Noah Hoffman was beginning to accept that the Tour de Ski was not going to work out as planned this season. That is, until today, when the American U.S. Ski Team member set the second-fastest time of the day in today’s 35-kilometer pursuit in Toblach, Italy, advancing from 69th place to 27th. Hoffman skied the course in 1:19:58.1, only 50.7 seconds slower than sixth-place finisher Johannes Dürr of Austria, who scored the day’s fastest time.
Hoffman, a distance specialist, went into the race expecting his race time to be the only way to improve his ranking. A top-30 finish was not something the 24-year-old had in mind:
“Interestingly, I didn’t expect to ski that well, so I had not made a plan for being in the [World Cup] points. I was definitely thinking that I wanted to come within reach of the points, …if I could ski up to a group maybe containing 35th place I would have been doing pretty well, and if you’re skiing in that group, place in the group makes no difference.”
It has been a rough tour for Hoffman; Tour officials switched the 9 k in Oberhof to a sprint, Hoffman’s weakness, and then he suffered two broken poles in Wednesday’s classic mass start. Today, Hoffman found out only 30 seconds before his start that the people starting just ahead of him would not be racing, and that he would be skiing alone. He was starting in the 69th position, 3:26.8 behind Tour leader Martin Sundby of Norway.
“Initially I was thinking entirely based on time and how much time I was going to lose or gain, and thinking that I needed to ski the fastest possible race, and place was irrelevant. And then all of sudden I’m skiing in top 30, and so all of a sudden there are points on the line.” Hoffman said.
A hard early effort was key to Hoffman’s race.
“The course profile is essentially 16.5 k uphill, 16.5 downhill, and then a 3 k loop into the stadium. Being with a group is critical [to the downhill], I knew that from last year; you cannot ski that downhill as fast alone as you can with a group. I was pushing by myself [for a lot of the uphill] with a really big effort. I’m really psyched that I was able to make contact [with a fairly large group] just before we crested the top.”
Hoffman stayed with that group, cycling through the places and catching more skiers.
“We were just exchanging leads … and then I actually ended up working with the group and helping lead it at times. My energy was still really good, and we caught another group of maybe 7 or 8 guys, and that group contained 21st place. We ended up behind the stadium, and that group suddenly contained 20, and then we splintered a bit. I thought for sure all those guys would stay together, but I think it ended up being only a 10 or 12 person group at the finish. Obviously, I was glad that I was in the front half of that, because when a group splits and you’re in the back half it’s pretty hard to get around people and then bridge the gap.”
U.S. Ski Team Coach Matt Whitcomb was impressed.
“Noah skied up a tremendous number of bibs.” Whitcomb said, summing up Hoffman’s effort.
Hoffman, too, was pleased with his performance.
“I feel like I skied aggressively, I feel like I skied as well as I possibly could have. Making contact with that group at the top was critical, and then being able to move through that group and ski up near the front and then just hold on. My sprint wasn’t great … I finished 27th and the group was 20th, so I think I got beat by some guys, but that’s less important to me than being a in a good position here at the Tour. All of a sudden my goal of finishing the Tour in the top 20 seems realistic, whereas at the beginning of the day it definitely seemed out of reach, so I’m pretty psyched with how things went.”
Looking forward, Hoffman is optimistic for the rest of the tour.
“I definitely had some success in Val di Fiemme last year, so I’m looking forward to going back there. I know we’re not racing the 5 k we did last year, due to lack of snow, which is too bad. But to be honest, every course in Val di Fiemme is hard – there isn’t really any flat skiing. I also have been disappointed with my classic skiing a little bit, and I believe I can classic ski better than I’ve shown so far this year, so I look forward to another opportunity at that; it should be really good. And of course the hill climb is a really, really good opportunity for me.”
Katie Bono and Pasha Kahn contributed reporting.