FasterSkier’s coverage of the 2015 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden, is brought to you by the generous support of L.L. Bean, now featuring a complete line of Kikkan Randall training wear.
FALUN, Sweden — It wasn’t a great day for most men in the 50 k classic mass start which concluded 2015 Nordic World Championships on Sunday.
With slushy tracks to start with, exacerbated by large, wet snowflakes falling throughout the competition, it was a serious suffer-fest. Downhill corners degraded throughout the day so that on a few, almost every descent was a near-crash. The 50 kilometers took a grueling two hours and 26 minutes to complete, even for the fastest men.
“It was hard,” said U.S. skier Noah Hoffman, who was completely spent at the finish. “Soft conditions. Soft snow.”
The time was 16 minutes longer than the same competition in Val di Fiemme two years ago. 16 more minutes of slush, of sloppy tracks, of trying to stay on your feet while somehow moving fast.
The U.S. men’s team was already short a member by the start of the competition, as Kris Freeman was still recovering from a cold and decided not to race.
“I felt really bad during the 15 k [on Wednesday] and woke up the next morning with cold symptoms,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It’s been a rough week.”
Matt Gelso dropped out after 22 kilometers. That left Noah Hoffman and Erik Bjornsen to slog it out alone.
“I mean, it was a bad race,” said Bjornsen, who placed 43rd and crossed the line more than 14 minutes behind the leaders. “It was tough conditions. I couldn’t find the kick today. I think it takes a special technique to ski in this stuff. I was struggling.”
Only two men finished behind him, the rest – a dozen different skiers – having dropped out. But Bjornsen didn’t see any reason to give up, even if he was having a bad day.
“It’s another start,” said the 24-year-old. “I was able to fight with a group for 15 k, so – I mean, I knew going into it that I wasn’t going to be fighting for a great spot. But I’m just trying to think of the future. Hopefully in a few years down the road I can be strong in all events. So I don’t think there’s any reason to sit out events like this. I might as well give it my best shot and try to learn what I can.”
Hoffman was hoping to find some form after sitting out weeks of ski training after breaking his leg in the first competition of the season in Ruka, Finland. His first World Cup competition since the injury came two weeks ago, and he had called his leg of Friday’s 4 x 10 k relay the “the best classic skiing I’ve done in a year.”
In the 50 k, Hoffman finished 31st, three minutes and 53 seconds behind the leaders.
“It always hurts to be just outside the top 30,” he grimaced. “The pace at the lead was not high but I was still sort of struggling a little bit. I got dropped, and then got back on, but I’m just not skiing – the 30’s seem to be where I am right now. I hope to get better.”
Hoffman gave thanks to the wax team, saying that exchanging his skis at 25 k and 35 k made a big difference in his skiing. After racing with the lead pack in the beginning of the race, he had fallen off the pace. But after switching skis at 25 k, he was able to regain contact for a time.
After the second ski change, he wasn’t as lucky.
“That’s kind of when things strung out and I was just on the wrong side of that string,” Hoffman said. “Then some of the guys who were back off that lead group skied back through me in the last couple of kilometers. I just didn’t have much left at that point.”
With World Cup races still to come in Lahti, Finland, and in Oslo, Norway, Hoffman hopes that he is making gradual steps towards regaining the level of skiing and results he was expecting before the injury.
“I think the fitness is good,” he said. “I have been struggling to find race speed, so in that sense 50 k should be better because it’s just not as fast, especially today. It’s kind of similar to the other day, I felt not terrible, not great, just kind of chugging along. You know, I felt good in the beginning and I was skiing up near the front. But just nothing special. Nothing special, not terrible.”
-Alex Kochon and Lander Karath contributed reporting.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.