With veteran Kris Freeman on the squad, and Noah Hoffman drooling over the long Davos climbs, not many would have picked relative World Cup rookie Tad Elliott to lead the US men’s team in the 30km freestyle in Davos, Switzerland.
But Elliott posted a career-best result, placing 27th in a stacked field despite skiing what US Head Coach Chris Grover termed an “interesting” race.
“In splits, he started quite fast, dropped off pace, then regained some composure and tore it up towards the end,” Grover said. “He was running in the 40s, low 50s at one point in the race. So yeah, that was pretty interesting for him.”
Despite the yo-yoing on the split sheet, Elliott called his pacing “perfect.”
“It went really well for me,” Elliott told FasterSkier after the race. “The first laps, I was a little flat and I was worried I wouldn’t come around. I wasn’t skiing that well and then, the last two laps were really good, that was fun to finish like that.”
The US National Champion in the 30k Freestyle in 2011, Elliott has been most comfortable skating, and has excelled at longer distances. He finished the day just under three minutes behind winner Petter Northug (NOR), and two minutes out of second.
Teammate Noah Hoffman wasn’t far behind in 31st. Hoffman missed the points by 8.5 seconds.
Like Elliott, Hoffman has had his best races in the freestyle technique, and on courses with major climbing.
“I think he started quite fast,” Grover said. With each athlete constructing their own pacing plan with personal coaches, Grover did not know if the quick start was part of the strategy.
“He was for sure in top-30 whole race until right at the end, but I hope he feels good about it, Grover said. “No matter what it’s a great race, just to be in there fighting the whole time.”
Elliott and Hoffman beat the likes of Giorgio DiCenta (ITA) Remo Fischer (SUI), Curdin Perl (SUI) and Tobias Angerer (GER) among others.
“It is exciting for the young guys [Elliott and Hoffman) with a lot of skiing ahead of them, to be out there skiing 30k with the strongest in the world,” Grover said.
Freeman did not fare as well, with his slow start to the season continuing.
In his usual straightforward manner, Freeman described his race simply.
“It was horrible,” he said.
A type 1 diabetic, his blood sugar was on the low side, but Freeman saw no indication that it was a problem.
“I started flat, then died. I’m really bummed out,” he continued.
While he finished a respectable 24th in the 10km freestyle in Kuusamo, Freeman has struggled in his other starts, and is at a loss.
“I don’t know what to do, so far this season hasn’t been great,” he continued.
“I’m going to race tomorrow—oftentimes when things go bad the thing to do is to keep racing and be confident that I’m gonna find that form. There’s not that much else I can do,” he concluded.
Freeman finished in 46th palce, over four minutes off the pace.
The fourth starter for the US men, Lars Flora, skied a solid race, placing 41st.
“The race ended up much better than expected,” Flora wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “The first two laps felt horrible due to some severe stomach pains and the feeling I was going to throw up.”
Flora had no explanation for the discomfort, jokingly attributing it to too many deserts and fine cheese.
Hoffman came by at 7.5km and Flora didn’t even try to hang.
But things improved, and he added “around 15k my body woke up and I wished we had another lap at the finish.”
He ended up skiing with Elliott and a Swiss skier.
The veteran Flora had nothing but accolades for his younger teammates after a day on the grueling Davos course.
“At the end of the day I am really psyched for Noah and Tad,” Flora said. “They are great skaters and are setting the standard for the next generation of distance skiers in the US. The attitude they bring on and off the course is something I am really impressed with.”
The long distance meant athletes took feeds during the race. Grover said that there were two feeds per lap, and the skiers did a good job getting them.
According to Grover, the course was a challenging one for feeds, with few appropriate spots. The majority of the 5k lap consisted of solid climbing with few breaks to drink, and the subsequent downhill was too fast.
“We used one little break on uphill climb,” Grover said. “Obviously everyone had those same challenges.”
Freeman and Flora will both start in Sunday’s sprint, joining specialists Andy Newell and Simi Hamilton, the later who has yet to ski an individual World Cup this season due to illness.
The Davos sprint course consists of two laps with one large climb per loop, the polar opposite of the flat, fast Dusseldorf sprint course run last weekend.
Audrey Mangan and Kieran Jones contributed reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.