After beginning the World Cup Finals mini-tour with two races in his weaker discipline, Noah Hoffman had the chance to move on Saturday in the 15 k mass start classic race in Falun, Sweden. The American’s placing in the Stockholm sprint and Friday’s freestyle prologue put him in the second-to-last starting position for the third stage, but he took the opportunity to move up through the pack and end up in 25th at the finish line, 1:16.3 back from the Eldar Rønning’s (NOR) winning time, to lead two other Americans in the penultimate race of the World Cup season.
“I was happy to be in the points,” Hoffman said. “Any time I’m in the points it’s not a bad day. It’s a step in the right direction from my last classic races.”
When he was 40th in the individual start 15 k in Lahti, Finland, a few weeks ago Hoffman thought he started the race too slowly, but his starting position in Falun forced him to get out quickly if he wanted to have a prayer of staying with the pack. Two sprint preems, one at 5.6 k and one at 12.2 k, gave the leaders incentive to push the pace almost immediately. By the first bonus sprint at 5.6 k Hoffman had climbed from the pack up to 20th, about 30 seconds behind the frontrunners.
“I definitely had some moving up to do and used some energy doing that for sure,” Hoffman said. “The pace was high up with the leaders as well, and I held on for a while but just couldn’t last up there.”
The lead group remained 20-strong or so until the last lap, and Hoffman hung onto the very back of it until fatigue set in. On a sunny day with solidly set tracks he was kicking well, but simply tired in the last few kilometers. Even with a surge in pace for the preems at the front, Hoffman didn’t think there was much of a lull in between them and he eventually lost contact with the skiers in front of him.
“I was definitely struggling today; I got pretty tired,” Hoffman said. “Like, end-of-season type tired as opposed to just, this-race-is-hard type tired. But yeah, I think it’s good to score a couple more points and I’m looking forward to come back better next year. I’m looking forward to one more opportunity [to race] and then looking forward to a break, as well.”
After Hoffman, Andy Newell was the second American finisher in 38th, 2:19.5 behind Rønning, and Torin Koos was 39th, only 0.1 behind Newell.
Newell pushed himself so hard in Friday’s prologue he made himself sick, and felt the leftover fatigue on Saturday when he “just kind of blew up” after the third lap of the 15 k.
“Today wasn’t so great,” Newell said, who began the mass start race near the front wearing bib number eight. “The first lap felt fine and even the second lap felt fine, but the pace for sure picked up for some of those bonuses. There were a lot of fliers off the front it seemed like, so it just kind of stretched things out on the second lap and then I got kind of tired on the third lap and had to shut it down for two laps…and then just skied it in. I definitely lost some time out there but that’s all right.”
Koos noted that the race played out somewhat unexpectedly at the front, with top contenders getting dropped quickly.
“I was a little surprised, the race was a real grinder,” he wrote in an email. “I thought maybe the snow would be fast and the race would stay more tightly packed longer, but there were some big names getting shelled, just getting dropped from the pack.”
Newell’s goal prior to starting had been to stay in the top 30 and score more World Cup distance points, but he reevaluated after three laps and aimed instead to avoid losing as much time as possible. He skied in “no-man’s land” for the third lap, sitting around the mid-30s, but on the last lap got a ride from Koos and Sergey Ustiugov (RUS) to at least make for a more enjoyable finish.
“It was fun to at least have people to ski with on my last lap and stuff, so it was a good workout, I guess,” Newell said.
Rather than feeling the end-of-season fatigue that Hoffman referred to, Newell thought his exhaustion had more to do with Friday’s effort.
“When we’re in a tour format like this, when you’re racing every day this late in the season, that can be hard for sure,” he said. “I was pretty worked over from yesterday, like, just getting such a bad leg burn out there yesterday in the prologue and from puking so bad after the race, so I’m not surprised I didn’t feel great today.”
Newell also felt held back by skis that, despite kicking well, weren’t gliding fast on the double-pole sections of the course, a part of classic races where he normally tries to recover.
“It’s one of my strengths, so today I think it was one of those things that made it so it wasn’t a great race,” he said. “My skis, for whatever reason, were a little bit dragging when I was double-poling so it made it harder to recover, I think, on the flats. So that wasn’t great, but at least I had some OK kick on the uphills.”
Newell outsprinted Koos in the finish by a few inches. Koos’ progress through the race a little different than Newell’s — he started with bib 27, dropped to 44th at 5 k, and then climbed back a few places in the final two kilometers as he skied with Newell, Ustiugov, Anders Gloeersen (NOR), Teodor Peterson (SWE) and Eirik Brandsdal (NOR).
“[We] had a pretty decent sprint up the uphill home straight,” Koos said. “Newell got me, but it was close — like six inches, maybe.”
Koos had hoped to ski in the points on Saturday but was missing that little bit extra after a hard effort in the prologue.
“My lungs were really hurting after the prologue and through the night, so I had some trouble getting the recovery I needed to have a great day today,” he said. “The conditions were stable, but I think even so it was also a bit tricky to find the right grip and glide. I was getting pushed on most every downhill, and had to ski with really good technique on the steep climbs. If I didn’t, I had instant feedback.”
After three stages Newell still leads the U.S. in the mini-tour standings in 31st, 3:13.6 back from tour-leader Petter Northg (NOR). Hoffman is close behind him in 33rd and Koos sits in 41st. The fourth and final World Cup Finals stage is a 15 k freestyle pursuit on Sunday.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.