All 2012 FIS World Cup Finals coverage is brought to you through the generous support of Fischer Sports USA, proud sponsors of Kikkan Randall, 2012 overall Sprint Cup Champion.
The end of the World Cup season comes fast and furious, and right until the end the racing is hard-fought. The top finishers of the 15 k freestyle pursuit at World Cup Finals may have been predictable and spread out, but the effort was by no means easy, for the leaders or the rest of the field.
Andy Newell (USA), the lone American left standing in the Finals after Sylvan Ellefson’s ankle injury took him out of competition, finished 32nd on Sunday, 5:07.3 behind Dario Cologna’s (SUI) winning time and just shy of half a minute from the top 30.
“It was hard,” said Newell after finishing. “My legs were pretty tired and my back was cramping up a little bit.”
Sunday’s pursuit completed a mini-tour of four races in five days, and starting positions were determined based on the athlete’s cumulative time back after the first three stages. Newell started in 21st position, with a small group of skiers starting within a few seconds of him.
“I started with some pretty fast skiers,” said Newell, including the likes of Tim Tscharnke (GER) and John Kristian Dahl (NOR).
“I thought about trying to hang right with them, but it was just a little bit too fast, so then I got stuck between that pack and the [other] pack with the rest of the top 30 hunting me down.”
Newell dropped a few places in the first lap, but hung in the top 30 as he traded on and off with Paal Goldberg (NOR).
“I skied a lot of the race with him, at least the whole second lap I led him around,” said Newell. “I just couldn’t hang with him on the top of the Mördarbacken the last time.”
Though Newell dropped from 21st to 32nd, the result is the best World Cup Finals performance of his career. This season may not have been Newell’s best for sprinting, but he set numerous personal bests in his distance skiing throughout the winter. And for once, Newell said he’s not completely depleted for the end of the season, and is ready to keep racing a bit longer.
“Sometimes by the Final, I am pretty burnt out, even on some of my best seasons,” said Newell.
“Right now I am pretty tired because of all the races we have done. It was only a week ago that we did the 50 k and we’ve done four races since then, so I am pretty tired, but I am not burnt out or anything. I could keep racing. I am psyched to go home, but I’m not really itching to get back like I am sometimes.”
While some of his teammates are headed straight back to the U.S. for SuperTour finals in Craftsbury, VT, Newell is staying in Europe a bit longer with Kikkan Randall to do at team sprint in Sweden, another sprint race in downtown Oslo, Norway and the Red Bull NordiX sprint competition, also in Oslo.
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Kevin Sandau (CAN) finished the pursuit 35.7 seconds behind Newell in 37th, moving up a place from his starting position and posting the 34th-fastest time of the day. This is Sandau’s first World Cup Finals experience, so the series was both a career first and career best.
Throughout the pursuit, Sandau benefitted from working with Eirik Brandsdal (NOR) and Fabio Pasini, the two starters in front of him.
“It was definitely better than just skiing on my own or no one wanting to work together,” said Sandau. “I think it was best case scenario — it turned out really good. When one died, we just alternated.”
Sandau finished 5:43.0 behind the winning time.
The World Cup season over, his next stop is Canadian Nationals, which have already begun in Quebec.
“I feel like the season is pretty much a wrap,” he said of leaving Europe. “It’s nice to wrap it up officially in Europe and then we jump on a plain at 6:00 am [Monday].”
With the early flight and inevitable jet lag, Sandau said his first few races back home should be “interesting — I might not be in the peak shape that I would like to be in, but it will be like the second way to finish off the season.”
Though there is still racing to go, the 23-year-old is already thinking about coming back to Europe next year for an even better season.
“This is a really good group of guys to be hanging out with,” said Sandau of the Canadian team. “Three of them on the podium — the energy is just crazy high. It is one of the best years to be on the World Cup with these guys and next year is going to be even better.”
“I hope to race with them again here.”
Matthew Voisin contributed reporting.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.