If the rerouted 2.5 k prologue course in Falun, Sweden, on Friday was short and fast for the women, it was even more so for the men in the second stage of World Cup Finals. American sprinter Andy Newell has the distance and sprint chops to pace a five-minute race well, but that didn’t mean it was an easy race. After five minutes and 31.8 seconds of skiing he crossed the finish line in 16th overall to lead the U.S. men on Friday, after which he retrieved his warm-ups, started cooling down and promptly lost his breakfast.
“I made it through the mixed zone without puking, which was good, but then as soon as I started warming down I had a good barf,” Newell said. “That usually means I pushed it too hard in some places.”
Newell did, indeed, push it pretty hard in the beginning of the prologue. The course took athletes directly up the Mordarbakken to the high point of the course, and there was enough transition in the second half after the descent to require some smart pacing in the beginning. After he skied the fourth fastest split to the top of the course, Newell felt “pretty worked over” by the time he crossed the finish line.
“I skied the first three quarters of it pretty good and then killed some speed on the downhill,” Newell said. “In the transition up the last two hills, though, I lost a bit of time and kind of blew up a little bit. I haven’t looked at the times yet but I have a feeling I lost a bit of time in the last half k.”
Newell has now been to five World Cup Finals in his career and sixteenth place is his best prologue finish by far, 14 spots ahead of where he finished the event last year. Combined with his 11th-place finish in the Stockholm sprint stage, he sits in eighth in the mini-tour after two stages. But Newell still only thought of it as an OK result.
“It could definitely be a lot better,” Newell said.
As a sprinter, Newell approached the prologue with the idea that he would have to hold back in the beginning, where a distance skier might look at the whole race as a near-sprint. It’s a distance only seen a few times a year, if that, and the ideal plan of approach varies depending on the strengths of the individual skier.
“I think it depends on the person,” Newell said. “I think for some people, especially the distance skier, they think of it as going all-out, but for other people like myself it’s definitely more of a pacing game. I try to always tell myself to hold pack during the first few uphills, and the first hill I’m definitely trying to pace it for sure so I can go a bit harder at the end.”
He also held back on the downhill after the Mördarbakken, the one that organizers adjusted on Friday at the athletes’ insistence that the original version was not safe.
“I took it pretty cautious for sure, because it was so sketchy and I didn’t know what to expect,” Newell said. “We were trying to get some info from people who’d raced earlier. It was a little bit of an unknown going into it, but it seemed like it was OK. It definitely would have been nice to ski it before [the race].”
The second finisher for the American men on Friday was another sprinter who has brought his distance skiing further along recently. Torin Koos, competing in World Cup Finals as the U.S. continental cup leader, scored the first distance points of his life with a 25th-place finish (+14.1).
It was only the second prologue Koos has ever skied, so he approached it just as Newell had: as a long sprint, “only make sure to put even more emphasis on keeping it smooth and not rushing it,” he said.
Koos thought he stuck with that plan well; he had the 10th-fastest split at the top of the course, five seconds down from the leader, and still had some ‘spring’ in his legs at the top of the Mördarbakken.
“I just skied the downhill way, way too conservatively,” he wrote in an email. “I guess I could be frustrated knowing I left for sure at least a top-ten distance-scored World Cup on the table today. Instead I’m going to stay pretty psyched, with both taking World Cup points for the first time in a new discipline, and with the feeling of having tiger legs today. These next two 15 k’s could be really interesting. This is what you train for all those days…”
As Koos points out, the 2.5 k race was a distance-scored event, and in finishing in the top-30 he joins Newell as one the few American men who have ever scored World Cup points in both sprint and distance.
“It’s one of those career accomplishments I hoped to reach, and now finally after many years, have,” Koos said.
Noah Hoffman was the third U.S. man to compete in the prologue, and he finished 51st out of 52 starters, 25.2 seconds off the winning time. It was not a result he was thrilled with, but as it was such a short race the distance-specialist said he “couldn’t have expected much more.”
Hoffman noted that his time back was a better showing than the two prologues skied in January, where he was 94th and 60th.
“Overall I have to be satisfied with today as a significant step forward from the two prologues in the Tour de Ski,” he said. “I lost significantly less time today, even considering the shorter duration. I skied an aggressive race today. I got tired and lost places from the top of the course to the finish, but I think it was better to be too aggressive than too conservative like I was in the opening prologue of the Tour.”
The final two stages of the men’s Finals are a 15 k mass start classic on Saturday and 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.