The U.S. men’s team faced fatigue and fickle conditions on Sunday’s 15-kilometer classic mass start race in Szklarska Poreba, Poland. Noah Hoffman led the U.S. men’s results in 19th, with Andy Newell 27th, and Erik Bjornsen 40th.
The course, five loops of a steep 3 k trail, was in varied condition before the morning started.
“They shoveled a bunch of wet powder onto the trails,” said U.S. Ski Team coach Matt Whitcomb. “The snow they laid down with trucks was thoroughly transformed, so it was a little bit variable because it was a sampling of a bunch different kinds of snow.”
To further compound the technical challenges of the day, the men started early in the day, 9:45 am local time.
“It’s a little bit challenging when the races are early because you’re confronted with the point in the day when the temperature changes the most,” said Whitcomb. “Conditions warmed up quite a bit. As soon as you had 70 guys skiing over the tracks a couple of times after a couple of laps, it changed significantly with warming temps.”
Whitcomb, commenting on the conditions, said, “There were complications with icing if you went a little bit too warm; it was the kind of conditions where hairies, klister, a ton of klisters were working, actually.”
Nevertheless, while no one on the US team would say they had bad skis, the men did suffer from some slipping. “… things were a little slippery for the guys,” said Whitcomb. “Competitive with the field, there were a lot of guys slipping in the first race of the day, but we were happy with the day.”
“I’m not very happy with the way I executed my race today,” Hoffman wrote in an email. “But I feel like my fitness and my classic skiing are coming around. My poor classic results have been a high source of frustration for me this year. I know my fitness is there, and I haven’t been classic skiing the way I am capable. At any rate, today was more a problem with tactics. My plan was to be aggressive, but in the race I was way too impatient! On the first uphill Alex and others were leading at a snail’s pace. I knew that would play right to Alex’s strengths to have a slow race that came down to a sprint finish. I didn’t want that to happen, so I went to the front and lifted the pace, even gapped the field. The problem is I blew myself up in the process. I forgot that I am not yet strong enough to dictate the way the race plays out.”
“I went for the first preem [bonus points] because I was near the front of the race at the time. It may have been a better decision to chill out.”
“I started suffering about half way through the race, on lap 3. The finish for me was just survival.”
Whitcomb said that while Hoffman was neither “super bummed or super ecstatic” about his race it was still a good showing for him.
“A solid result out of Noah for sure,” Whitcomb said. “Nothing to be disappointed with. He’s in a good spot and is staged to have some success in Sochi,”
Newell described his race in an email: “I was pretty tired and banged up from yesterday, with the lunges and face plant in the final yesterday, I was definitely feeling it. But during the race my energy was pretty good and I tried to ski up toward the front.”
“I skied up with the lead pack for about 3 laps, going into the 4th lap the pace definitely picked up and my skis started getting harder and harder to kick. The tracks definitely glazed a little bit which made it harder for me to stay with the leaders up the climb.”
“There were many other skiers that got stretched out too, so I think by the last lap there was only a lead pack of about 15 skiers with a lot of stragglers, including myself.”
“I was happy to be in the points but would have liked to be a lot closer to the leaders. When every world cup point counts toward the end of the year it’s always good for me to pick up the distance points in the Tour and in races like this. I think with a little bit better skies I could have been farther up there today, which is a good sign. I was really stoked to get in two good hard races this weekend before going into our Olympic camp.”
Whitcomb said Newell skied, “really well through a few laps, he was one of the guys that was slick today, as well as Erik Bjornsen, and that’s tough on a course like this. Unfortunately, Andy didn’t have the kick to make it an easy day for him to just scoot around the course, it was a bit of a struggle. I wouldn’t say the skis were bad, we just needed really good skis for the guys that skied the heats yesterday.”
Bjornsen described his race as having a, “good start and a good finish.” He said about a kilometer and a half into the race he got into trouble.
“I was in a good position up until then,” Bjornsen said. “I was sitting in probably 10th to 15th place and then I got tangled and went down. It was on a hill and someone had kicked my ski from behind and it went on the other side of my other foot. I tried to quickly get up and another skier tangled with me, so I was down until pretty much the whole group of 60 guys went past me, and I finally had some room to get up. I tried to make a surge to get up to the front group, but it was a thin course.”
“I also think I made a bad judgment call on wax, when I was warming up about 30 min before the race, the big hill’s snow was still kind of dry, and the klister I was trying was great kicking up that hill, but by the time the start of the race came around it was really slick, so that was kind of a bummer. Every time I start a World Cup I feel I learn something, and I’m hoping to get some more World Cup starts this year. I’m kind of disappointed with the result, but happy I learned something for the future. I feel like if I had a good one I could be top 30, so that’s a good sign, it just wasn’t going to happen today.”
Simi Hamilton did not start his races this weekend due to a kind of tendinitis. “It’s a muscular sheath issue in his wrist,” Whitcomb said. “He had the problem in his opposite wrist this summer, and we made the conservative decision not to start him this weekend. We let him do some training with one pole, gave him some topical anti-inflammatories and some massage to try and cool his arm down basically. It’s nothing huge, we’re just being conservative about it before the Olympics.”
Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) woke up sick on Sunday morning and did not race.
With most of the other teams having already left Szklarska Poreba, the U.S. team had the run of their hotel and set up a projector in the hotel disco to watch Sunday’s Patriots vs. Broncos football game.
The athletes will now travel to Seiser Alm in Italy for an altitude camp before the World Cup races in Toblach.
“We’ll be living at 2,000 meters, about 6,600 feet. We’ll be training conservatively for a few days while acute acclimatization occurs and then we’ll get in a little more quality training at the end of the camp–it’s a nine day camp. Then we’ll drop back down to Toblach. By itself this camp isn’t all that significant, but most of these athletes are coming from Seiser Alm or an altitude camp in Davos after the first half of the Tour, so the accumulation of days at altitude will meet our needs for pre-Sochi,” reported Whitcomb.
“I’m really happy with where my fitness and form are heading into the pre-Olympic camp,” said Hoffman, but added, “I’m not psyched to have to wax Liz’s skis.”
— Lander Karath and Alex Matthews contributed reporting
Pasha Kahn writes and coaches in Duluth, Minnesota.