After a strong performance last year in the World Championship 50k, it was hardly a surprise to see Noah Hoffman (USA) toward the front of the pack on Sunday’s Holmenkollen classic event.
Wearing a distinctive red hat along with the US black suit, it was easy to pick the 22-year-old American out of the large group in the 50k race.
Hoffman made his mark early, passing the 3k preem in 5th place. All told, he earned 12 bonus points, scoring in three of five intermediate sprints.
According to US Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover, there was no plan for Hoffman to chase bonus points.
“He was feeling good on the day and the pace was a good pace,” Grover said. “He was relaxed and just ended up there.”
Hoffman told FasterSkier that one of his big goals for the day was “to have a focused, good start,” and avoid what happened a week ago in Lahti where he ended up with two broken poles.
“I was happy with the way I accomplished that goal,” Hoffman said, adding “but it may have cost me a little in terms of energy.”
He did end up breaking another pole, but it happened at a fortuitous spot. Hoffman collided with Canadian Devon Kersshaw at the high point of the course. He got a replacement, and aided by fast skis, was able to regain contact.
On the first significant climb after the descent, Hoffman pushed on the outside to move back up toward the front of the pack.
At the half-way point, Hoffman ran into trouble with his quipment again, this time during a ski change.
“I didn’t fasten one of my bindings all the way,” Hoffman said. “I went to ski off and I flung the ski straight backward.”
He had to “scoot” back to get it, and left the stadium having lost 20 seconds.
Once again he pushed hard, and eventually moved back into the main group, though not right up at the front as he had been.
Hoffman said the pace fluctuated quite a bit during the race, notably at the bonus sprints. He said he felt comfortable overall, though struggled at times, as many do in such a long event.
At the end however, he ran out of gas.
“The last lap was tough. I blew up hard,” Hoffman said.
He dropped all the way back to 39th, losing over two and a half minutes over the final ten kilometers.
“I definitely burned a lot of energy early in the race. I wanted to be aggressive, but I need to have enough left to ski the last 10km with the pack,” Hoffman said.
Despite the rough finish, Grover was pleased with Hoffman’s performance, saying simply “he skied a great race. He is still trying to figure out how to race these.”
While Hoffman was fading, teammate Kris Freeman was headed in the other direction.
The veteran sat solidly in the pack for much of the race before moving into the top ten for the last third. He ultimately ran out of steam at the end, but still placed 22nd, matching his second-best result of an up and down season.
“He executed his race plan like he wanted to,” Grover said. “He never intended to go for bonus points.”
Freeman entered the day well out of the top-50, and even a victory would not have put him in, so the focus was on a strong result.
Freeman said he “felt good today which was odd. I felt horrible all week but My body was here today. The pace did not feel that hard but I looked at my heart rate profile and I was maxing out frequently.”
He had no answer as to why this race went better than the last, the story of a challenging season.
Done on the World Cup for the year, Freeman will race the SuperTour Finals in Craftsbury.
“I am disappointed with the season, but it’s nice to end on a satisfactory note,” he said. “I am going to make some major changes for my preparation for next year, and am looking forward to getting back to where I should be.”
Three other Americans raced, led by Andy Newell in 46th.
The sprinter was in the race to protect his spot in the top-50. With a number of other bubble skiers on the start line, there was the potential for bonus seconds to play a major role in the final rankings.
Grover told FasterSkier that with a poor strat position, it didn’t make sense for Newell to try for the first preem—3k of climbing into the race.
The plan instead was to stay relaxed in the pack for the first lap, allowing coaches to evaluate the situation.
Several potential threats scored points early, but quickly fell way off the pace, allowing Newell to ski his own race.
“A lot of the people who could have potentially passed me in the standing would have had to win at least two preems, so depending on who took the first lap points I would have maybe had to try and hammer for the second lap bonus points, and then probably just blow up” Newell explained
It didn’t come to that, and he was happy with a performance that left him just five minutes out in slow conditions.
This was just Newell’s second 50k, and he made a point to feed well during the race.
“It was damn hard and people kept on asking me why I was racing here and not saving it for Stockholm in a few days,” Newell said. “But at this point in the season it’s just time to put your head down and race.”
He is confident he will be recovered and ready to go on Wednesday for the Stockholm city-sprint.
Sylvan Ellefson was not far behind Newell in 49th and Mike Sinnott was 60th.
Eleffson, as the SuperTour leader will race World Cup Finals, while Hoffman heads to Italy for the OPA Cup Finals before returning to the US for SuperTour Finals.
“Overall I’m really happy with the team today,” Grover said. “To have five men start and five finish in this race is not a small accomplishment.”
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.