With consecutive World Cup weekends of season best results, Kris Freeman has turned his year around after a challenging start.
The top distance skier on the American men’s team cracked the top-15 for the first time this season, placing 13th in the 30km skiathlon in Rybinsk, Russia, finishing just 1.2 seconds out of the top-10 and 6.1 off the podium.
The result came a day after placing 28th in the 15km mass start, a race in which he was fighting for the top-10 until a fade in the final kilometer.
“My body seems to be coming into a good place right now, and I credit that to having a couple of weeks after the Tour de Ski and a couple of weeks before this race to stay in one place and get some solid training blocks in,” Freeman told FasterSkier from Russia.
He skipped the city sprint in Milan, Italy immediately following the Tour, and with last weekend off on the World Cup circuit, he was able to focus on training.
He described his race today as “really good,” noting that while he would have liked to pick up a few more World Cup points, he wasn’t going to complain too much about the four FIS point effort.
The men raced twelve 2.5-kilometer laps with bonus sprints on the 3rd, 5th, 9th and 11th laps.
With bonus points now awarded to the top-10 at the intermediate sprints, the pace has increased substantially, according to Freeman.
“That was one of the fastest classic halves in a pursuit I have ever done,” he said. “It was pretty pinned the whole way, while before there were a lot of lulls.”
He added that the pace dropped somewhat on the skate, but picked up substantially on the preem laps.
Freeman did not contest the bonus sprints, though during pre-race planning he considered attempting the second classic preem.
“I was in a decent position to do it but there was still a long ways left in the race, and I decided an overall result was more important than possibly blowing up going after one of those,” he said.
Zach Caldwell, Freeman’s coach, also marked the time for training blocks over the past month as one the big reasons for Freeman’s resurgence, but also pointed to stabilization in Freeman’s personal life as a major factor.
“He is a guy that has got a pretty massive endocrine imbalance to start with,” Caldwell told FasterSkier, referring to the Type I diabetes that Freeman contends with on a daily basis. “Once you introduce additional instability to the situation you can leave the tracks pretty fast.”
Freeman’s relationship with his girlfriend of ten years ended this fall, taking a significant toll on the veteran.
But starting with a 22nd in the Oteppaa, Estonia 15k classic, things have been looking up on the ski trails.
Caldwell thinks there is more to come saying “I don’t think this is going to be a high water mark for the season.”
Traditionally Freeman has built his fitness through high volume and low intensity, and that has not changed.
“He has really done no top-end work over the course of the winter,” Caldwell said. “So it is something he can only build in races at this point in the year.”
Caldwell says the schedule is favorable to just that.
“Most of the work is done,” Caldwell said. “To capitalize on this he has always needed hard efforts. The schedule is lined up pretty well for that—he has got a lot of racing [ahead].
While Freeman has qualified for the heats in World Cup sprints on occasion, he has not shown the end-race speed to reach the top of the field in mass start racing.
Today, he told FasterSkier, “I didn’t have enough speed at the end,” to earn a better place.
Caldwell suspects there would have been better results for Freeman this weekend had the events been individual starts, saying “I feel like right now he is way better suited to a fitness based race than a speed based race.”
Prior to the Rybinsk races, Caldwell said he told Freeman that “if there are 15 guys in the finish stretch you are going to be 13th, and if there are 12 you are going to be 10th,” recommending as the pack dwindled at the front that Freeman work to keep it small, “because every guy that tacks on is going by you in that finish stretch.”
After today’s race, Freeman called Caldwell and told him that is basically what happened, placing 13th in a 16-man pack.
Caldwell does not see mass starts as a lost cause, and believes Freeman will be able to improve his results—this season was just not the year.
“There are gains to be had without question, but these are also gains that you need to make when you’ve got the matches to burn and make them, and he hasn’t this year,” Caldwell explained.
“As things go on I think he can start to earn some of those gears, but our primary job has been to re-solidify his fitness…Next year I think we can retool and look for some of that without a lot of the distractions he has had this year,” Caldwell said.
Freeman will spend tomorrow traveling to Ramsau, Austria where the US Ski Team will spend several days before heading to the Czech Republic for the next set of World Cup races.
Freeman noted thatleaving Russia is always a challenge.
“Things tend to take a long time here,” he said. “I am going to try and stay as relaxed as I can on a long travel day, and there is really no time to do any meaningful training before Nove Mesto next week.”
Elliott and Ellefson Disappointed With Early Exit
There are many situations when skiers opt to sit out a race, and occasionally times when they might drop out due to illness or injury.
But no one ever wants to be ordered off the course part way through an event.
Unfortunately for Americans Tad Elliott and Sylvan Ellefson, that is exactly what happened today.
International Ski Federation rules require lapped skiers to be pulled from a race, and with the 30k consisting of 12 loops, six skiers were caught and taken out of the race.
For Elliott, an accomplished bike racer, getting pulled is “nothing new to me. It is not the best but it happens.”
After a race on Sautrday in which he was fighting for the top-10 before a late crash, Elliott did not feel completely recovered.
“I bonked out there,” he said. “Just a fast pace and not enough energy.”
Elliott had completed 11 of 12 laps when he was pulled and said he was “worked over” at that point.
With the bad race, he felt like he “didn’t hold up my end of the bargain,” referring to the work of his coaches and wax techs.
“It was disappointing for sure today,” he said. “Had the best race of my life until one k to go yesterday. Felt amazing. I was here for that race, and I wanted to come back in the pursuit but didn’t.”
Ellefson didn’t have much good to say about his race either.
He lost contact with the pack after two laps, saying “the pace was like no 30k I have ever been a part of. I felt flat. I felt probably the worst I have in a race all year.”
With two laps remaining, Ellefson was pulled from the course, though he told FasterSkier that the leaders didn’t come by for another four minutes.
The early exit hasn’t hampered his approach however.
“I always go into races with confidence, its whether my body can keep up with where I am in the season…I didn’t have any outstanding goals for myself going into today. Just ski with the pack, ski comfortably until I needed to go. That point hit a little earlier in the race than I had anticipated,” Ellefson said.
He also added that he had not raced a skiathlon since 2006, and thinks “in the coming weeks I should be able to get myself together.”
Both Ellefson and Elliott, like Freeman will head to Austria tomorrow, and will be in Nove Mesto for the next World Cup races.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.