he dropped to the back of the pack around the curve
The Canadian, who won the freestyle sprint in the 2011 Tour de Ski, did not give up, and staged a late charge on the homestretch. He was moving up, but the line came too quickly, and it was off to the airport and back to Livigno with an 18th place finish.
Drew Goldsack and Lenny Valjas also competed for Canada, placing 41st and 42nd respectively.
Just .14 seconds apart, the two men were seven seconds of the top qualifying time of 2:54.99.
The result was a bit of a letdown for the 23-year-old Valjas. A predilection for flatter skate courses (as demonstrated in the Drammen World Cup last year where he placed 9th), and his 5th in the Kuusamo sprint last weekend made the towering Canadian a good bet to qualify for the heats.
“It didn’t feel that good,” Valjas said in the mixed zone following qualification. “No snap, I just wasn’t really feeling it out there. It was hard to balance, I was falling back on my hills a bit, and it just didn’t feel good.”
While Goldsack was less likely to qualify than Valjas, he wasn’t thrilled with his day.
After the race he tweeted simply “I was expecting better today.”
Skyler Davis, racing in his first World Cup was the final North American in the race. The 19-year-old placed last in the 71-skeir field, 17.81 seconds off the qualifying pace.
Not only was this Davis’ first World Cup, it was his first race of the year after limited on-snow time.
“I haven’t done any intensity in about two weeks due to traveling and scheduling,” Davis said after the race. “So I felt very flat. But more so the snow speed was high which I generally love… but due to the fact I’ve only had about 5 or 6 days on snow made it feel more awkward then fun.”
Davis was unconcerned by his last place finish saying “getting last sucks, but emotionally I don’t feel like I got last today. I can only can go up!”
He also noted the day was a good learning experience—just having the opportunity “to soak it all up.”
All the North American men, with the exception of Kershaw, will have another opportunity tomorrow. Goldsack and Valjas pair up to contest the first heat of Sunday’s team sprint, while Newell and Davis make up a US Ski Team/Stratton Mountain School duo in the second semi.
Simi Hamilton (USA) continues to struggle with illness and did not start today.
Alex Matthews and Kieran Jones contributed reporting
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.