While the U.S. men were out of sorts on Sunday, they certainly had plenty of company in the Davos 15km freestyle.
If Kris Freeman was unhappy with his 50th, he can commiserate with the likes of Giorgio DiCenta (ITA), Alex Harvey (CAN) and Sergey Shiriaev (RUS), all who were even further back.
With World Championships approaching, athletes have structured their training with the big events in mind. Many are coming from blocks of altitude training, and results were all over the place.
“It wasn’t super awesome,” U.S. Ski Team (USST) coach Jason Cork told FasterSkier. “No one was really elated about their race, but on the plus side we are not really panicking. There are a lot of people that raced today across the nations that didn’t really put together the races that I would expect to see.”
The top U.S. finisher was Noah Hoffman in 33rd place, 1:21.5 behind winner Johan Olsson (SWE).
While not a terrible result, Hoffman had little good to say about his performance.
“I botched execution more than I have all season and that is really frustrating,” he said in an interview.
Historically, he added, he has struggled in this regard, but has done a good job overcoming that this year.
“I got pretty discouraged during the race, which is never a good way to ski fast,” Hoffman said. “I got discouraged that I had a good ride from Lukas Bauer (CZE) that I couldn’t take, and I got caught from a minute down from Matti Heikkinen (FIN)…”
On the plus side, Hoffman did say that the Davos course did not play to his strengths — the gradual terrain requiring plenty of V2 and V2 alternate is not ideal for a skier who likes to climb.
He is much more suited to the steep hills of the World Championship courses in Val di Fiemme.
“I am not saying that I am going to go win next week, but I know I can ski a lot better than I did today,” Hoffman said. “I was better last week even though it was just a Swiss Nationals race. I’m in good shaping and I’m looking to find that form again.”
In two Swiss National Championship races, Hoffman placed 1st and 2nd last weekend.
Freeman struggled to find his own silver lining after finishing two minutes off the pace in the individual start event.
When asked what the performance tells him about his fitness he replied in an email “It tells me that I am really happy that WC [World Championships] are at a lower altitude. I skied poorly today and I don’t care to read into it more than that.”
Freeman started solidy, ranking 24th at 2k on a course that requires a conservative approach. At 6.6k he was still in the points at 26th, but the race unraveled soon after that.
“I felt controlled and good for about 7ks and then my pace became unsustainable and I gradually slowed down,” Freeman wrote.
When Norwegian Chris Andre Jespersen came by at 10k from 30 seconds back, Freeman managed to hang on for a ride
But when he was dropped after a kilometer and a half, Freeman said he “knew it was going to be rough” for the duration.
Tad Elliott rounded out the USST crew in 59th, a disappointing finish given how he felt leading up to the race.
“It was a tough race, I have had good luck here in the past and I felt good in the start and I felt good leading up to the race and I felt good in the warmup,” Elliott told FasterSkier. “It was kind of a bummer when everything was so good all week and you’re the one that was not good. But that happens and I’ll just rest for Val di Fiemme now.”
In retrospect he feels he may have started a bit fast, and “was just hitting the climbs a little too hard.”
Cork pointed out that the course requires continual focus on the mellow terrain.
“If you’re not really working those flats and the gradual downhill you can lose a lot of time really quickly without even noticing it,” he said.
By pushing too hard on the climbs, Elliott said he was trying to recover on the descents instead of keeping the intensity up.
“I was in trains, I was getting good climbs with guys on the uphills, I was just so tired after the uphills,” Elliott said.
Overall, Cork is not worried about the lack of results.
“Everyone has been training pretty hard and we are hoping that with a few days of easy training and possibly with a few days of sharpening work they’ll be much better next week [for World Championships],” Cork said.
Elliott is looking to race the 15k skate and 30k skiathlon at Worlds, and maybe the relay, though he knows he will have competition from teammate Erik Bjornsen.
“It is kinda of fun having five guys who could be on the relay team and hopefully I am one of them,” Elliott said. “It is good Cork didn’t seem too concerned [about Sunday’s race]. It is always nice when your coach is like, next week you’ll be good, rest up. So hopefully I hit it well at Val di Fiemme.”
The final American in the race, Torin Koos, placed 80th out of 86 finishers, 4:45.7 behind winner Olsson.
— Audrey Mangan contributed reporting
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.