OBERSTDORF, Germany – If there’s one thing more dispiriting for a cross-country skier than having a bad day, it’s having a good day that’s limited by equipment.
Andy Newell (USA) was on the rebound from a potential illness in Stage 3 of the 2012 Tour de Ski on Saturday, a classic sprint. But his race was stymied by the soggy, sloppy conditions that prevailed here all day.
After qualifying in 28th, Newell couldn’t make his hairies skis stick during his quarterfinal and struggled to keep up on the second of two climbs. He finished fifth in the heat, ended up in 25th, and was left still without his first appearance in the semifinals this season.
“I could kind of make it work up the first hill,” he said. “When I tried to put it into the next gear…it was kind of too much slipping. It was just kind of a disaster.”
Newell said that he had raced on klister in the qualification round early in the day, but while the wax had great grip in Oberstdorf’s soaking rain, it ended up being too slow and nearly kept him from making the heats.
He picked the hairies for the quarterfinals after re-testing, and said the responsibility for the snafu lay just as much with him as with the U.S. Ski Team’s wax staff.
“I should have been better about making sure I [had] enough kick,” he said.
The problem wasn’t that hairies weren’t working: Newell’s teammate, Kikkan Randall, used them to great effect in her two heats, he said. Newell just couldn’t find a good pair of skis to match the wax job.
“With Kikkan, we managed to find the right combination, but we didn’t get to that place with Andy,” said Chris Grover, the U.S. Ski Team head coach. “He never felt like he had something that was 100 percent, and we just ran out of time.”
Newell described the conditions Saturday as “pretty rugged.”
“It was a long hard day out there in the rain,” he said. “Even just skiing one heat, I was so cold, soaking wet.”
When it came time to cool down, “it was so wet, you couldn’t even run. Just splashing through puddles. I went through all my clothes by the time the heats even started.”
While the weather meant that Newell could take some solace in being bounced from the heats early on, his teammate Kris Freeman said that he actually enjoyed himself in Stage 3. Freeman finished a respectable 43rd on Saturday, at the venue in which he made his only career sprint heats appearance, in last year’s Tour de Ski.
“I never have fun sprinting, and I had fun sprinting in the rain today,” he said. “So that tells you something.”
Freeman was content with his race, which he said went well considering that the discipline isn’t his specialty.
“I was two seconds from qualifying,” he said. “I can’t complain…I felt sharp.”
He also said he’s looking forward to Sunday’s 20 k pursuit.
“I think it could be very solid,” he said. “Usually when I’m sprinting fast, it goes hand in hand with me.”
For Simi Hamilton, the day was a mixed bag. On the one hand, it was as close as he’s come to qualifying for the heats in a World Cup-level classic sprint in more than a year; on the other, he said he felt befuddled by the conditions, and didn’t ski with much finesse.
Asked whether there was a particular place where he fumbled and lost the single second that cost him a spot in the heats, Hamilton replied that “the whole course I had a fumble.”
“One-point-two k I fumbled around,” he said, chuckling. “I felt really tight for the whole thing. I feel like I’ve been working a lot on my classic skiing and it’s gotten a lot better, for sure, but today I just felt like everything was real constricted.”
The sloppy weather, he added, didn’t help matters.
“Traditionally, I haven’t skied very well in these kind of conditions, where the tracks are a little sloppy and you’ve really got to be on your pocket to kick well,” Hamilton said. “I think I’m better off when tracks are really hard…I think it’s just going to take learning how to ski better in these kinds of conditions, and just letting myself relax a little bit, finding speed in the glide and kind of mixing it up a little bit. But I was really close, and I think my classic sprinting has been getting better over the years. There’s still a lot of room to improve, but I think it’s kind of important to look at where I’ve come from in classic sprinting.”
—Topher Sabot contributed reporting.
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.