On the heels of a strong eighth place finish by Simi Hamilton in the 1.4 k freestyle sprint in Val Müstair, the American men completed their last competition of the 2015 Tour de Ski with a 10 k classic interval start in Toblach, Italy.
Leading the U.S. pack was Erik Bjornsen in 58th, 1:42.0 behind race winner Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan. At the 1.7 k and 5 k splits, Bjornsen clocked the 69th and 68th fastest times in the field of 70 racers, but was able to recover to 57th at the 7.1 k mark before falling to one place at the finish.
“So far the Tour de Ski has slapped me around a bit,” Bjornsen wrote in an email. “Overall I’m not that disappointed; of course I would have like to see better results. But let’s be realistic, unless you’re Petter Northug, Simi Hamilton, or Batman you’re probably not going to show up and win races on your first Tour.”
Two skiers behind Bjornsen was Hamilton, who was skiing 0.9 seconds out of the top-30 at the 1.7 k mark. Despite a strong start, the 27-year-old eventually fell to 60th, 1:48.0 back from Poltoranin.
Rounding out the USST men, Andy Newell placed 67th (+2:27.2). Newell finished last or near the back in each stage of the 2015 Tour, and explained the week of racing was challenging due to a combination of fatigue and crashes.
“Saying the Tour has been tough on me would be an understatement. The body has been feeling pretty crappy and I really struggled with crashes and skis in the first two stages,” Newell wrote in an email. “Even when I’m not feeling great sprinting tends to still go well so I was pumped to get a shot in the skate sprint but ended up crashing out (apparently with a top-five time at the time of the crash). So it has really been frustrating for me.”
USST Head Coach Chris Grover said in a phone interview that Wednesday was a mixed day for his team, with the highlight being Sadie Bjornsen’s eighth-place finish in the women’s 5 k. He explained that some members of the team were fatigued and in need of a break.
When asked why the men’s team struggled to match the women’s performances throughout much of the Tour, Grover said that the disparity between the men’s and women’s performances has existed for several years.
“We’ve benefitted the last few years from a women’s group that has a lot of depth and a pretty high standard with those guys able to push each other. We just haven’t been able to create that on the men’s side. Unfortunately there’s not a group of men at home that are ready to step up to the next level. We are really trying to get the next generation going at this point. We’re thin on the guys side,” he explained.
The 10 k was the last race of the Tour de Ski for all three of the U.S. men. They will travel to Ramsau, Austria Thursday with teammates Bjornsen, Sophie Caldwell, Ida Sargent, and Kikkan Randall to recover and partake in a training camp before heading to the Jan. 17 and 18 World Cup in Otepää, Estonia, which includes a classic sprint and a freestyle team sprint.
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.