The North American men made a solid showing at the second stage of this year’s Ruka Triple in Kuusamo, Finland. The men’s individual 10 k classic was what each team described as a productive start to the season – headlined by Ivan Babikov of Canada, who tied for 21st and American Noah Hoffman who placed 28th.
Babikov came into the race with little expectation. “We just had a camp in Davos, and I wasn’t really benefiting much (from it) on this weekend. I was just trying to get in slowly into the race, knowing that February is pretty far away and that we’ve got to pace the season,” Babikov said in a post-race interview with FasterSkier. “But it feels good to score points and be there close to the chase.”
Only 5 seconds behind Babikov was Hoffman, who in an attempt to banish old habits, managed a well-paced race and skied from 39th at 5 k to the end result of 28th. Despite a mediocre weekend in Beitostolen he was happy to have a solid result under his belt. “In last weeks classic race in Beitostolen I did not have a good result, and that’s always confidence shaking because you feel like you skied well,” said Hoffman in an interview. “So I didn’t really know what to expect today, but I had a plan: I need to go out and pace well, this course is extremely challenging and I wanted to stay under control, and I accomplished that goal.”
Chris Grover, U.S. Head Coach, was very pleased with Hoffman’s result. “He skied really well and he also paced the race very well, and I think he was probably in the upper 40s or low 50s early in the race and he just kind of moved up in position throughout the race, so he had a strong pre-race plan for how he was going to pace it and he really executed that.” Grover said in an interview with FasterSkier. “Last week he was in the 40s in a classic race in Norway and so moving to the top 30 in World Cup in a classic race already a week later is pretty awesome and it’ll just keep getting better and better for him as we go through the fall.”
Both Babikov and Hoffman have traditionally been better in skate distance, but their results today helped instill confidence in their classic skiing abilities and the many hours they trained to improve it.
“I spent a lot of time in the summer with Justin (Wadsworth) and I worked a lot on the double poling. I know it’s my weaker side. I spent a lot of time skiing with Devon and Alex, and trying to work a lot on my classic skiing. It looks like it’s paying off, ” said Babikov.
Hoffman voiced a similar sentiment. “I put a lot of emphasis on double pole especially this summer and I think that’s come along really well,” he said “I think I showed some of that today, but there’s more on top of that and I’m really happy with where things are right now.”
The rest of the North Americans did not fare as well. Canadian Alex Harvey made it into the point scoring range by placing 30th. He was followed by teammates Devon Kershaw in 65th, Jesse Cockney in 92nd, and Len Valjas in 110th.
Canadian Head Coach, Justin Wadsworth, was satisfied with the teams results. “Anytime you’re in the top 30 that’s a solid effort especially in a race that’s pretty tight like that, so that was good,” he said of Babikov and Harvey’s results.
In regards to the rest of the team he believes fatigue and early season training played into their results. “Devon is just a bit fatigued still from training so it’s hard to ski fast when you’re tired. He’s in better shape than that so he’s pretty frustrated with that, but we’re here for the long haul this winter,” he said.
“We’re here to race for sure, but it’s our first set of races for the year. It was our strategy with such a big season, such a long season, instead of racing coming into this and trying to be fast here we just wanted to keep our team at altitude and then come in here at the last second and just try and be as fast as we can…I’d rather have our athletes fast later on.”
The remainder of the contingent form the U.S. placed behind Hoffman with Kris Freeman finishing in 57th, Andy Newell in 77th, Simi Hamilton in 79th, and Mikey Sinnott in 114th.
Both the Americans and the Canadians are looking forward to tomorrow’s 15 k skate pursuit.
“We’ll see. Tomorrow is another day,” said Babikov, who is excited to skate on a course with many hills. “I’ll try my best, same as today. It’s going to be pretty crowded. It’s really tight. I could be pretty sketchy with the poles and stuff. We’ll see how it goes and I’ll do my best.”
Wadsworth expressed optimism for the pursuit, saying that front of the field is filled sprinters who had had a faster track in today’s race. “For our guys, Ivan and Alex are in a really good position I think. Not too far off the lead and I feel like they’re all even with those guys, so I think we’re positioned well to move on with some guys that are good skaters.”
He doesn’t discount the possibility of a medal either. “Anything’s really possible, the podiums are not out of the game tomorrow at all. It could really bunch back up and turn into something different than the results are now, so that’s what we’re hoping for. I’d like to see Devon be a little better and move up, maybe to the top 30 would be a really good result.”
Hoffman is also excited for tomorrow’s final stage. “I think it sets me up well for a good pursuit tomorrow,” he said. “I feel I can ski in the top 30, if not the top 20 tomorrow in the Tour. I’ve been feeling really good and my skating is really clicking right now. ”
Grover expressed similar confidence in Hoffman. “Noah obviously finished last weekend with such a strong skate distance race and I think it will be exciting to see. I think he’s feeling really good about where his skating is right now. I expect that he’ll be able to move up in the ranks.”
“It should be fun to watch,” said Grover.
– Topher Sabot and Matt Voisin contributed reporting
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.