For the North American men, it was a challenging day in qualifying as the World Cup season got under way in Finland, with only Andy Newell (USA) cracking the top-30 in the classic sprint.
Newell, who ranked 5th in the Sprint Cup last season, was a solid 23rd in the opening round, but was unable to advance out of the quarterfinals.
In the fifth and final quarter, Newell skied started toward the back of the heat with Dario Cologna’s brother Gianluca, before making a late charge in the stadium — all part of his plan, he told FasterSkier.
“In the past I’ve tried to get out here in the front to really make sure I have an open lane at the uphill, but this year it was my tactic to hang back a tiny bit and really charge up the last hill,” Newell explained. “But I just got stuck in traffic a little bit and wasn’t able to make a big enough move.”
He found the pace fast, but “comfortable,” and overall he felt good.
And while he did not move on any further, he finished the day unconcerned.
“It’s the first classic sprint of the year on kind of a unique course, so I don’t put a ton of stock in this race, I’m still feeling good so we’re confident about things to come,” Newell said.
He placed 27th last year in this event, his worst result of the season.
“I couldn’t pick anyone off in a tight race up the big hill, which kinda sucks because I could tell the heat was pretty fast,” Newell said. “The skis felt like they were kicking good on the uphill for sure, but I just didn’t have the finish in me.”
Simi Hamilton was 36th, Michael Sinnott 73rd, Kris Freeman 100th, and Noah Hofman 105th for the Americans. Hamilton was .7 seconds out of the heats.
Alex Harvey led the Canadians in 37th, with Len Valjas just behind in 38th. Devon Kershaw was 78th, Jesse Cockney 79th, and Ivan Babikov 102nd to round out the day for the Canucks.
The Ruka mini tour continues tomorrow with a 10 kilometer classic race for the men. Newell said he will “start tomorrow for sure, and try and get a good 10k in.”
His expectations are low for the distance race and sees it as a “great opportunity to race yourself into the shape you need to be in.”
Newell said conditions are excellent in Kuusamo: hard tracks, hard wax, and overnight temperatures dropping to -20.
Pasha Kahn writes and coaches in Duluth, Minnesota.