Temperatures in the 40s and classic sprinting simply don’t mix, as shown Saturday at the World Cup in Asiago, Italy. People crashed left and right (mostly on the same sharp lefthand corner at the bottom of a sweeping downhill) in the men’s 1.65-kilometer sprint, but it all started with American Andy Newell in the third quarterfinal.
After qualifying in fifth without much of a problem, Newell and fellow US Ski Team member Simi Hamilton went on to lead their quarterfinal — with Hamilton taking charge over the top of the first hill on the rolling, open-aired course. Hamilton led into the long downhill and made it out unscathed, but Newell wasn’t so lucky, dropping from second to last in an instant. His binding caught the snow around the corner, and Newell tumbled and lost his ski. He got up, walked back to it, and crossed the finish over a minute behind the winner, Russian Alexander Panzhinskiy.
Hamilton continued on but ultimately ran out of “petrol,” as Eurosport commentators would say, and finished fifth in the heat ahead of Newell. Neither advanced to the semifinals, and remained the top Americans out of four in 23rd and 26th overall. In the qualifier, Torin Koos (Bridger Ski Foundation) placed 67th, and Mikey Sinnott (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) was 78th. All of the U.S. men raced on skate skis.
Ultimately, Russia’s Nikita Kriukov endured the soupy conditions best to win the final, beating Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin by 0.15 seconds. Switzerland’s Gianluca Cologna notched his first World Cup podium in third by making sure he didn’t ski too aggressively, finishing second in his quarterfinal behind Emil Jönsson (who ended up fifth in the final after Norway’s Eldar Rønning in fourth). Cologna later gapped Jönsson and four others to win his semifinal.
But for Hamilton and Newell, who were eager to get out front early, the outcome was less exciting. After advancing to the heats in 25th behind qualifying-winner Ola Vigen Hattestad of Norway, Hamilton rustled his way to front of the pack, but became bogged down in the soft snow and slipped behind in the second half of the race.
“It’s the worst place to lose momentum. There’s no catching up, but Newell finishes races.” — US Ski Team coach Matt Whitcomb
“As a bigger guy I tend to excel when conditions are fast and firm,” Hamilton wrote in an email. “It was a good day out there for me, I thought, especially since days like today have historically been rough for me. During qualification I focused on just keeping my skiing light and snappy so as not to bog down in the massive pole ruts and soft tracks. However, In my quarterfinal I felt great for the first 800 meters, but on the long climb on the men’s extension I just got bogged down and couldn’t carry my snappiness and momentum like I had done up to that point. I trailed toward the back of the pack unable to sustain the spark that skiing fast in those conditions calls for.”
Newell wrote in an email that he felt strong in the prelim, finishing just 5 seconds off Hattestad’s time of 3:57.37. Panzhinskiy won his quarterfinal in 4:17.25 in a photo finish with Poltoranin. Ales Razym of the Czech Republic was third in the heat (+0.16), ahead of Italy’s Dietmar Noeckler (+0.92). Hamilton was 3.89 seconds back in fifth, and Newell recovered his ejected ski to finish sixth in 1:14.14.
“Typically long, double-pole sprints are good for me, so I was excited going into the heats,” Newell wrote.
He said the quarterfinal started conservatively and he “was trying to just chill until the big climb. Unfortunately, right before that on a [downhill] corner my ski flew off,” he wrote. “The binding might have been flipped up by another skier, or maybe not closed right to begin with, who knows. It was a bummer and really frustrating for me because I was pumped up to have a good race, and this will be the last classic sprint for a little while.”
U.S. women’s coach Matt Whitcomb called the incident one of “those one in a thousand races … it was just unfortunate circumstances,” he said on the phone. “It’s the worst place to lose momentum. There’s no catching up, but Newell finishes races.
“He’s a good sport… but inside, he was pissed,” Whitcomb added. “This was a great place for him to show his strength … double-pole courses with punchy snow.”
Set to team up for Sunday’s classic team sprint, Hamilton and Newell are optimistic.
“[I’m] just trying to forget about [today’s crash] and look ahead to tomorrow,” Newell wrote. “I will close. I think we have a great shot at a strong finish in the final.”
Koos and Sinnott will race together as the U.S. men’s second team.
One quarterfinal after Newell’s, Ueli Schnider of Switzerland fell on the same downhill corner to end up fifth in his heat and 22nd overall. Norway’s Tomas Northug nearly crashed there in the semifinals, and Jönsson lost his balance in the same spot to drop out of contention (and take Panzhinskiy with him) in the final.